Witley, June 10, 1917

Sunday        Church parade A.M. Slept this afternoon, Milford Church evening great weather in the Pink

Will Bird.JPGWill R. Bird wrote about church parades in his memoir And We Go On:

“The singing of the soldiers was something to ponder. Contrary to civilian ideas, they did not join lustily in the hymns of church parades. That part of his existence was woefully mismanaged. Something in every man, no matter what his record as a church-goer, resented the idea of having his religion forced on him. There was no greater stupidity shown, not more blind disregard of the soldier’s intelligence and right to individualistic feeling, than compulsory church parades. They went because they had to go, and carried with them an instinctive defiance that no fine words of the padre could overcome. They would not and did not join in the singing. The padre himself and a few of his officers would usually struggle through ‘O God our help in ages past’ and ‘Fight the good fight with all thy might.’ It seemed as if they did not think the soldier could possibly know any other hymns. But in the evenings, when there was opportunity, those same dumb-lipped men would go, voluntarily, to a Y.M.C.A. hut, and there fairly bring down the roof with singing that throbbed with fervour.”(1)

Whether Bird’s observation was widely true, I cannot tell. Canon Frederick George Scott, the chaplain who accompanied the First Canadian Division throughout the war told stories of men singing heartily at church parades. On active service in France, church parade was rarely compulsory, and so congregations could be difficult to assemble:

Canon Scott
“I adopted the plan of getting two or three men who could sing, and then going over with them to an open place in the field, and starting some well known hymn. One by one others would come up and hymn-books were distributed. By the time the service was finished, we generally had quite a good congregation, but it took a certain amount of courage and faith to start the service. One felt very much like a little band of Salvationists in a city square.” (2)

Percy, you remember, was a boy chorister in his home church of St. Mary’s Faversham, and singing was one of his delights. Even if he remained dumb-lipped at church parade, he no doubt sang enthusiastically and well when he took himself to Evensong at Milford Church.

(1) Bird, Will R. And We Go On: A Memoir of the Great War. Originally published 1930. 2014. 129-130. The photograph of Bird is from the cover of his 1968 memoir, Ghosts Have Warm Hands.
(2) Scott, Frederick George. The Great War as I Saw It. 1922. Chapter 8. Available from Project Gutenberg. The photograph comes from this volume.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”

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