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  • Writer's pictureMary Allen

Armistice and the Legacy of the First World War

A poem entitled 'Peace' in the November 1918 edition of the Blandyke Papers

Over the last four years, the Jesuits in Britain Archives have published several blog posts to commemorate events of the First World War, the centenary of which will be reaching its conclusion this November. The War touched all aspects of the Province, from the Jesuit chaplains who were sent to fulfil the spiritual needs of the troops, to the former Jesuit pupils who died during the conflict, to those who witnessed Zeppelin raids at home. Throughout the centenary, sources such as Chaplains’ Weekly, the Blandyke Papers, Letters and Notices, and the personal papers of Jesuit army chaplains have proved invaluable in providing an insight into the Province’s experiences of the war.

The first issues of Chaplains’ Weekly to be published after the declaration of peace on 11 November1918, perhaps surprisingly, lack much mention of the armistice at all. The only real allusion in the 17 November edition is an instruction that chaplains request to discontinue their services immediately. In the two issues printed prior to the peace agreement, the deaths of two English Jesuit chaplains are reported: schoolfellows Frs Walter Montagu and Henry Cuthbert McGinity SJ, on 28 October and 8 November respectively. The tragedy of these deaths, so close to the conclusion of war, cannot be missed. While Fr Montagu succumbed to injuries likely to have been caused by a shell or bomb, Fr McGinity died after spending two nights out in the open with the stretcher-bearers on their way to the Brigade, after the operation was cancelled. The doctor wrote to his parents:

Stonyhurst war memorial

“I am afraid the primary cause of the illness was the exposure necessitated by the two nights spent in the open; but this was typical of him as he always insisted on being as near as possible, especially when the Brigade was going into action and there was any chance of casualties occurring.”

In the same letter he wrote that

“…he was a friend to all, at all times helping somebody and sacrificing himself in order to benefit somebody in some way. I have known your son for considerably over two years… and on all occasions, when possible, shared a billet with him. A more delightful and cheerful companion could not be found. He was loved by all with whom he came into contact, and his loss will be keenly felt throughout the whole division.”

Chaplains' Weekly also reported that, as of 10 November, the Stonyhurst Roll of Honour had reached 144, which accounted for a staggering one in seven serving.

Also reported in these issues is the spread of the 1918 influenza pandemic, known as Spanish Flu. The severity of this strain of flu, which caused millions of deaths throughout the world, was increased by the circumstances of the War and the movement of troops. On 17 November, it was reported that “influenza broke out at Beaumont early in the week and caused the St. Stanislaus’ festivities to be cancelled. It has spread rapidly, and Br Bavister has gone to nurse the community, several of whom are ill.” Fr William Long SJ at Chesterfield fell “victim to the all-pervading influenza at the early age of 33. The doctor soon pronounced his case to be the most serious he had had to attend.”

However there were celebrations to be had. On 24 November, Chaplains’ Weekly reported that “St Beuno’s has, so far, been immune from influenza… the signing of the armistice was kept by two whole holidays, followed by the monthly Blandyke. One night there was a patriotic sing-song, punctuated by three cheers for Foch, Haig, Beatty, Wilson etc., and, last but not least, for the Beuno’s farm workers.”

And in the November 1918 Blandyke Papers, Philosophy student Vincent Wilkin SJ published his poem, The Bells of Victory:

Despite being exempt from duty, unlike their counterparts in France and Germany, by the end of the First World War, 84 English Jesuits had served as Roman Catholic Chaplains to the British Forces and Navy. According to the first edition of Letters and Notices published after the armistice, in January 1919, the number of Jesuit Chaplains on the English, French, and Belgian fronts was 312 on Armistice Day. Thirty-two lost their lives on the French front, while a further 57 were wounded. On that day, the English Province had 75 chaplains with the forces. Over the course of the War, eleven Jesuit chaplains connected with the British Forces died: five from the Irish Province, 4 from the English Province, and one each from the Roman and Lyons Provinces.

Military Cross

The majority of the English Jesuit chaplains were demobilised between 1919 and 1920, and many received awards in recognition for their services during the War. Some of these medals survive in the Jesuits in Britain Archives, including the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal (1914-18), and the Allied Victory Medal awarded to Fr John Luck. Several of the chaplains, including Fr Daniel Hughes SJ, Fr Edward Colley SJ and Fr John Stratton SJ, were awarded the Military Cross, which was granted in recognition of acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy. The example here was awarded to Fr John Murray who was in active service in France prior to joining the Society in April 1919.

Sketch of Fr Henry Day SJ

Many chaplains wrote of their personal experiences of the war in the decades following, demonstrating that their memories of that time remained with them as they took on new roles in the post-war era. Fr Francis Devas SJ, for example, wrote his ‘Recollections of Service with the 1st Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 1915-1918’ in the 1930s, the typescript of which can be found in his personal papers, and includes his memories of Gallipoli. Fr Henry C Day SJ, who was awarded the Military Cross and the Order of the White Eagle of Serbia, published two memoires: A Cavalry Chaplain in 1922 and Macedonian Memories in 1930, the former of which can be found the Archives’ library.

If you would like to find out more about the Jesuits who served as chaplains during the First World War, please contact us. WW1 archive resources, including profiles of chaplains and recordings of some of Fr Luck’s letters, can also be found on our website.

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