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  • Writer's pictureLucy Vinten

Revisiting ‘Chaplains’ Weekly’ for Remembrance Day

Chaplains' Weekly started in 1915

This week we remember those who have served their country in war.

Jesuits have served as Military Chaplains in successive conflicts, and in the Jesuits in Britain Archive we have records of Jesuits who served in the British military as Chaplains in the Crimean and later wars. We have written about some of these before; Chaplains of the Crimean War, Jesuits at Gallipoli, Two 1916 World War One Chaplains.

During the First World War a total of 84 Jesuits from the English Province served as Military Chaplains, and a publication, Chaplains’ Weekly, was started by the Jesuits in Farm Street to meet their needs. Its editor was Fr William Feran who also oversaw all the various needs of the Jesuit Military Chaplains during the war. His obituary talks of how he was tireless in meeting and seeing-off chaplains, ‘his squat figure, with its broad smile, shovel hat, and shabby inverness, was a familiar and welcome sight at Victoria and Waterloo.’

In the first edition on 9th May 1915, Fr Feran wrote:

As Fr. Provincial finds it impossible to send lengthy letters to the individual chaplains, he has asked me to chromograph, week by week, items of news that may interest them and send a copy to each. This I propose doing each Sunday. The communication will not be, in any sense, official; and its length will depend on the amount of matter available. Parlour politics, as well as Racing and Betting news, will be excluded.’

The Chaplains’ Weekly was an outstanding success from the beginning. It contained snippets of news from within the province, including what was going on in the Jesuit schools and houses, movements of Jesuits around the province, reports of ill-health or death of Jesuits, as well as extracts from letters sent back from Chaplains serving abroad. The circulation of the Chaplains’ Weekly was closely regulated, partly, it was felt, because the Provincial did not favour an unofficial news-sheet. Those who were not chaplains had to exert considerable ingenuity to come up with an excuse for the regular receipt of a copy. However each copy tended to be circulated widely, being read and re-read until it fell apart, so it had a far wider readership than purely Military Chaplains.

The Chaplains’ Weekly contained reports from Chaplains:

13 June 1915 Fr. Devas has been at the “very front of the front”. He heard the confession of Fr. Finn shortly before he was killed. For a fortnight he lived on biscuits, bully beef and tea; and then was laid low with dysentery… He was afraid he might have to be invalided home; but I hear, that he is back at work. One funeral he had to conduct crouched over the grave, as a sniper had caught sight of the burial party and was making things lively for them. At the end he had to bolt across an open space, with the bullets flying around. Unfortunately, he does not give the distance or the time, so that one cannot say whether he established a record.

Fr Francis Devas SJ

Chaplains’ Weekly describes how Christmas 1916 was celebrated in a tent by one Chaplain:

Fr Steuart had Midnight Mass in a marquee. He has been acting as official interrogator of some prisoners taken, and learnt that they were quite fed up with trench life and were delighted to be made prisoners. He has had the experience of…a shell land[ing] within rather less than ten yards of him. If it had not been a ‘dud’, his letter, perhaps, would not have been written’

The Chaplains’ Weekly also contained news of Old Boys of Jesuit schools, such as this account of an old Stonyhurst boy, Aidan Liddell, from August 15 1915:

Aidan Liddell (O.S.) and his observer, 2nd Lieut. Peck, were making a reconnaissance of the German lines, on July 31, flying at a height of about 5000 feet when they were attacked by a German craft flying much higher. Aidan was hit, his leg was broken above the knee and he fell forward causing his aeroplane to dive down about 3000 feet and then to turn completely over, flying upside down. Aiden regained control, the machine righted itself, and he was able, in spite of his injury and a damaged aeroplane to fly for over half an hour, which took them back into Belgium. He is now in hospital at La Panne, and it is hoped that his leg will be saved. His Squadron Commander says, “I have heard of no incident since the beginning of the war to equal his display of pluck and endurance. He has covered himself with glory, and I am proud that he is in our squadron”.

Occasionally the Chaplains’ Weekly contained news of the death of a Jesuit Military Chaplain, such as the death of Fr. Robert Monteith on 27 November 1917 who was killed when a shell exploded in his bivouac at Ribécourt. Another Jeuit Chaplain, Fr William Keary was with him and sent a detailed account of his death for inclusion in the Chaplains’ Weekly. In all, 6 Jesuit Military Chaplains were killed during the First World War.

The Chaplains’ Weekly also had news of German Jesuits, including some who were interned such as this on June 11 1916:

Most of the German Jesuits who were interned at Alexandra Palace, are now at Stratford (Stratford-atte-Bow, I imagine, not Stratford-on-Avon). Whither they went on Friday. There they will spend a short time in quarantine and after that they will go to the continent.

Current affairs such as the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916 were alluded to – it made travel impossible for Tertians who wished to return to Tullabeg in Ireland – also the new Daylight Saving Bill. The Zeppelin raids were a particular worry:

July 25 1915: Special prayers, against Zeppelin dangers, are being said at Manresa, as it is thought that the encampment in Richmond Park may attract Zeppelins. More troops are coming into the camp.

The Chaplains’ Weekly refers to the increasing shortage of many items, including altar wine:

“A German torpedo has sent to the bottom a supply of claret and altar wine, on its way from Spain to Stonyhurst”

The Chaplains’ Weekly was published until November 1919, when Fr Feran announced in its final issue:

‘Fr Provincial has decided that the greatly reduced number of our chaplains and the anniversary of the armistice makes the present moment an opportune one for discontinuing these Notes. The Editor, therefore, with thanks to his correspondents, announces that he is demobilised as from to-day, presents the 203rd number, and makes his bow.’

With the coming of the Second World War, the Chaplains’ Weekly was revived, this time under the editorship of Father Richard Clarke. The first new edition went out on 22 October 1939, with a plea from its Editor:

Fr R Clarke will be grateful for items of interest for insertion in Chaplain’s Weekly which will normally be published at the week-end.

As before, the revived Chaplains’ Weekly had Province News – how the boys at Stamford Hill School were settling into their evacuation, and how some found being billeted on families difficult -- and news about individual Jesuits as well as reports from the front by Chaplains:

8 February 1942, from Fr d’Adhémar:

We were settling down for the evening when a crowd of Jerry tanks came up on our flank, firing their heavy guns as they came while their artillery lengthened the range and so were we in between two fires. My batman jumped into the truck and shouted ‘Jerry tanks coming up!’ so I started up the engine as I saw crowds of vehicles bounding all over the desert at a fierce rate. We certainly broke all speed records in the mad rush…by all rights I should have been captured and when I reported back, the Brigadier was surprised to see me as he was certain that I was in the bag…

10 August 1942, Fr Egan wrote of his experience in a camp, though he could not say where:

We are living under canvas at present….the great advantage of my present abode is that the church is only one minutes walk away and also all the Catholics in the Battalion – 201- can now get Mass every Sunday.

Fr Egan may well have been in Portugal, for we have a picture of Fr Egan supporting a wounded Officer there from December 1942.

As in the First World War, internment loomed for German Jesuits:

30 June 1940 Fr. W. König who has been on the staff at the Mount since Easter 1939, was taken away by the police last Tuesday and interned; no news has as yet been received from him’

News of the bombing in Britain was often mentioned, including that of Farm Street which was bombed for 57 days in succession. A ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’ spirit stands out:

‘…things were not nearly so bad…the nave of the church has been covered with a temporary roof of asbestos and steel where the original roof was destroyed and new slates are being inserted where the old ones were damaged by the fire. Owing to …the difficulty of heating the church adequately it will not be used for the present but it is hoped to resume the services there when the warmer weather sets in’

The Chaplains’ Weekly carried on after the end of the Second World War. It was published in print form until 2013, and is now an email newsletter.

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