Friday, 19 February 2016

Life as an Army Chaplain

Clophill Village c.1904 [Z50/31/33]

Saturday 19th February 1916: Revd. C. L. Matthews, the Rector of Clophill has written to his parishioners with news of his experiences as an army chaplain in France: 
“After having been in France for three months, I feel I am now able to give you a few of my experiences with the troops. After a tremendously long and tedious journey, from Sunday evening to Wednesday evening, including a rather exciting trip across (as we knew that a couple of Hun submarines were waiting for us), we detrained at a small wayside station. It was pouring with rain, and the whole place was a sea of mud, in some places a foot deep. Having got the horses out and watered we started on our way, led by a guide. We had about six miles to go, and it was quite dark. Some of us were so tired that we actually fell asleep in our saddles, waking up with a start when the column halted. At last we pulled up at a tiny village where we rested for a few days. After seeing the horses and men comfortable we made our way to an empty house which was to be the officers’ billet. Everything was just as the people had left it, and it was curious to find oneself walking into another person’s house and living there. Nothing except a few valuables seemed to have been moved, and in my room even the silver brushes and hand glass had been left on the dressing table. It was the only house where there was a bath, but alas! The waterworks were all wrong so we could only look at it and long for the impossible.” 
“Life behind the trenches is most interesting. One night the Colonel and I went up to the front line trenches to see the men at work. It was a weird and rather nervy sensation riding up to a ruined factory where we left our horses. Our guide struck across country, and in time we reached the trenches. After following them for some way we climbed up and strolled across the open, and we felt very grateful the night was dark. We found our men hard at work, and it was a strange experience to be sitting on the parapet, talking to them, with the Germans only a couple of hundred yards away. Every now and then a star-flare would go up, and then we had to keep very still for fear of snipers who are always on the look out.”  
“In my next letter I hope to give some account of a Chaplain’s work at the Front. The men are simply splendid: and I think one of the finest things I ever heard was from a poor fellow a few minutes before he died. He said to me, “Please, sir, will you tell the Colonel I have tried to do my bit; and I am sorry it has been so little.” With such men, and with such spirit we can look forward with confidence to final victory. An army composed of men like that is unconquerable.”
Source: Barton-le-Clay Parish Magazine, March 1916 [P21/30/18]

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