Archive of the Month
Headlines in April 1917: Further Focus on the Gazette
By Robert Gallagher
Continuing our commitment to highlight events during the Decade of Commemorations from a Church of Ireland perspective, April’s Archive of the Month provides some analysis of the stories making the headlines in the Church of Ireland Gazette 100 years ago in April 1917.
In that month, four editions of the weekly newspaper appeared, and the content of much of these was dedicated to the continuing coverage of the First World War. Writing under the initials of ‘W. B. W’, Ware Bradley Wells continued his weekly column entitled ‘The War Week by Week’. Wells’ own personal interesting story has been covered in the presentation on the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme respectively, available here:
It should also be noted that Wells was Gazette editor during this period (although the editorials did not feature his distinctive W.B.W signature). For a full list of Gazette editors see: www.ireland.anglican.org/cmsfiles/pdf/AboutUs/library/Archive/Aug13/Editors.pdf
April 1917 saw Wells reporting more encouraging news of the Allied war effort. The 5 April edition of the Gazette, for example, reports on the discovery of ‘The Hindenburg Line’, a German defensive position on the Western Front, from Arras to Laffaux, near Soissons on the Aisne.
Wells makes reference to the Allies advance on the line, describing how ‘the centre is threatened by the French wedge driven in between St Quentin and La Fère and across the communications between them’. He debates the potential German responses and as to how tenaciously they may try to defend the line, stating ‘we have still to see whether it will be necessary to employ against it anything comparable with the siege tactics which were employed with such consummate success on the old Somme front’. After much debate and speculation he eventually concludes ‘the weight of probability seems at present to point to an early resumption of the German retreat’.Wells continues his description of the retreat a week later, in his column for the 13 April edition. Here he provides a descriptive summary of the German retreat up until this point and the British attack between Arras and Lens on Easter Monday. As a result, he claims, the campaign on the Western Front had entered a new phase; ‘until this week the development of events was to be regarded as the payment of deferred dividends upon last year’s battle of the Somme’. Making reference to the Hindenburg Line of his previous article, Wells estimates that the German’s greatest miscalculation during the retreat was their failure
to anticipate how quickly the Allies would follow up their retreat.
He expands on this theme in his article for 20 April, describing the second phase of the Allies offensive, informing the reader that the French attacked the German line, along the Aisne from Soissons to Rheims on a front of 25 miles. An attack which resulted in the capture of the entire first line of the German defence, with over 10,000 prisoners captured. He describes the attacks as not having ‘any quality of surprise…For one reason, it was preceded by a slow and methodical bombardment extending over more than a week’. He compares it to the British attack on Vimy Ridge, which ‘possessed a quality of surprise’ and the direct result of which was the automatic fall of Lens, leading to the beginning of the recovery of the French Industrial Districts.In his article for 27 April, Wells takes a wider look at the strategies employed by both the Germans and the Allies in the movement along the Western Front. He opens by reporting that for the third week in a row the Allies have begun a new offensive push. This is the British attack on the Lens–Arras line, a progression of the offensive that began with the attack on Vimy Ridge. He outlines that the Allies strategy is to break the two pivots of the German retreat while attempting to ‘crush in by converging operations the great salient which the retreat has left still exposed to attack’. He describes how the Allies push through Arras led the Germans to take up defensive positions in the valley of Scarpe, which they defended tenaciously and offered vicious counter attacks, resulting in thousands of deaths. After much consideration and discussion, Wells summarises the reason for the incredibly fierce nature of the battle, is because it is a ‘race for time – on the British side to reach and break a critically weak point in the German front before it is strengthened, on the German side to hold off the attack until it can be strengthened’. Wells description of the campaign is incredibly rich in detail and must have had quite an impact on the readers of the Gazette.
Although the war received coverage in a dedicated column every week, it was by no means relegated to this one area of the Gazette. Unlike the ‘War Week By Week’ column, however, the editorials feature far more opinion and typically view such news items in relation to the Church of Ireland and its ethos. An example of this occurs in the Editorial for 5 April, which opens with the news that the United States of America had declared war on Germany. Wells relays President Wilson’s belief that America must enter the war in defence of democracy as ‘God helping her, she can do no other’ and compares it to Martin Luther’s refusal to retract his writings, wherein he stated ‘I can do no other. Here stand I. God help me’.
Advertisements placed in the Gazette were heavily influenced by the war. Numerous appeals for aid and relief were made in each issue. Of the four issues published in April 1917, three of the front pages featured full page appeals for donations for soldiers. The Irish Women’s Association and the Royal Munster Fusiliers Prisoners of War Fund both sought donations in order to send care packages to prisoners of war.
The only exception was the cover of the 13 April edition, which featured an appeal from the Serbian relief fund. Other appeals for aid are found elsewhere in each issue. A noticeable reoccurring appeal is from the Syria and Palestine Relief Fund, which was urgently seeking £50,000 to help victims of famine in Syria and Palestine, a particularly sobering theme when considered alongside current events in the Middle East.
There were of course many other items on which the Gazette reported during April 1917. Easter Sunday occurred on 8 April 1917 and several items relating to Easter feature in the April editions. The 5 April issue, for example, contained two pieces on Good Friday, where the editorial criticises the increased secularisation of the day and the manner in which many looked upon it as a holiday, as opposed to ‘the most solemn day in the year for all Christians’.
Another piece discusses the message of Good Friday and the concept of salvation through suffering. The topic of Easter is visited numerous times throughout the April editions, with the ‘For Quiet Moments’ column offering reflections for Easter Sunday and each Sunday after Easter.
We can see once again that the advertisements in the Gazette reflect the major stories of the month. Advertisements for clothes shops are particularly prevalent in the issues from April 1917. Several outlets placed advertisements in an effort to entice customers to purchase new clothing suitable for Easter or spring, or in the case of tailors specialising in clerical garb, for appearance at the General Synod.
The General Synod is the main decision–making body of the Church of Ireland, meeting once a year to discuss and decide on work within the Church. A previous feature on the Synod is available at the following link: https://www.ireland.anglican.org/news/6379/gender-debates-at-the-general The Synod of 1917 opened on Tuesday, 17 April. The Gazette ran numerous features on its proceedings and even included supplements in its 20 April and 27 April issues to provide full details for readers.
The 1917 Synod included several bills that had far–reaching implications for the wider church. For example, the topic of church reform was discussed at length under the auspices of the ‘Commission to inquire into and report on the Union of Parishes’, and Gazette devotes much attention to its work, including the detail of the motion proposing the Commission ‘for the purpose of inquiring into and reporting on the question of the union of parishes and how to bring it about in thinly populated districts’. The Union of Parishes Act would later be enacted in 1920, with the Commission delivering its final report in 1925’ but the subject would continue to challenge the church for another 40 years, culminating in the Commission for the Sparsely Populated Areas, which continued to examine the issue well into the 1960’s.
On the second day, the topic of the revision of the Prayer Book is reported (the revision process actually began at the Synod of 1909 and eventually resulted in a new edition of the Prayer Book published by the APCK in 1928). The 16–year gap was partly caused by the fact that the building, in which the stereotyped plates for the revised Prayer Book were stored, was destroyed during the Rebellion of 1916. Further bills discussed during the General Synod of 1917 include the proposal that Synod week be moved from April to May, preferably the first or second week of the month.
The two supplements reporting on the General Synod go into great detail, in many places quoting proceedings verbatim and thus with much more than they would appear later in the official report. Its attention to detail surpasses the Report in several instances when relaying anecdotes and quotes from the proceedings, giving the reader an insight as to what it was like to be there. One memorable example is the following, which occurred during the discussion on suffrage in the revised Prayer Book: ‘The Archbishop of Dublin thought this form very plain. Did they mean to include the police, with whom some people came into frequent contact? (Laughter) The President – Speak for yourself, Archbishop. (Renewed Laughter)’
The issues of the Gazette for April 1917, as with previous examples, provide unique insights not only to the Church of Ireland and its perspective on the world in 1917, but the burning issues of the time. The stories referenced above reflect just some of the topics written about in the Gazette 100 years ago, butut each issue in itself could serve as the focus of an article and it is this wealth of information that makes it such a valuable resource to historians and researchers.
The Gazette is available for consultation on line for free at the following link: https://esearch.informa.ie/rcb
Librarian and Archivist
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
Librarian and Archivist