Archive of the Month
The War is Over
by Dr Miriam Moffitt
The ‘’War to end all Wars’ came to an end on Monday 11 November 1918. After over four years of fighting and death, it was finally over. The sense of relief is captured in the pages of the Church of Ireland Gazette, especially in the issues of 15 and 22 November 1918. To mark the 100th anniversary of this event as part of this Archive of the Month presentation, both editions are available as standalone pdfs. Click here for the Gazette of 15 November and here for the Gazette of 22 November.
Research into the armistice highlights the usefulness of the Gazette as a contemporary commentator and eye–witness on events in the past. Its editorials, diocesan notices and correspondence pages, when combined with parish records, allow us to see how the Church responded to the end of hostilities and other political and social concerns of the time. This article aims to explain how the end of the war was experienced throughout the country. It does not intend to provide an assessment of how the war was memorialised in the months and years that followed as most parishes struggled to remember their parishioners who had fallen – the memorialisation of the war will be covered by a future Archive of the Month.
Although the guns fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, a few people had advance knowledge that the end was imminent. In the town of Enniskillen, a wireless operator learned of events very early in the morning when as he listened to Marshal Foch’s message to the allied commanders at 6.45 am. The news was swiftly communicated to the parish rector, the Revd Arthur Webb, who arranged that the bells of the parish church be rung to mark the occasion and, within two hours, he convened services at 8.30 am and at 10.30am.
High–profile services were held in churches and cathedrals in the days that followed, and the next Sunday (17 November) was designated a day of special thanksgiving. So many people attended St Patrick Cathedral in Dublin on the morning of Tuesday 12 November that another service was arranged for the following evening. Attendance in St Patrick’s included the Viceroy, many prominent members of clerical and civic society, and large numbers of military. The psalms sung in St Patrick’s included those sung in all churches following the victory at Agincourt in 1415, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and also after Waterloo in 1815.
On Sunday 17 November, the end of hostilities was celebrated in a very public manner, often entailing renditions of the Hallalujah Chorus and the Te Deum and ending with the singing of the national anthem. The Primate, the Most Revd John Baptist Crozier, preached at the service in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.
The service in St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin, the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland on Sunday the 17th, was attended by the Viceroy and many dignitaries of church and state and, in addition to the psalms already mentioned, a special prayer of thanksgiving which had been compiled at the Restoration in 1662, was also recited. The sermon was preached by the Revd Dr A.H. McNeile, Regius Professor of Divinity in Trinity College Dublin who advised that, notwithstanding four years of wartime combat, the Germans should be treated as fellow human beings:
We ought to be able to think of the Germans, as God thinks of them – sinful souls indeed, but souls whom He nevertheless loves, whom he died to save as well as He died to save us, whom He wants to dwell, with us, in the eternal joy of His heavenly kingdom.
Archbishop Crozier preached in Armagh Cathedral on Sunday 17th, Bishop J.A.F. Gregg preached in Kilkenny on the same day and the Bishop Orpen of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe preached at a United Service of Thanksgiving in St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick on Thursday, 14 November where the lessons were read by the Revd Jones–Parry (Welsh Presbyterian minister) and the Revd H.E. Spelman (Baptist minister) and, at the end of the service, the band of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers played the national anthem. In the diocese of Clogher, Bishop Maurice Day preached in St Macartan’s church in Enniskillen (which would be designated a cathedral five years later); there was a strong military presence in the church, pews were reserved for wounded and discharged soldiers and for relatives of those killed in the war and the congregation stood in silence in memory of the fallen. Two high profile services were held in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork on Wednesday 27 November, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, where the congregation included members of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, and large number of the military.
On the orders of diocesan bishops, thanksgiving services were held in all parish churches, often in conjunction with other Protestant denominations. In Galway, a large number of soldiers and sailors came to a united service in St Nicholas Church, where the attendance was augmented by the congregations of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches whose ministers read the lessons. The Hallelujah Chorus and national anthem were sung, the combined bands of the Connaught Rangers and the Surrey Yeomanry provided the music and a bugle player sounded the ‘Reveille’. Parishioners in the County Down parish of Groomsport were similarly joined by their Presbyterian neighbours.
United Service of Thanksgiving for cessation of Hostilities.
Thanksgiving United P[arish] C[hurch] & Presbyterian for cessation of hostilities Monday Nov 11th
The holding of thanksgiving services was noted in preachers’ book with varying degrees of flourish. The Revd Harry Dobbs used red ink to flamboyantly record three services in All Saints’ Church, Blackrock. The Revd J.A. Jennings, rector in Harold’s Cross, Dublin also added an emphasis to the record, while most clergymen simply mentioned that a thanksgiving service had taken place. For instance, the rector of the Kilmore parish of Derrylane, the Revd Frederick Grant merely noted ‘peace Sunday’.
The bishop of each diocese authorised special forms of service to use in Thanksgiving services and in Kilmore, a form of prayer for personal use was recommended, including a plea for:
for the welfare of mankind so determine the conditions of peace, that the world henceforth may be freed from the scourge of war
However, although hostilities were over, news of loss of life was still trickling into the parishes. In County Leitrim, it was learned that Frederick McMullen had lost his life a mere ten days before the armistice. The Kilmore Diocesan Magazine of December 1918 identified five churchmen killed in the weeks immediately before hostilities ceased including Thomas and Joseph Bryson (brothers) of Newtowngore, who died on 21 September and 07 October. Families were also fearful for persons in prisoner of war camps, about whom news was rather sparse. Diocesan magazines outlined their anxieties and also their relief when some of these persons returned home. For instance, the Kildare Diocesan Magazine for January 1919 was delighted to report the safe return of former prisoner of war, Jack Cook from Naas but was still waiting for news about Tom Johnston from Coolbanagher who was believed to be in a prisoner of war camp in Germany.
Euphoria that the war was finally over was further tempered by two pressing concerns. First, in many parishes, significant numbers were succumbing to the flu epidemic that was raging throughout Europe – including Ireland. All over the country, clergy were faced with large numbers of deaths, often involving young people. For instance, immediately above his record of the united thanksgiving service in Groomsport (see above), the Revd Ernest Harris had noted that his national school and Sunday school were closed on account of the flu and that he had buried a 24–year old parishioner who had fallen victim to the epidemic.
By the very nature of their work, parish clergy were exposed to the epidemic which led to a curtailment of church services and the deaths of a number of clergymen, such as the Revd Frederick Simeon Samuels, the 39–year old curate of Wexford in the diocese of Ferns, son of the Revd F.S. Samuels of Kilbarron, Killaloe diocese.
The second concern worrying many people was the realisation that the political realities of the Irish situation had to be addressed now that hostilities had ended. The question of Home Rule had been parked for the duration of the war but could no longer be sidestepped. The concern stemmed from the seemingly unsolvable situation that existed at the outbreak of the war, where most of the island’s population had demanded Home Rule and were on the cusp of attaining it, while many of Ulster’s residents believed their best political and economic interests would be served by maintaining unity with Britain.
This was a cause of enormous anxiety for many members of the Church of Ireland and was amplified by the added uncertainty of an impending general election, as many recognised that political opinion had shifted considerably in the southern part of the island. In his sermon at the Thanksgiving Service in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin on 17 November, the Very Revd H.V. White, dean of the cathedral, spoke for the majority of the Church of Ireland when he stated that ‘we do not intend to be deprived of the flag under which our boys died. …. Here in Ireland we stand. Here we will remain. We shall not “go out” of our native country nor “go under” in it’. The Gazette recognised the deeply–held political and economic opinions on both sides and came to the view in its editorial of 22 November that ‘the outlook in Ireland was rarely more dark’. In the following edition, it acknowledged that ‘the most important question involved is that of partition’ and, one week later still, just a few days out from the election, it explained how the election result might reverberate on the Church since ‘the interests of the Church must to a certain extent be bound up in the political interests …’
Therefore, while everyone was relieved that the war had come to an end on 11 November 1918, many carried the loss of those who had died or were injured in the conflict and looked into the future with a sense of foreboding.
Now, a century after it ended, we can reflect on the 1914–18 war and, with the benefit of a hundred years’ distance, we can remember those who lost their lives and attempt to understand how and why the episode that was naively termed ‘the war to end all wars’ exacted such a high a toll across all of Europe. So many parishes are endeavouring to remember the fallen and the injured that it is impossible to mention the projects undertaken in each location. However, the Historical Centenaries Working Group has compiled a comprehensive list of events taking place island–wide across the Church to mark the centenary, which is available to download here.
Several local initiatives to commemorate the end of the war have entailed a study of those listed in the Roll of Honour erected in many parish churches of the Church of Ireland. In the grouped parishes of Booterstown, Carysfort with Mt Merrion in Dublin, for example, detailed biographies of all 42 persons recorded on memorials in each of these churches were compiled by Michael Lee, a parishioner, as his particular parish’s contribution to the memory of the First World War and Decade of Centenaries. The biographies have already been made available since 2014 through the Remembrance Sunday and other Orders of Service, but more recently archive copies were lodged in the RCB Library where the detail can be consulted in the context of other parish records. This series outlines the background and life–story of the fallen such as Lieut. Donald Seymour Smyth, killed in action in France in August 1914.
Elsewhere, Chris Owens has carried out a similar study of the persons listed on the memorial in Harold’s Cross Church, bringing back to life persons such as George Wolfe Karney and David Noel Karney (brothers) from Rathmines, who died in 1915 and 1918 respectively.
Special church services are scheduled to mark the end of the war. The national cathedral of St Patrick in Dublin is hosting a series of events, including a Remembrance Concert with the RTE Concert Orchestra on 10 November, and Remembrance Services on Sunday 11 November, both of which are being streamed live. For details of events in St Patrick’s, click here. Slides relating to the Boer War and World War I, previously held in St Patricks and now in the RCB Library, were featured in a previous Archive of the Month and can be viewed here.
The afternoon service in St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast on Sunday 11 November will acknowledge the sacrifice of those from across the island of Ireland and is being televised by the BBC. The morning service from St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen, will be broadcast by RTE. Great emphasis is being placed on inclusivity and in many instances, members of other denominations will participate in the services. In Gorey (diocese of Ferns), members of the Gorey Group of Parishes will be joined by members of the local Methodist and Roman Catholic churches; at the service in Bantry (Kilmocomogue Union, diocese of Cork), a new memorial will be dedicated to those from the parish, from all religious backgrounds, who died in the conflict, and the service in Kenmare (diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe) will remember those lost in all conflicts over the last 100 years and will also look forward to a country where children of all birth nations may live together in peace.
Exhibitions and lectures have also been organised at local level to coincide with the anniversary. For example, Killdollagh parish (diocese of Connor) has arranged an exhibition and talks; the parish of Glendermott & Newbuildings (diocese of Derry) is holding a ‘Thank you for the Sacrifice’ exhibition and two talks will be held in Willowfield parish (diocese of Down and Dromore) where Philip Orr will speak about the impact of the war as the soldiers returned home and Jason Burke will outline how the War impacted on East Belfast. [For details of the war in East Belfast, see a previous Archive of the Month at this link].
The world was greatly changed between 1914 and 1918, both inside and outside of the island of Ireland, as people began to reconsider their role in society, and how they believed that society should function. These changes, in some ways, happened slowly, as attitudes and opinions were shaped and reshaped in response to people’s experiences over the four years. One important resource for the study of the attitudes of members of the Church of Ireland, and changes in these attitudes, is the Church of Ireland Gazette whose editorials, comment pieces, diocesan notes and correspondence provide contemporary evidence of the range of opinions found across the Church. By clicking here, you can access issues of the Gazette from 1856 to 1949 in a searchable format allowing all sorts of interesting information to be easily located.