Rector’s Letter – Winter 2018

The centenary of the Armistice which ended the hostilities of the First World War is being marked across the nation. Among the many physical reminders of the Great War are memorials which record the names of men and women who gave their lives.

Remembering the end of what was called ‘the war to end all wars’, we here in both the town and Parish of Donaghadee will mark the end of the First World war in several ways:

A World War 1 exhibition will be open in Donaghadee Methodist Church Hall on Friday 2nd November and Saturday 3rd November until 5.00pm. At our Town War Memorial at 10.45am on Sunday 11th November we will gather for a Community Remembrance Service led by the Royal British Legion which will be conducted by local clergy. At 11.00am we will stand for not just the Remembrance Sunday silence but also the national Armistice silence with Remembrance Sunday
falling on the 11th day of the 11th month now 100 years from the signing of the Armistice at Compiègne, Picardy, France.

On Remembrance Sunday at 11.30am we will have both an Act of Remembrance and a Thanksgiving Service marking the Centenary of the end of the Great War.

With the First World War came the end of old hierarchies in Russia and Germany as they crumbled, and, in the British Empire, colonial relationships began loosening. Even the role of religion, in historically Christian countries, changed with war.

In Europe and across Great Britain and here in Ireland every aspect of human society began changing, from the moment the first shots were fired in 1914.

In Britain, thousands of Church of England clergy and many Church of Ireland clergy were propelled from parish life into a baptism of fire as army chaplains; as a result, hundreds of thousands of lads had their first fleeting exposure to the Army Padre. This wasn’t always a happy encounter. Historians like Robert Graves, write scathingly of the Anglican Chaplains, who were discouraged at first from going to the front line, and more warmly of the Catholic ones, who seemed braver. Graves writes that if Anglican chaplains had shown a fraction of the courage of army doctors, England would have had a religious revival! As the War progressed all chaplains learnt to be with their men and die with them. Many like Woodbine Willi had a dramatic effect upon the men they served with in the trenches.

Here in Ireland the Great War saw men from north and south, Roman Catholic and Protestant, serve and die together – the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division served with great valour – even though many of the men had very different views about the type of Ireland to which they wanted to return.

However, many did not return. Official records show a total of 744,000 dead and missing from the British Isles with 675,000 wounded, many of whom would die of their wounds in later years. Here is the story of one local fatality. Andrew McWilliams was born on 17th March 1898 and he was a son of Ben and Ellen McWilliams (nee Thompson) who lived at 42 Manor Street, Donaghadee. Andrew was baptised in our church. He enlisted in the Army in November 1915 in Belfast and he served with the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.

When Andrew was posted as missing in action his mother appealed for information as to her son’s fate. Later it was officially confirmed that Rifleman Andrew McWilliams had been killed in action on 24th March 1918 during the retreat from St Quentin and he is commemorated on the Donaghadee and District War Memorial at the seafront and on our memorial in Donaghadee Parish Church.

To young men like Andrew McWilliams and the others recorded on our town and parish memorials we owe a huge debt of thanks.

God, as with silent hearts we bring to mind how hate and war diminish humankind, we pause, and seek in worship to increase our knowledge of the things that make for peace.

We will remember them.

Ian R Gamble