Rev. Robert Percival Brown, M.A. (1905-1917)
Rev. Brown had come to Holy Trinity as curate in 1904, having previously been priest-in-charge at Ockley,
His Magazine letters show a delightful sense of humour. He encouraged social activities, including children's outings in decorated lorries, always preceded by a piper and, indeed, some of the most pleasing characteristics of a seemingly stable pre-war world are here displayed for the last time.
Two military memorials were added. The first, designed by Princess Louise, was to to Major Thomas Irvine in 1908. The second was to Capt. Henry Craigie Macdonald, who had served in South Africa, Nigeria and India and died in 1909 at St Petersburg, where he was buried with full military honours on the instructions of Tsar Nicholas II. Stained glass windows were also added, one to Lady Clerk of Penicuik given by her daughter, the wife of Sir Alan Seton-Steuart, one to Dr Galbraith, by his daughters, in the clerestory, the Coldwell windows and one to Margaret Murray of Polmaise in the chancel. When Sir Alan Seton-Steuart's wife died in 1908, he paid off part of the mortgage on the Parsonage as her memorial. “this”, he wrote, “helps the church more”. From then on, no more windows were added until around 1937.
From 4 August 1914, when Britain declared war on the German empire, Rev. Brown had to deal with the impact of a conflict largely unanticipated by the general population. Many young men had joined the Volunteers, reorganised in 1908 along more professional lines as the Territorial Force (later Territorial Army), in order to enjoy something of its comradeship, excitement and sense of shared purpose on a part time basis. These young men would be the first to be called upon to fight after the regular army. The need for a special kind of spiritual strength was well understood by soldiers and their families, but now the emotional turmoil of war descended upon the British people as a whole.
By the end of November, British casualties amounted to 86,000 out of the 160,000 men engaged. Junior officers, who were expected to lead their men from the front in the thick of fighting, were especially vulnerable. Three young officers from our congregation were killed in this phase of the war: Lt Rollo Aytoun, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders on 28 August, as the British II Corps fought a determined rearguard action near the town of Le Cateau; 2nd Lt Alastair Murray, newly commissioned in the Cameron Highlanders, on 14 September as a British advance faltered in front of well-prepared German defensive positions on the north side of the river Aisne and 2nd Lt Norman Fairlie, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, on 21 October in an attempt to capture the industrial town of Armentières. After this, and other clashes at Ypres, La Bassée and Messines, both sides dug in. Trench warfare had begun.
In December came the famous Christmas truce. For much of the month, British and German soldiers could hear each other singing hymns and carols in their respective trenches. From around 20-26 December, in various places along the line, soldiers from both sides met in no-man's-land and exchanged Christmas greetings, acknowledging their common humanity and shared hardships. Higher command on both sides, fearing a lack of resolve or even mutiny, issued ‘no fraternisation' orders and brought the episode to a close.
In the same month, Rev. Brown reflected contemporary attitudes when he recorded, "Our testing is still in progress. It has yet to be proved whether our young manhood is manly and patriotic enough to furnish all the strength for which the country calls in defence of her right. For my own part, I believe that we shall answer to the test, as the need and that cause are more widely understood. And the dullards and laggards who are left behind will in after years reproach themselves that they lost their chance today of making history." At this point, around 80 members of our congregation were serving in the forces.
In the spring of 1915, the British launched a series of attacks which demonstrated the futility of trying to break through entrenched positions without subjecting them to heavy bombardment beforehand. From our congregation, Capt. Alexander Bell, Royal Scots Fusiliers, was seriously wounded at Neuve Chapelle in March, dying in London about a month later. Capt. Arthur Martin, Highland Light Infantry, and L. Cpl James Reynolds, Gordon Highlanders, both died in the Battle of Festubert in May, while Pte John Cherry was killed in July.
The territorials and volunteers making up the ‘new armies' had now arrived at the front in considerable numbers. As British strength built up, the high command planned what was called ‘The Big Push', now referred to as the Battle of Loos, in an attempt to break the deadlock. The attack started on 25 September 1915 and, in the first three days, six members of our congregation were killed, including 2nd Lt Patrick Drummond, King's Own Scottish Borderers, who had left Stirling before the war to become a rubber plantation manager in Malaya. In this attack, Pte Charles Oliver, Black Watch, sacrificed his field dressing to help a wounded colleague. The attacks were initially successful, but the British suffered such severe casualties that German counter-attacks could not be contained and most of the newly-won ground was lost.
Around this time, a soldier expressed to Rev. Brown the kind of relief that the church could provide: "As I may not be able to see you before I go, I felt that I must write and thank you for the great help you and your Assistant Priest have given me by having such very reverent services. It has been of more help to me than I can express in words . . . it has always been a relief to enter your church doors and here feel the quiet peace . . . and also that within have been said so many prayers by saints of God."
The Stirling Observer Christmas Annual for 1915 featured the Counter and Gwynne families, each of which had five sons serving on the front line. The Counters were a military family, George Counter, senior, having been Sergeant Major of the Stirlingshire Militia (3rd Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) until his death in 1898. John Gwynne, senior, was a miner from Greengairs, Lanarkshire, who, on his marriage at Holy Trinity in 1877, moved to Stirling to work in a carpet factory, subsequently training as a carpet weaver. However, the Gwynne boys may well have been attracted into the Territorial Force by Holy Trinity's military connections. Three each of the Gwynne and Counter brothers returned at the end of the war. The Adams and McArthur families also lost two brothers each.
By the first six months of 1916, most men who were killed on the Western Front died in localised ‘over-the-top' attacks aimed at gaining some battlefield advantage or in artillery bombardments. Coy. Sgt. Major William Crichton, Gordon Highlanders, a former Primus, or dux, of the Queen Victoria School, Dunblane, who had received the school colours from Edward VII and also attended the coronation of George V, was killed on 2 March in the recapture of ‘The Bluff', an old spoil heap adjoining the Ypres-Comines Canal, which was an important observation point.
On 23 March, the War Diary of 2nd Bn, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders recorded: "At about 3 p.m. the German Heavy Minerwerfer came into action against the Brick stacks and Brick stack Keep occupied by “B” Company. About 20 Minerwerfer bombs fell in this quarter, doing very great damage, throwing immense numbers of bricks into the air, and destroying dug-outs and shelters. From about 4 p.m. till 6.30 p.m. heavy guns continued the bombardment. The casualties with regard to the damage done must be considered light. One Officer - 2 Lieutenant A. F. Boag and seven men were killed, and ten men slightly wounded or severely shocked. The Company stood its punishment with the greatest steadiness, and a number of gallant acts were performed. 2/Lieutenant A. F. Boag and three men met their deaths in the act of digging out buried comrades in a place exposed to certain danger." Among the dead lay Lce Cpl James Gwynne, one of the five brothers serving in the army.
On I July 1916, the first day of the series of actions making up the Battle of the Somme, 20,000 British soldiers were killed and 40,000 wounded. Between July and November, there were to be around 420,000 British casualties. Five men of the Holy Trinity congregation had been killed by the end of September: Sgt Graham Bremner, Pte George Counter, Pte Charles Oliver, Pte James McKenzie and Gunner William Adams. On 15 November, the War Diary of 7th Bn, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders recorded: "At 9.30 a.m. “A” “D” Coys' with “B” Coy in support were ordered to advance and attack MUNICH and FRANKFORT trenches, other Divisions on right and left were attacking simultaneously. Our artillery barrage opened short and fell on our jumping off trench but despite this the Coys advanced meeting with heavy bombing and M.G. fire. They advanced across MUNICH TRENCH . . . and part of “D Coy entered FRANKFORT TRENCH and proceeded to bomb outwards. They bombed the dugouts full of Germans and killed many others, but as the attacks on the right and left had failed they got no support and eventually had to retire." Casualties were 24 men killed, 100 wounded and 19 missing. Among the dead were Pte Alfred Gwynne and Pte Thomas Neilson.
Relatives looked forward to letters from loved ones at the front, but, as the deaths began to mount, they came to dread more official ones. Early in September 1916, John H. Oliver, an Ordnance Dept. clerk living at 10 Abbey Road Place, Stirling, received the following two letters. The first was from Lance Corporal Neil Ritchie, a neighbour from 7 Abbey Road Place, advising him that his son, Charles, had been killed. Oliver and Ritchie had joined up on the same day and had consecutive service numbers. Three months later, Ritchie was killed in the capture of Beaumont Hamel during the Battle of the Somme. Oliver and Ritchie were both aged 18.
Dear Mr Oliver,
It is with deepest regret I convey to you the sad news that Charlie, your youngest son, died of wounds on Thursday, 24th August. He was wounded on Tuesday 22nd, by a heavy shell going through the roof of his dug-out in the firing line. He became unconscious almost immediately, so he did not suffer much pain. This will be an awful blow to you all at home, and I hope that God will give you sufficient strength to carry you through. Charlie was a perfect soldier in every respect, and a lad the regiment was proud of. He proved his abilities to me when engaged in the big push by attending to many of the wounded, and he even went the length of sacrificing his emergency field dressing to comfort them in their pain. He was of a good-natured and cheery disposition, and could always smile no matter what came in his way. He lived a noble life, and laid down his life for his King and country in this awful conflict against the barbarians, for the right and for the freedom and safety of all his dear ones at home.
I am, yours faithfully,
P.S. - I got a parcel for Charlie yesterday, but I could not send it to him, so I divided it amongst as many of the boys as it would go over.
The second letter was from a military chaplain, trying his best to comfort the family, a role that would then fall to Rev. Brown. The cemetery he refers to is Trois Arbres Cemetery, Steenwerck, France, where Pte Oliver still lies in grave no. 11.
Dear Mr Oliver,
Doubtless by this time you have been notified of the death of private Charles Oliver, No. 2744 of the 1st/6th Black Watch.
I am just writing these few lines to let you know the circumstances surrounding his death as far as I know them, and also to express my deepest sympathy with you in your sad loss. I am writing to you from the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station at which place he died. When he arrived here he was unconscious from the severe wound in his head and shoulder. There was only a very faint hope of saving his life, but though everything was done for him, the hope proved futile.
We laid his remains to rest in the little cemetery surrounded by trees attached to the station. His grave number is eleven, and a cross with full particulars marks the spot where he is laid. It will perhaps comfort your hearts to know that the cemetery has two men attached to it, and their particular duty is to keep everything neat and tidy. The sisters of our hospital daily put flowers on the graves. The body was accorded a military funeral and the Last Post was sounded.
If I can give you any further information or help you in any way will you please command me.
Yours in deepest sympathy
Rev. F. T. Cleverdon, Chaplain
Beyond the trenches of France and Flanders, the most significant theatre of war was Mesopotamia, the largest part of which is now called Iraq.
On 14 March 1916, 2nd Lt Hugh Forrester of Annfield House, Stirling, aged 19, disembarked at Basra to join his unit, the 2nd battalion Black Watch. This was part of a British and Indian force attempting to relieve an Indian division besieged in the town of Kut-al-Amara. Forrester was one of a number of replacements for casualties sustained in a costly assault on Turkish positions at Sheikh Sa'ad on the River Tigris.
On 18 April, a further assault was launched on Turkish positions at Bait Aisa, at which was killed Pte Robert Adams, 1st battalion, Highland Light Infantry, aged 23, in peacetime a Co-op vanman from Cowane Street. Four days later, Forrester's battalion was thrown into a last desperate assault at Sannaiyet. A Black Watch officer recorded: "A final attack was planned for that day to be made by two Brigades, but at the last moment the Brigade on our right found the ground impassable due to the rising of the marsh. Consequently in the assault we were exposed to a heavy fire from our right flank as well as from the front. Nevertheless the gallant Highlanders swept across the muddy ground, drove the enemy from the first line and assaulted the second. Lieutenant Forrester led his platoon against the third line, but from that gallant assault none returned." Forrester had been in Mesopotamia for forty days. In total, 48 men of the Black Watch emerged unscathed out of an attacking force of 842. A week after Forrester's death, the garrison at Kut surrendered, having exhausted its food supply and lost 2,000 of its number during the 5-month siege, mainly to disease, malnutrition and starvation. A further 4,500 died in the harsh Turkish captivity that the relief force, at a cost of 23,000 casualties, had fought so desperately to spare them.
On the afternoon of 31 May 1916, Ordinary Seaman James Munro of 89 Baker Street, Stirling, was serving on the battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable, part of the battlecruiser fleet commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty. The fleet comprised six very fast, but lightly armoured, battlecruisers, supplemented by the five fast, fully-armoured battleships of the Fifth Battle Squadron.
British signal intelligence had indicated that the German High Seas Fleet was planning a sortie into the North Sea. Admiral Sir John Jellicoe had therefore taken the British Grand Fleet to sea to intercept it. At 14:25, the light cruisers Galatea and Phaeton signalled that they had sighted and were opening fire on enemy cruisers. At 14:30, Beatty flagged his eleven ships to turn towards the enemy position, but the five battleships failed to observe the signal. Beatty therefore went into action with only his six battlecruisers. At 15:30 he sighted a squadron of five battlecruisers commanded by Vice Admiral Franz Hipper, who opened fire at 15:48. At 16:00, Beatty's flagship, HMS Lion, was hit. A catastrophic explosion was prevented only by a Major of the Royal Marines ordering a magazine to be sealed and flooded.
At the same time Indefatigable suffered severe hits from the battlecruiser Von der Tann. One salvo penetrated her thinly armoured deck and another hit her forward gun turret, setting off a catastrophic explosion in the forward magazine. At 16:02 she turned over and sank, taking James Munro and 1,000 other men with her. There were two survivors. An officer on HMS Lion recorded that the main explosion started with sheets of flame, followed immediately afterwards by dense, dark smoke, which obscured the ship from view, then, he wrote, "All sorts of stuff was blown into the air, a 50-foot steam packet boat for example, being blown up about 200 feet, apparently intact though upside down." Later in the battle, the battlecruisers Queen Mary and Invincible were lost to similar explosions. These losses were later discovered to be due to a design flaw by which, in the event of a direct hit on a gun turret, fire could travel down the turret trunk - the tube for bringing shells up into the turret - and ignite the main magazine. German ships had been modified to avoid this following a fire on the battlecruiser Seydlitz in 1915, but the British had failed to learn the lesson from a similar incident on the cruiser HMS Kent during the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914.
Many Christians agonised over whether this war, or any war, was just. They accepted that Germany had invaded Belgium without warning, but did this make it right to kill other people? At first, people who felt that it was not could simply stay out of the war. However, in 1916, the government introduced conscription - compulsory military service, initially for unmarried men between 18 and 41, but later extended to married and unmarried men up to age 51.
Recognising that some people held genuine objections to war, that they would be unlikely to make good service personnel and that they may even foment pacifism in the forces, the Military Service Act 1916 incorporated a clause whereby anyone who had a "conscientious objection to bearing arms" could be exempted from military service. The most strongly pacifist religious groups were the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and Jehovah's Witnesses. Quakers had been exempted from Militia service as far back as 1757. However, individual Christians of all denominations, along with socialists, internationalists and other pacifists and political objectors could also invoke the clause. All objectors had to argue their case before a tribunal. Usually the objection was based on a genuinely held belief, but some people did not want to leave their businesses, elderly parents, children, etc. in order to serve in the forces and thought that grounds of conscience would be more likely to earn them exemption.
Many conscientious objectors were willing to do war work - even in munitions factories - while others accepted unarmed front line service in the Non-Combatant Corps or Royal Army Medical Corps. ‘Absolutists', however, refused to do anything that would support the war effort. The No-Conscription Fellowship stated: "We cannot assist in warfare. War, which to us is wrong. War, which the peoples do not seek, will only be made impossible when men, who so believe, remain steadfast to their convictions. Conscience, it is true, has been recognised in the Act, but it has been placed at the mercy of tribunals. We are prepared to answer for our faith before any tribunal, but we cannot accept any exemption that would compel those who hate war to kill by proxy or set them to tasks which would help in the furtherance of war. . . What shall it profit the nation if it shall win the war and lose its own soul?"
Reports of tribunals appear in wartime editions of the Stirling Journal and Stirling Observer, but no conscientious objectors connected with Holy Trinity have been traced. It is unlikely that this particular church, with its strong military connections, would have been sympathetic to them. However, as Christians, the church members, both within and outwith the forces, would have to have been convinced that they were fighting a ‘just war'. That is, a war which passed the basic tests of natural justice expressed centuries before by St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. At the end of 1916, Rev. Brown expressed the sentiment in these terms: "We believe as a nation that we are engaged to uphold righteousness against brute force. We are not only justified in speaking of the battle of right against might - or the more pathetic contrasts of Christ and Odin, of “the mailed fist and the nailed hand” - but we are bound to regard it in this light. Of course, at this time we have no ground for self-righteousness as a nation. We have by no means lived up to the spiritual standards which we profess . . . We have fully deserved such a judgement of God as the war entails upon us, and it surely cannot fail to call us to repentance."
Early in January 1917, a new offensive started in Mesopotamia under Gen. Frederick Maude, which was to end with the British in possession of Baghdad. However, Lt Col. Henry Stirling of the 59th Scinde Rifles, an Indian unit associated with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, fell at the Battle of Mohammed Abdul Hassan on 9 January. Meanwhile, to the north, a force commanded by Gen. Sir Edmund Allenby sought to destroy Turkish power in Palestine. Pte Donald McArthur was killed at the 2nd Battle of Gaza on 20 April, while serving with this force.
In March, the Germans withdrew to a new series of fortified positions that the Allies were later to call the Hindenburg Line. A determined French offensive led by Gen. Georges Nivelle was supported by a British attack at Arras. These attacks failed to break through the immensely strong German defences and in them died Lt William Bell and 2nd Lt Evan Wilson. Feeling they had been decieved by Nivelle's false optimism, many French units mutinied, refusing to mount any further assaults, while pledging to defend their positions if attacked. The Allies stood mainly on the defensive until late July, when the British, with French support, attacked in what became the Third Battle of Ypres, better remembered by the evocative name of a Flemish village in the sector - Passchendaele. Four members of the congregation died in this battle.
During the previous three years, Rev. Brown had become immersed in such practical matters as arranging services for the various troops stationed in the district and, in general, helping his people to accept the gradual involvement of the whole community in the war effort. He kept in close contact with the men at the front, as is shown in various moving letters he received from them and he kept an ever-lengthening Roll of Honour just inside the main door. Its final replica is still there today. After 1916, he had no curate and, at last, in August 1917, he felt he could no longer continue. He relinquished his work with regret, believing it could be best tackled by a new and younger man, and accepted the living of Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmorland, offered him by the patrons of his old