Booklet: Stories of the Great War

  • Jo Siedlecka

This Sunday commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. These stories, collected by Eileen Boland, who was married to the CTS general secretary, come from the first year of the War, when British involvement was mostly limited to the men of the Regular Army and the Territorial Force.

Many of the stories concern French clergy in uniform; the anti-clerical government there refused to exempt priests from military service, and so many were forced to serve in the trenches. Their witness did something to dissolve anti-clerical prejudice. By December 1914, just four months into the war, 87 Catholic priests and 127 nuns were awarded the Legion of Honour by the French government.

There was the Abbe Lamy from Amien who continued looking after his men in spite of five bullet wounds. When unable to walk any longer, he crawled on the battlefield administering the last rites and brandy to dying soldiers. An account in the Daily Chronicle described wounded solders lying in the hall of a railway station in Paris waiting to be taken to hospital. One of them was a priest badly injured himself, who continued to hear confessions until until he and his last penitent died together.

The booklet also describes many heroic parish priests and nuns who stayed through bombardment and occupation to serve those too elderly or sick to leave.

Sister Julie of Gerbeveller, remained at her post as superior of the hospital when most of the population had fled and much of the town had been reduced to rubble. When the German started to pillage the church, she remonstrated with them and rescued the Blessed Sacrament. Later Sr Julie and her sisters treated wounded German soldiers alongside French ones.

There are stories involve atrocities perpetrated by German troops in Belgium, some against priests and nuns. But many others recount incidents of Germans acting as fellow-Christians.

Stories of the Great War, first printed in 1915, is part of the CTS OneFifty Heritage Series republished this year.

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Tags: First World War, France, CTS, Great War

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