World War I: Parish magazines offer insight into village life during conflict

The dedication of the lych gate at Sandridge in1921. Photo is from the Reg Auckland collection, on t

The dedication of the lych gate at Sandridge in1921. Photo is from the Reg Auckland collection, on the Sandridge Parish Council website. - Credit: Archant

Parish magazines published in Sandridge from 1914 to 1918 reveal poignant insights into life in the village during the First World War.

The Sandridge parish magazine, with the Vicar’s letter prominent.

The Sandridge parish magazine, with the Vicar’s letter prominent. - Credit: Archant

They show how the men of the village, just north of St Albans, responded bravely to the call to arms and how those left behind supported the war effort. The pages record the deaths, the missing, the injured and those taken prisoner – and also the rejoicing as the war came to an end 100 years ago this month.

Revd Hugh Anson, who was Vicar of St Leonard’s, Sandridge, throughout the conflict, wrote of Armistice Day, November 11 1918 “We assembled solemnly and joyfully in church to render thanks to the good God, who has preserved our land and protected our homes, and has given the greatest victory in all history to the cause of justice and honour and truth.”

Revd Anson – after whom Anson Close in Sandridge is named - also recalled those who would not be joining in the celebrations: “Glorious is the memory of those heroes by whose sacrifice the victory has been won.” He added: “the hearts of many were overflowing with thanksgiving for the loved ones who had been through the great struggle, and might now come back to their homes again.”

The lych gate outside St Leonard’s Church was erected after the First World War as a memorial. It lists 24 men from the village who were killed. Two further casualties are commemorated with Commonwealth War Graves in the churchyard.

The lych gate at Sandridge Church today.

The lych gate at Sandridge Church today. - Credit: Archant

Twenty-six Sandridge men, from a population of 820 died in the war. Unusually, the lych gate also records the names of around 130 men from Sandridge “who served and returned from the Great War.”

After the Second World War, the names of five other local men who were killed in the fighting were added.

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In each month’s edition of the magazine, Hugh Anson penned a message to his parishioners. At the war’s outset, he wrote: “Every mother’s son amongst us between the ages of 18 and 35 should come forward as a brave man should, and take his part, his glorious part in the defence of the Empire, in the defence of his home and his country.”

As the war progresses, the magazine records how the church launches appeals to send Christmas gifts to soldiers from the village serving at the Front. Local schoolchildren knit mittens for the men on active service. The Vicar encourages his parishioners to invest in war bonds, to conserve food and burn less coal – and to be careful in how they welcome home soldiers on leave.

The inscription on the lych gate at Sandridge.

The inscription on the lych gate at Sandridge. - Credit: Archant

He warns in August 1915: “We shall, from time to time, be having soldiers home from the Front, perhaps wounded soldiers. Let us respect and honour them for all they are doing and suffering, but let every man amongst us stand up and protect them from the unpatriotic action of any, who by treating them, would play upon their weakened nerves, and lead them into drink.”

Many of the soldiers keep in touch with the Vicar. In June 1916, the magazine reports: “Their cheerfulness and pride in doing their duty is magnificent, and among all the letters the Vicar has received there have been hardly any complaints or grumbling.”

Just over a year later, after several new casualties among village men, Revd Anson writes: “A cloud has passed over Sandridge this last six weeks, and the sacrifice is costly and our hearts are heavy. But we know that every one of our brave soldiers is ready to give his life for his country. – the glory is theirs, the sorrow ours.”

The parish magazines show how Revd Hugh Anson tirelessly kept going a wide range of parish activities in addition to conducting christenings, weddings and funerals and leading services of prayer and worship.

Revd Peter Crumpler, associate minister at St Leonard’s, Sandridge, will be conducting an Act of Remembrance at the lych gate this Sunday (November 11) at 10.45am.

He said: “Looking through the magazines gave me a real insight into life in the church and the village during those difficult years. It served to remind me how our small village played its part and made its sacrifices so that the victory could be achieved.”