The Church of England and the Home Front, 1914-1918

The Church of England and the Home Front, 1914-1918

Civilians, Soldiers and Religion in Wartime Colchester

Robert Beaken

Foreword by Terry Waite CBE

Personal eBook

Boydell Press



Challenges the tired orthodoxy that the Church of England had a bad First World War.
'In telling the story of the Church and its people in Colchester, a garrison town, Robert Beaken enlivens our understanding of the First World War - not only as a clash of mighty forces, but also at a personal and communal level.' The Very Rev. Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster

The Church of England is popularly believed to have had a bad First World War. This book challenges that tired orthodoxy. It examines the relationship between parish churches and the Army during the war, using the important garrison town of Colchester as a case study. Colchester in 1914-18 was a microcosm both of English society and of the Church of England, in all their diversity. The presence of the Army also meant that wartime experiences and trends which were noticeable elsewhere in England were sharply felt in Colchester.
For the generation of Britons who lived through the Great War, Christianity was an important part of their culture, world view and, in many instances, personal lives. To understand life on the home front during the war, it is vital to understand the part played by Christianity, and particularly by the parishes of the Church of England. With the help of newly discovered archival material, this book reassesses the relations between clergy, soldiers and civilians to show that, contrary to widely-held belief, the clergy and their parishioners responded to the crisis of 1914-18 with courage, common sense and self-sacrifice: their ministry kept much of the population going during the Great War.

ROBERT BEAKEN is parish priest of St Mary the Virgin, Great Bardfield, and St Katharine, Little Bardfield, in Essex. He holds a PhD from King's College, London, and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is the author of seven works, including Cosmo Lang: Archbishop in War and Crisis (2012).


30 black and white illustrations
288 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Personal eBook, 9781782045779, October 2015
Hardback, 9781783270514, October 2015
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS015000, HIS027090
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Table of Contents

Foreword by Terry Waite CBE
The First World War - one hundred years on
The Clergy
The Laity
Prayer and Worship
The National Mission of Repentance and Hope
Thought and Attitudes
Armistice, Remembrance, and Aftermath
The Church of England and the First World War


A local study can have significant benefits . Local vicar Robert Beaken clearly understands the context of Colchester ... and he also benefits from an abundance of documentation. In addition, he shows a generally excellent and up-to-date sense of the wider historiography of the British home front during World War I. CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

Robert Beaken shows how the Church of England typically responded to mass casualties and civilian privations. His careful research demonstrates the response to have been much better than popularly painted. THE TIMES 'Must-read military books of the year' (The Right Rev. Nigel Stock)

Dr Beaken's dual background as an Essex parish priest and historian, allow him to paint an informed and critical, but generally sympathetic picture of the work of the Anglican clergy and laity during the war. JOURNAL OF ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY

Reveals the depth of care, the courage, and the sheer faithfulness of parish clergy and their people in every aspect of local wartime life....Robert Beaken produces a fascinating case-study. NEW DIRECTIONS

If anyone is looking for a way to understand how the Church of England worked for the first half of the twentieth century...this book would be an excellent starting place. With the First World War still firmly set in the National Curriculum...this book should be on every history teacher's bookcase. PRAYER BOOK TODAY

An eminently readable work which makes a significant contribution to the on-going reappraisal of the ecclesiastical history of the war while remaining accessible to the interested non-specialist reader. JOURNAL OF BELIEFS AND VALUES

The author's nuanced discussions are not only valuable to have, but also, indeed, beautifully offered. MODERN BELIEVING

A captivating account of an extraordinary time in our history. The thoroughness of his research is balanced by warm and endearing personal stories as well as by some wise and helpful reflections on the issues raised. THE MONTH (The Right Rev. Roger Morris, Bishop of Colchester)

The publishers are to be congratulated on a handsomely produced and clearly printed book, and author and publisher on the excellent illustrations, which admirably complement the text. (A) fine book. ANGLO-CATHOLIC HISTORY SOCIETY

(Robert Beaken) is to be congratulated for blowing away a myth about the church and the war that has had far too much currency. CHURCH TIMES