"I knew a man once," recalled the celebrated English theologian Austin Farrer, "but this is not the time for reminiscence, and you perhaps have not been so happy as to know living saints."1 Invariably when Farrer made this kind of remark in his essays or sermons, as on this occasion in Pusey House Chapel, he had in mind an extraordinary individual he had first come to know as a fellow student at Cuddesdon Theological College: Hugh Evelyn Jackson Lister.2
Farrer would deal most fully with Lister's career in his Remembrance Day sermon of 1963, a sermon that is still widely known: "So many millions-my mind is numbed by the huge arithmetic of death. To gather and concentrate my thoughts, and yours, maybe I will tell the story of one man, than whom I never knew a better."3 This time he mentioned Lister by name, and connected the sketch he furnished of his friend's life with two themes that were consistently at the center of his own theology: sainthood and the will of God.
The centenary of Lister's birth provides a fitting moment for later generations to remember the man that Austin Farrer considered the one saint of his own day.4 Along with such redoubtable characters as the pacifists Dick Sheppard and Vera Brittain, the writers Dorothy L. Sayers and Charles Williams, and the bishops William Temple and George Bell, Hugh Lister is one of the truly remarkable figures in Anglican history in the period leading up to and including the second World War. A prototype of the workerpriest, he lived a life that continues to prompt reflection on the meaning of priesthood and self-sacrifice.
Recent histories of English Christianity have not failed to include descriptions of the first phase of Hugh Lister's uncommon service as a Church of England cleric, during which he worked as a trade union leader in Hackney Wick.5 He arrived at this destination in the East End after a trying personal journey.
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, on 15 May 1901, Lister was the son of a general practitioner and his wife and the grandnephew of Joseph Lister (1827-1912), the father of modern antiseptic surgery. His mother was the daughter of the chief clerk of the House of Commons, Sir Reginald Palgrave, and the niece of the poet and anthologist Francis Turner Palgrave. After graduating from Lancing College (an English public school), Hugh earned a B.A. in engineering from Cambridge University, where he achieved an outstanding reputation as an oar for Trinity College.
As a member of the staff of the Great Western Railway, he worked in Swindon, Cardiff, and London, and lived for a time in the workmen's dormitories at Cardiff. Attaining a deeper awareness of the lives of these industrial workers transformed him. According to one of his biographers, his experience prompted him to enter "a period of extreme mental and spiritual conflict, which made him restless...and sent him headlong on long tramps" to think about what he should do with his life.6
Eventually he realized that he should dedicate himself to Christian service on behalf of the less-well-off members of British society, especially those individuals whose condition only increased their sense of alienation from the church. What he wanted to do was, as Farrer put it, to "devote his life to breaking the barrier between these men and their Redeemer."7 Other Anglicans before him-including priests such as Basil Jellicoe, whose improvement society bought and repaired dilapidated housing in the worst of the London slums-had carried on active social ministries in industrial centers; Lister would have been familiar with much of this activity as well as with the sacramental and practical theology that undergirded it.
With few exceptions, the most socially minded clergy were anglo-catholics, whose theology stressed not so much personal salvation and individual initiative as the corporate life of the Christian and collective responsibility. The historian Adrian Hastings ticks off the chief concerns of anglo-catholics in the 1920s and '3Os: "Incarnation, sacraments, church and a revival of what was seen as the medieval socialist protection of the poor against the capitalist: that more and more was the heart of the Anglo-Catholic message in this its most lively and most influential period."8
These themes were proclaimed by Frank Weston, the bishop of Zanzibar, in his stirring address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923. Hugh Lister may well have known these words and have weighed their import for his own life. "You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle," Weston declared, "if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.... [I]t is folly, it is madness, to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating Him in the souls and bodies of His children." When the bishop addressed the thousands assembled in the Albert Hall in London and spoke of "step[ping] out...in definite obedience...to offer the Sacrifice of Christ's obedience," he had in mind not only the sacrifice at the altar: "You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges...and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated...."9 He worried that this spirit of obedience and sacrifice was a disappearing attribute of the English church and its clergy.10
Turning his back on a promising career in engineering, Lister accepted a vocation to the priesthood of the Church of England and entered Cuddesdon, the theological college of the anglocatholic establishment. There Michael Ramsey was also a student. Cuddesdon was an obvious choice for Lister. Not only was his family background high church-as is evidenced by their choice of his boarding school and by his longtime acquaintance with the superior of the Cowley Fathers-but his religious temperament naturally inclined him in that direction.11
Austin Farrer remembered meeting Lister at Cuddesdon: "When I came to my theological college I noticed a superb man, tall, strong, with keen eyes, with the features of determination, and a smiling mouth." When Lister studied, Farrer recalled, he did not read in a chair. Rather, "he put the chair on the desk and the book on the chair, and stood: he did not want to go to sleep," for, having pursued a career in another field, "he had much studying to make up." Possessing a character that regularly propelled him toward the harder path, he displayed at Cuddesdon a tendency toward rigorous self-discipline which prompted concern among his teachers, who observed him coming down to breakfast blue with cold after long periods of prayer and ice-cold baths.12
Following theological college, Lister harnessed his discipline and drive to the service of anglo-catholic principles and objectives. In a time of mass unemployment and deprivation, notes the social ethicist Ronald Preston, who knew Lister well in the 1930s, "a few of what we might broadly call 'public school' types were radicalized and embraced left-wing causes. Hugh Lister was one of these. They were educated for leadership and they exercised it effectively, as Hugh did."13
After his ordination to the diaconate in 1929, Lister held a curacy at All Saints' Church in Poplar, a run-down section of the East End close to the London docks. In 1931 he resigned this post to accept an invitation to become one of the London secretaries of the Student Christian Movement. This appointment meant that he served as an unofficial chaplain to Christian students in the colleges. Discussion among the staff of the movement revolved around social and political matters in relation to the Christian faith. In the early thirties a leading topic was the dole: Was it really enough to live on? seeking to find out, Lister attempted to function on the meagre sum supplied by unemployment insurance. The experiment proved ruinous to his health; in 1932 he contracted tuberculosis and landed in a sanatorium in Switzerland. There he served his fellow patients as chaplain and made full use of his opportunity to accomplish a considerable amount of reading.14
Returning to England in 1934, Lister undertook some work in psychology at London University.15 His notable tenure in Hackney Wick-"that remarkable island of smelly factories and tiny houses"-began in the autumn of 1935, when he joined the staff of St. Mary of Eton (the Eton College Mission) as senior curate.16
For more than three years, Lister performed the customary ministrations of an Anglican priest while devoting the lion's share of his fourteen-hour days to his duties as chairman of the local branch of the Transport and General Workers Union. He had found that the factory workers tended not to be regular churchgoers. In fact, the Reverend R.RR. Carpenter, the priest-in-charge of the Eton College Mission, had written in his annual report for 1935 that "[t]he chief difficulty is to cater to men and women who look on Sunday as their one chance of a long lie in bed!"17
Holding a view of God as the friend of innovators and artists, Lister came close to formulating an explicit theological rationale for the novel quality of his trade union involvement. He believed that becoming human requires persons to grow in freedom, but too often "we...talk as if the Christian life is only following the straight and narrow path already mapped out for us by God." Firmly grounded in his tradition, this priest felt free to explore how best-and where and when-to impart the meaning of Christianity to others. "I like to think of [God]," Lister said in a sermon in the spring of 1936, "not as a school teacher who had given the children something to copy as exactly as they can, but as a great artist who has given his pupils a chance of making a picture for themselves. God says to each one of us, 'Here is your life, here are your circumstances and endowments. Now make the most beautiful thing of it you can. I am working with you-but I am not going to hold your hand.'"18
Believing that their living and working conditions were fostering a spirit of secularism among the people of his parish, Lister determined to aid them in their places of employment, helping them to organize-and to strike successfully-for better wages and shorter hours.19 As Farrer wrote of his friend: "For, he said, these people are oppressed; why should they listen to us until we get them justice? The people in that part were working, indeed, at sweated wages for prosperous masters; and they lacked a leader to organize them. He did it."20
Lister was successful in his effort to convince workers in a number of factories that trade unionism was in their best interest. He would tell them that
You and your mates have not got your rights as workers till you have a say in the wages and conditions under which you work. And you have no say whatever till you are organized in our Trade Union. An employer may be good; he may be bad. That is not the point. The point is that, as long as he can deal with his employees one by one...he has all the say and they have none. And that is wrong. Is it not high time that you followed the example of so many of your fellow workers in and around the Wick and helped to make a Trades Union firm? Well, look out for the next leaflet.... Yours fraternally, H. E. Lister21
When he began his work in Hackney Wick, he was regarded by the local people as a naïf, "a pious interloper," in the words of a contemporary. Over time, his shyness dissipated, and his hesitant speaking style developed into "a racy and pointed one."22 He became a formidable branch chairman: organizing a paint factory and a rag firm, leading strikes at rubber, furniture, and waste supply companies, arranging transportation blockades, serving as cartoonist and satirist, and acting as amateur lawyer and tough bargainer, all for the good of the cause.23
"He hit as hard as he dared," wrote a local newspaper columnist after his death, "and he learned to be very daring. A libel action brought against him by one firm engaged in these disputes was abandoned, and the plaintiffs had to pay Lister's costs as well as their own...." In 1939 he joined the Rent Strike movement and formed a tenants' union in Hackney Wick, "prosecuting the members' claims with characteristic vigour at the police and county courts." The same columnist recalled a British Union of Fascists' meeting at the Hackney Baths in 1937 when William Joyce (later known as Lord Haw-Haw) "inflamed the anti-Semitic passion of those days with a speech of gibes and sneers." Lister was one of "the very few in that crowded gathering with courage enough to challenge Joyce."24
In Hackney Wick, Hugh Lister maintained an austere existence in two rooms of an old house he had bought. There Farrer visited him one day, later recalling that Hugh had
scratched us up a snack; while he ate, he worked on, interjecting cheerful remarks, and taking me into the business. "Now," he said, "I'm sorry, I must turn you out," for there was a meeting of the Trades Union branch. It did not last long. "Now you can come in," he said, and introduced me to his trades ministry: of whom a few went away, but the most part stayed, and turned themselves, would you believe it, with the utmost simplicity, into a Bible class; and asked searching questions about the will of God for them in their situation.25
Throughout his priestly career, Lister saw a distinction but no gap between single-minded worship in the sanctuary and scrappy service for and amongst his fellows in a hostile world. Beginning each day with the early morning celebration at the Eton Mission, at midday he could be found standing outside the gates of a local factory speaking and handing out leaflets.26 Those who remembered him years later spoke of what a "worldly" priest Hugh made and a moment later of what an "unworldly" person he was.
Lister was a forerunner of other clergymen who would live and work in depressed areas, exercising their ministries in church and society through small dedicated groups or cells. Scholars have observed family resemblances-though no actual links-between the methods of Hugh Lister in Hackney Wick and those of the French worker-priests of the 1940s. He has also been cited as a precursor of the practitioners of Latin American liberation theology.27
In postwar Britain his life-story probably did serve as a direct inspiration to worker-priests who succeeded him and had an opportunity to read of his unusual career. A recent historian of this movement in the Church of England cites Lister as an important predecessor of later non-stipendiary clergy, observing that both a book-length biography and an article about him appeared within three years of his death. "Thus," Patrick Vaughan notes, "written testimony to this Anglican priest's...life appeared at the very moment that the notion of priests in industry was prominently under discussion."28
But Lister's primary significance was best summarized by a man who wrote a letter to his local newspaper not long after the clergyman's death. Responding to a recent article in the Hackney Gazette which had discussed the careers of vicars and curates from the Eton Mission who had gone on to become bishops, this correspondent noted that Hugh Lister "was not enthroned in any cathedral, but I believe-indeed, I know-that he was enthroned in the hearts of all the working-class people of this district." Lister, he recalled, obtained for the people of his parish "increased wages, shorter hours and lower rents, and I know at times he gave the needy his very bread and went hungry." This curate's "heart was not in vestments or in vested interests: his was the cause of the under-dog. He was the champion of the poor, and the arch-enemy of all that seemed unfair."
Pointing to the next phase of Lister's career, which began with the cleric's joining the Welsh Guards, this same letter writer mentioned his regret at having "taunted" Lister "for his pacifist writings" before the war. The priest "was at heart a sincere pacifist. He loathed militarism, but was among the first to answer the country's call in the hour of peril."29
Lister may have hated "militarism," but he had retained an affection for the military life. Head of the Army Class at Lancing, he wrote to the Welsh Guards trying to obtain a commission, declaring that "I just missed the last war, I do not want to miss the next one."30 Deeply patriotic, Lister had backed military conscription in March 1939, when the draft was unpopular among his comrades in the labor movement, because he knew it to be the most efficient way to commence a necessary task: preventing the Nazis from conquering Great Britain.31
Of course what was highly unusual about Hugh Lister's response to the rise of Hitlerism was not his hatred of fascism and his conclusion that this evil needed opposing by all just means but his desire to enter the conflict as a combatant rather than a chaplain. Since the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had officially discountenanced ministers of the altar taking a direct part in the shedding of blood. Although the Church of England generally subscribed to these medieval strictures, it imposed no ecclesiastical penalties on the few priests who fought in wars. The church, however, did appear to accept the view that military life could be harmful to the proper fulfillment of the cleric's pastoral duties.32 In 1940 the Bishops' War Committee, chaired by the bishop of London, Geoffrey Fisher, stated that a clergyman who left his parish for combatant service should be warned by his bishop that he would be required, before resuming his ministry, to produce testimonials affirming that he had "conducted himself throughout his military career in a manner becoming to an ordained minister."33
Notwithstanding his church's concerns, Lister decided, in his habitually straightforward manner, that he could best help men bear the blows of war by sharing their experiences with them. He hoped to be an example and a companion to those who knew fear, suffered wounds, and faced death; and he believed he could make a better job of it if he fought alongside them than he could otherwise.34 Thus he joined the regular army as an Emergency Commission 2nd lieutenant on 2 October 1939.35
After completing a posting to the training battalion in Colchester, Lister went to France on 24 April 1940 and found himself in the second half of May in the beleaguered vicinity of Arras and Douai. He returned to England on 3 June as part of the evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk. Obtaining a "distinguished pass" upon completion of a Carrier Course in June-July 1942, he was twice posted and employed as a Carrier Instructor at the School of Infantry, Barnard Castle, County Durham. Applying his engineering skills, he brought about a number of design improvements in the Universal (Bren) Carrier, a light armored and tracked vehicle used to transport the Bren machine gun. On 21 November 1943 he was promoted to his final rank of Temporary Major.36
After spending many months in England training for their role as breakout troops in the invasion of western Europe, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Welsh Guards landed at Arromanches, on the coast of Normandy, between the 18th and 29th of June, 1944. As the 1st Battalion took over their sector of the line on 28 June, fighting raged south of them at Caen. The next day, they and the other battalions of the 32nd Guards Brigade were detached from the Guards Armoured Division and sent forward to defend freshly won-but not yet secure-ground. Taking up their positions around Cheux, a village eight miles west of Caen, the 1st Battalion found themselves for the first time in a battle zone. Their first evening there, the men of battalion headquarters were still digging in when they came under a heavy mortar attack. The commanding officer and the second-in-command were both wounded and had to be evacuated to England. Major J. E. Pass took command of the battalion and was killed the next evening. Thus its three senior officers were lost before the 1 st Battalion ever saw the enemy.37
"That evening," lieutenant Richard Mosse wrote in his diary of the first night's mortar attack, "I heard for the first time shells coming at me. I went very flat and they exploded some 60 yards away... Early next morning I heard that they had struck Battalion Headquarters." The devastation meant that Mosse was now commanding Support Company's anti-tank platoon. "The next day Johnny Pass...was killed. Major Cyril Heber-Percy, who was commanding Support Company, took over the battalion and Major Hugh Lister came up to take over Support Company." Mosse was satisfied with the change: It "could not have suited me better for I could wish no better leaders than these two so very different men. Cyril a Master of Fox Hounds and Hugh a Priest. But both had the ability to inspire by their courage and skill those who fought with them."38 Lister too was pleased with his new assignment. A former colleague in Hackney Wick recalled that he wrote home "in terms of rapture of being at last where he had wished to be, leading his men in battle...."39
Lister's new command, Support Company (1st Battalion), comprised four platoons: a carrier platoon, a mortar platoon (manning 3-in. mortars), an anti-tank platoon (employing 6-pounder anti-tank guns), and a pioneer platoon (an assault unit which cleared the way through obstacles such as minefields and barbed wire). These four platoons never fought together as a company; their task was to provide support to the four rifle companies when they went into battle.
Once his company was deployed, Major Lister had no role to play except back at headquarters to assist and to carry out redeployment when ordered. "So really in battle Hugh did not have an operational command," Major-General (then lieutenant) Peter Leuchars pointed out, "and this worried him, I know; he wanted to get cracking." In the event, Lister would venture forward, "going up to find out what was happening and suggesting what people like me ought to be doing." Often he would go off on his own to try to solve a problem.40 In an army that has since been criticized for demonstrating an insufficient quantity of flexibility and initiative, Hugh Lister repeatedly displayed imagination and sacrificial courage, as well as a determination to get the job done that could border on recklessness.41
Lieutenant Mosse recalled a technique of Hugh's called "testing fire." Lister "had this extraordinary theory that if he just walked up the road then the enemy would be so astounded that anybody shooting at him would miss with their first shots, which would enable him to get clear and us to identify the enemy position." Testing fire in this manner "was very common for him. Nobody else would dare to do it. Hugh would say, 'well let's see if there are any enemy here.' We'd all be peering around the corner, looking over the wall or something. He'd walk right up the middle while we were sweating back there watching him." Mosse thought "it was [Hugh's] absolute belief that if he was going to die he was going to die."42
"I've never ever believed Hugh was frightened," Peter Leuchars said; "he never gave the impression of that. He gave the impression he was curious. He did things which in any normal person you would say were incredibly brave-[though] some of them I'd criticize and say were a bit foolhardy." Lister's apparent lack of fear "was quite extraordinary; I've never seen it in anybody else in my life. I've never seen anybody behave like Hugh."
Lister's bravery was much in evidence at Le Bas Perrier, a town in the bocage country, on 12 August. Ordered to form a firm base with carriers and anti-tank guns to protect the command post, Lister did so while his company were subjected to intense artillery fire that caused many casualties. Sent by his commanding officer to go and find out what was happening with another company that was in difficulty, Lister reorganized the company under heavy fire and got it to its objective. When a road to two of the companies needed to be cleared so that anti-tank guns could be brought up and casualties evacuated, he achieved the necessary result. Praising Lister's "disregard for himself and tireless energy," his commanding officer said "I could not have commanded my battalion without his assistance." For his heroic conduct at Le Bas Perrier Lister was awarded the Military Cross.43
Although heedless of his own safety, Lister never let his men get into any trouble if he could help it. "His only imperative," Mosse noted, "was that we were utterly responsible for the men under our command. Their lives and well being depended on us and we must never fail them whatever the cost to us. He was always quiet and peaceful however wild the action around him. The only time I ever saw him rattled was if any of his boys strayed into danger."44
"You knew that he had thought everything through," Mosse said, "and if he asked you to do something it was the right thing to do." As a result, "everybody adored him and would simply do whatever he asked." Hugh was "slightly unworldly, and we trusted him completely." But he was also "a very unchurchy man. All the young officers would gather in his bivouac and drink calvados and just chat. He was very good company."
Leuchars recalled that Hugh Lister "was totally unlike the picture you might have of a Guards officer-totally unlike." Never aloof, "he was much more like somebody who had risen from the ranks of a Guardsman, rather than an officer who had come in from Sandhurst. A very caring person, he'd take a great deal of trouble of going to base hospitals or forward casualty collecting stations. You know you meet an awful lot of people in life who you just forget. You never would forget about him." Hugh could reach his men by speaking on their level; many officers were unable to do that.
Lister used to hold Holy Communion services, mostly for his own company, which were always well attended. As Austin Farrer noted, "There was no unreality in those [celebrations] when so thin a veil of safety stood between this world and the other."*8 On one such occasion, according to Hugh's nephew, the Reverend William Pryor,
he purloined 2 bottles of 1928 port to celebrate Communion with out in the open air in an orchard. He was so pleased with the port that he totally forgot about the bread, and when it came to the offertory he turned to the astonished congregation of Guardsmen and said, "O fuck, I've forgotten the bread." And forthwith bread appeared. That was how he spoke with the men and no one was surprised but many were amused as it was so typical of him.46
This somewhat irregular celebration of the Eucharist took place shortly after the high point of the Welsh Guards' activity in northwestern Europe. lieutenant Mosse recalled that "Hugh came in and said, 'We're going for Brussels,' We simply got on the main road that led from Douai to Brussels and drove flat out [for over 90 miles]." Encountering little opposition, the Welsh Guards, with their fast Cromwell tanks in the lead, reached the Belgian capital as night was falling on 3 September and liberated the city.
Three days later, under orders to seize the crossings over the Albert Canal and the road system beyond it, the Guards Armoured Division continued their northeasterly advance. Hard fighting ensued, with the Germans putting up a spirited resistance. After forcing their way through Beeringen and Helchteren, the Welsh Guards met stiff opposition around Hechtel. In the center of this town two roads intersected, one leading north to Eindhoven and the other east into Germany.
At this important-and strongly held-crossroads, the Welsh Guards fought a protracted battle and, on 9 September, lost an officer whom the 1st Battalion Diary called "truly great" and "irreplaceable."47 Several weeks later, the Hackney Gazette informed its readers of Lister's death: "Former Minister Killed in Action." The brief notice mentioned that Lister "had been a minister at Hackney Wick and, as an active sympathizer with the trade union movement, had played a leading part in the organization of local factory workers."48
In his Remembrance Day sermon Austin Farrer said that Hugh Lister was killed because
[h]e would not let his men advance, until he had made his personal reconnaissance, to be sure that there were no machine-gun posts left behind by the retreating enemy, and missed by Allied observation. Well, there was a machine-gun post; Hugh Lister was shot, and so his men were not taken by surprise.
But Farrer's account of his friend's death is, it must be said, more edifying than accurate.49
What actually happened was that Lister, having gone up to check on the progress another company was making in advancing toward the main north-south axis through Hechtel, determined that he could help to speed their advance by "testing fire." When Lister dashed out into the middle of the lane leading to the main road, the platoon commander knew he could not let Hugh-very much his senior-go on by himself, so he sent a section (a squad of about eight men) with him and then decided he should also accompany them.
But he had misgivings: Lister's approach violated everything soldiers were taught about clearing roads carefully by entering houses from the rear one by one and keeping away from the streets, which were often covered by enemy fire. The platoon commander, Peter Leuchars, later said, "I should never have ordered a section to go with Hugh, or go myself, and certainly not advance three in a row down a very obvious enemy killing area." But he acknowledged that "after a week's hard fighting one was very tired and one did not think perhaps as clearly as one should."50
After they had walked barely twenty yards, Leuchars said, an enemy machine gun, covering the road from a house at the far end, opened up. Lister, clearly dressed as an officer with field glasses and a revolver, was hit first and dropped like a stone; the section commander, identifiable as a noncommissioned officer, was wounded very badly; and Leuchars, carrying a rifle like a Guardsman after seeing too many junior officers picked off by snipers in Normandy, escaped with a bullet wound in his arm.
Back at Support Company headquarters, lieutenant Mosse received an urgent radio call: "Hallo Mike 3 Mike 3. Send ambulance to 219235 [map reference]. Sunray 5 [Hugh Lister] casualty. Mike 3 over." This was followed a few minutes later by the terrible message "Am unable to reach Sunray 5. Believe he is dead."51 The deep regret Peter Leuchars felt at the loss of his friend was almost overwhelmed by another thought: "God, you're a bloody fool." Lister's death was "totally unnecessary because we were going on anyway." Mosse, devastated, wrote in his war diary: "A strange loveable man. I can't believe that I will never sit in the evening with him again, drinking calvados and [hearing] his 1No shop Governor.' Hugh why were you killed?"52
Why indeed? Was Lister more than ready to surrender his own life and to satisfy his curiosity about the next? Peter Leuchars remembered "[Hugh] saying to me once that he was quite unafraid of being killed as he had seen much of this life and wanted to see what the next was like! I am sure he meant this."53 William Pryor recalled an account of an episode that concluded with a similar comment by his uncle:
"My Commanding Officer in the Welsh Guards, Colonel John Miller (now Colonel Sir John Miller, the Queen's Equerry), used to tell me a story about my uncle, who was a contemporary, and who he sometimes found a bit baffling." After advancing slowly through the close-hedged bocage country, Miller had his men take cover in a ditch along a hedgerow. Then "my uncle came up and said, John, can I take my carriers through?' 'I wouldn't,' replied John; 'I think that there are a couple of Spandaus [German light machine guns] covering our front.' Oh are there!' said Hugh, proceeding forward to 'personally reconnoitre,' and coming almost immediately under heavy fire." After running back to the cover of the hedge, Lister declared, "'Yes, John, you were perfectly right; I will have to take them round.'" With that, Miller "proceeded to remonstrate with him for exposing himself to unnecessary risk. 'You know, Hugh, you will get killed doing that sort of thing'-which indeed he was. 'Yes, John,' was Hugh's somewhat patronising reply, as he took him by the elbow, 'but then you see I have always thought that that would be an interesting experience.'"54
A clue to his death stands out from a page in the middle of the biography treating his years as a union leader in Hackney Wick. "It must be confessed," one of his former colleagues wrote, "that while one of Hugh Lister's greatest gifts for leadership consisted in his power to take rapid decisions and carry them out unflinchingly, he had the defects of his virtues in that he was loath to ask or accept advice at a crisis, and liked to take his own course if he thought it right."55
At Hechtel, he probably believed that the platoon of Guards were being too slow in their progress, and he may well have been feeling pressure from above to move quickly. The main road to Eindhoven needed to be cleared to get the heavy equipment up. Since at the time there was no sign of the enemy in the immediate area, he undoubtedly thought he saw a means whereby he could personally help to speed the advance.56
Other possible insights into Lister's death may be gleaned from a consideration of his background and character. His social class and education undoubtedly gave him a strong sense of noblesse oblige and an appreciation for martial valor. The walls of Lancing and Trinity would have provided him with daily reminders of the heroic self-offerings of those who went before him. This sacrifice, he might well have thought, is what I was made for: to risk my life for others, to be willing to be among the first to die. "One need not even think about being brave," he is said to have told his men, "if one throws oneself into the forefront of the battle with one's heart united to God."57
More than conjecture supports the notion that Lister's temperament-a taste for rigorous self-discipline, for testing the limits of physical endurance-dovetailed with his religious outlook to produce a priest-soldier for whom martyrdom was anything but unthinkable. With his whole being he embraced, it seems, a sacramental interpretation of his life and vocation. This orientation would not have been unusual for any anglo-catholic, whose social conscience was quickened and informed by eucharistie devotion.
Lister would have experienced the Holy Eucharist in a manner consistent with the theology of the church fathers: The Lord's Supper is the occasion of communion with Christ and with those who make up the Lord's body; the liturgy is an event which in its dramatic summary of the way of the Christ displays not only a symbol of faith but a norm of conduct. Lister, therefore, would have understood leitourgia to be both an invitation to unite with Christ and a call to offer himself, in unity with the great high priest, in service to others.58 He had told his labor colleagues in 1938 that by the power of Christ "ordinary persons like you and me" can perform "heroic" deeds, "which otherwise would be far beyond us."59 For Hugh Lister, leitourgia was an act of worship and a distinctive form of daily existence, the two sides held together through participation in and obedience to the way of Christ.
THE QUALITY OF THE MAN
The limitations of history and of human knowing caution against pursuing an inquiry into the question of Hugh Lister's sanctity. But it is not hard to detect in his life a valiant effort to live in the pattern of Christ, to embrace the limits of the particular, to give himself without stint for all sorts and conditions of human beings. The quality of the man is mirrored in the responses of those who trusted him implicitly. One of them, Richard Mosse, was aware of "a presence about him that set him aside." The best evidence for his saintliness, however, may be a character that would have compelled him to laugh at any suggestion of his particular virtue. He was a man whose "eyes," Austin Farrer said, "were not on himself, they were turned elsewhere."60
For English society and the Anglican church, Lister's death meant the removal from the scene of an honest and effective voice for social betterment. "Had he lived," wrote the veteran ecumenist and SCM leader Eric Fenn shortly after the war, "he might well have helped a puzzled and confused Christian conscience to greater clarity and power in the baffling field of Christian social duty."61 As it was, Hugh Lister would continue to serve church and society for years to come as exemplar and witness: an artist, if not a saint.
I am grateful to David Harned, Ronald Preston, and John Woolverton for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article and to the Board of Associates of Hood College for a travel grant that enabled me to carry out research in England on Hugh Lister. The present article incorporates material that originally appeared in my sketch of Lister in the September 2000 issue of Theology.
1 Said or Sung (London, 1960), 88.
2 Leslie Houlden, letter to John Davies, 18 May 1998 (photocopy in possession of the author; used by permission).
3 "Remembrance Day: On Hugh Lister," in The Brink of Mystery, ed. Charles C. Conti (London, 1976), 115.
4 William Pryor, letter to the author, 14JuIy 1998.
5 Roger Lloyd, Tlie Church of England, 1900-1965 (London, 1966), 379-81 ; Adrian Hastings, A History of English Christianity, 1920-1990 (London, 1991), 386-87.
6 Eric Fenn, "Introducing Hugh Lister," in Alice Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice: The Story of Hugh Lister and His Friends in Hackney Wick (London, 1946), 11.
7 Farrer, "Remembrance Day," 116.
8 Hastings, History of English Christianity, 174.
9 "Our Present Duty," in Report of the Anglo-Catholu Congress (London, 1923), 183, 185-86.
10 H. Maynard Smith, Frank: Bishop of Zanzibar (London, 1926), 302. see John Oliver, The Church and Social Order: Social Thought in the Church of England, 1918-1939 (London, 1968), 121.
11 Testimonial statement for H. E. J. Lister, May 1929, Deacons' Ordination Papers (MS. 10326/658), Guildhall Library, London. This letter, attesting to Lister's good character, was written by Charles H. Turner, SSJE, Superior, St. Edward's House, Westminster, who said he had known Hugh for about twenty years.
12 Farrer, "Remembrance Day," 116; Fenn, "Introducing Hugh Lister," 11.
13 Ronald Preston, letter, Theology 104 (2001): 40.
14 Fenn, "Introducing Hugh Lister," 12. see Charles Loch Mowat, Britain between the Wars, J918-1940 (Chicago, 1955), 483-84.
15 Fenn, "Introducing Hugh Lister," 12.
16 Millicent Rose, The East End of London (London, 1951), 143 (quotation); Crockford's Clerical Directory for 1939 (London, 1939), 825. Notice that just two years before, the anglo-catholic bishop of Winchester, Cyril Garbett, had published his pamphlet The Challenge of the Slums (London, 1933).
17 Missioner's Report, Eton Mission Fifty-fifth Annual Report 1935 (London, 1936), 9 (microfilm, Hackney Archives Department, London).
18 Lister, quoted in Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice, 127.
19 Lloyd, The Church of England, 379.
20 Farrer, "Remembrance Day," 116. It would be useful to know the answers to questions about Lister's work posed recently by his former colleague in the Student Christian Movement, Ronald Preston: "What, if any, was his relationship to other Christian radical elements in the East End at the time? There was Father John Groser in Stepney, heavily involved in...helping to sustain rent strikes. There was the Socialist Christian League Group. There were adherents of Conrad Noel's Catholic Crusade which, though ironically led from rural Essex, had adherents in the East End." Preston, letter, 40.
21 Lister, quoted in Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice, 81.
22 "Hugh Lister of Hackney Wick," Hackney Gazette, 21 August 1946 (photocopy). Ronald Preston "heard [Lister] speak at the weekend at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, where he was just as effective at repartee in dealing with interrupters as [the Methodist evangelist] Donald Soper." Preston, letter, 40.
23 Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice.
24 "Hugh Lister of Hackney Wick." In 1937 Joyce stood as a candidate on behalf of the British Union of Fascists in the London County Council election of 4 March for the Borough of Shoreditch, which was the neighboring borough to Hackney.
25 "Remembrance Day," 117.
26 Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice, 26.
27 Lloyd, The Church of England, 381 ; Hastings, History of English Christianity, 387.
28 Patrick H. Vaughan, Non-Stipendiary Ministry in the Church of England: A History of the Development of an Idea (San Francisco, 1990), 150. The biography mentioned is in Pursuit of Justice, and the article is G. L. Phillips, "The Work and the Workers: Hugh Lister and Henri Godin," Theology 50 (1947): 210-15.
29 Cecil R. Moxhay, letter, T/« Hackney Gazette and North London Advertiser, 13 October 1944 (microfilm, Hackney Archives Department). For recent discussions of pacifism in the Church of England and of attitudes toward British peace efforts, see Martin Ceadel, "Christian Pacifism in the Era ofTwo World Wars," in The Church and War, éd. W.J. Shells (Oxford, 1983), 391^108; Alan Wilkinson, Dissent or Conform? War, Peace and the English Churches, 1900-1945 (London, 1986); and Andrew Chandler, "Munich and Morality: The Bishops of the Church of England and Appeasement," Twentieth Century British History 5 (1994): 77-99. On the response of high churchmen in particular to the rise of Nazism, see Kenneth Hylson-Smith, High Churchmamrap in the Church of England (Edinburgh, 1993), 248-52.
30 Quoted in Lance-Corporal M. W. Morgan (Archives, Headquarters Welsh Guards, Wellington Barracks, London), letter to the author, 16 July 1998. see also Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice, 184.
31 Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice, chap. 9.
32 The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed., ed. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone (Oxford, 1997), 1720.
33 Bishops' War Committee Minute Book (MS. 2448), 14 August 1940, Lambeth Palace Library.
34 Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice, 184.
35 Army List, quoted in Kale S. Wood (National Army Museum, London), letter to the author, 13JuIy 1998.
36 M. W. Morgan, letter to the author, 16 July 1998; Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice, 186-87.
37 L. F. Ellis, The Welsh Guards al War (1946; reprint, London, 1990), 53-54.
38 Richard H. Mosse, war diary, June 1944 (photocopy of extracts in possession of the author). Mosse said that his new commanding officer's experience with foxhunting made him an excellent reader of terrain.
39 Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice, 189.
40 Interview with the author, London, 9 June 1999. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Peter Leuchars are taken from this interview.
41 see Max Hastings, Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy (New York, 1984), 146-51.
42 Interview with the author, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, 5 June 1999. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Richard Mosse are taken from this interview.
45 Official Citation, copy in letter from Morgan (Headquarters Welsh Guards) to the author. see Hastings, Overlord, 296.
44 Richard Mosse, letter to the author, 23 December 1998.
45 "Remembrance Day," 118.
46 William Pryor, letter to the author, 14 July 1998.
47 Captain the Earl of Rosse and Colonel E. R. Hill, The Story of the Guards Armoured Division (London, 1956), 104-22; Ellis, The Welsh Guards at War, 65-68, 216-26 (quotation, 221); G. L. Verney, The Guards Armoured Division (London, 1955), 94-95.
48 Hackney Gaietle and North London Advertiser, 2 October 1944 (microfilm, Hackney Archives Department).
49 "Remembrance Day," 118. Farrer was almost certainly unaware of the full circumstances of his friend's death. The level of detail in the information available to him is indicated by the paucity of facts provided in the biography of Lister published almost two years after the tragic event. Cameron's In Pursuit ofjustite states only that "he was shot down by a machine-gun when engaged on a reconaissance" (189): a spare account that probably represents all that most people knew for many years.
50 Peter Leuchars, letter to the author, 10 November 1998.
51 Richard H. Mosse, war diary, Scpcember 1944 (photocopied excerpts in possession of the author).
53 Peter Leuchars, letter to the author, 25 October 1998.
54 William Pryor, letter to the author, 14 July 1998.
55 Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice, 89.
56 Peter Leuchars, letter to the author, 10 November 1998.
57 Lister, quoted in Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice, 189.
58 M. Pellegrino, "Liturgy and Fathers," Encyclopedia of the Early Church (New York, 1992), 1:494-95.
59 Lister, quoted in Cameron, In Pursuit of Justice, 123.
60 "Remembrance Day," 118.
61 Fenn, "Introducing Hugh Lister," 13.
David Hein is professor of religion and philosophy at Hood College, in Frederick, Maryland.…