Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Curate's Ghastly Tales of War

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Curate's Ghastly Tales of War

Article excerpt


LIKE so many men who experienced the terrible trials of trench warfare, Herbert Cowl never spoke about the conflict in later years.

But now, thanks to a chance discovery, his story has been told.

The teller is his granddaughter Sarah Reay, who lives in Belsay in Northumberland.

Sifting through family papers passed down the generations, she came across around 50 letters which Herbert had written, mainly to his parents, from the First World War trenches in Flanders.

Herbert had served as an army chaplain among soldiers of the Durham Light Infantry and the Northumberland Fusiliers, and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry.

The young Wesleyan Methodist minister signed letters 'The Half Shilling Curate' in reference to his efforts to work out a role for himself in the chaos of war and minister to men in what were extreme circumstances at the Front.

After reading the letters, untouched for almost a century, farmer's daughter Sarah set about researching service records, battalion diaries, church records and Herbert's other private writings to round out a picture of her grandfather's war.

She took Herbert's Half Shilling Curate sign-off as the title of her book, published by Helion and available at PS20 from www.halfshillingcurate.

com It was six years ago that Sarah began examining the family papers.

"There were letters, pictures, documents, diaries, all mixed up. My grandmother was a hoarder and kept everything," says Sarah.

"I found one letter, then another and, going through the boxes, more letters. Herbert's writing was beautiful, and I wanted to tell his story." She feels that discoveries she made during her researches go beyond coincidence.

"I often felt a number of things which happened were more than coincidence and that my grandfather was guiding me in finding some incredible items. Some things were too much of a coincidence," she says.

Herbert was born in 1886 as the son of a Wesleyan minister and by the age of 19 was studying theology to follow in his father's footsteps.

While preaching locally as part of his studies, he met May, who was to be his wife when her family invited him to tea after a service.

Herbert was ordained on July 28, 1914, aged 28. War was declared on August 4 and on Christmas Eve Herbert joined the forces as an army chaplain.

With the rank of captain, he served with the 68th Brigade, part of the 23rd Division, which had been raised in the North East and comprised the 12th and 13th battalions of the Durham Light Infantry and the 10th and 11th battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers.

They were deployed in Flanders, and on November 9, 1915, during a German bombardment, Herbert was severely wounded in the Turn to Page 28 From Page 27 jaw and throat. …

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