One Young Man's Sunday
( Originally Published 1917 )
July 25th, 1915.
" To tell you that I am at present on this Sunday afternoon lying on the grass watching a cricket match no doubt seems strange. But that is what I am doing and with quite an easy conscience.
" We are some miles from the firing line in a fair-sized French town. It's a treat to be away from the noise of battle, and from sleepless nights, and in a civilised place again. We are only here for a day or two, however, and then on we go—or at least that is the rumour.
" We had Church Parade at io o'clock this morning, followed by a route march, and so we are free this afternoon.
" Two matches are now in full swing, 13 and 15 v. the transport, and 14 and 16 v. the new platoons. The platoons have licked them by 30 runs, 61 to 31 runs. I may say my interest keeps wandering from the letter, although no slight to you is meant.
" Now please don't think that Sunday is taken up entirely with cricket matches and things of that sort. When the Padre can get round to our battalion there is always a service on the Sunday. Sometimes a full-blown Church Parade, like this morning, but these are not what we call Sunday services. The real Sunday services are voluntary ones, either in the open or in a Y.M.C.A. hut. The fellows that go—and there are quite a large number—really go because they feel the need of such a service—not because it is a parade and they must turn out.
" Our Padre has been able to get round to us about every Sunday, when we have been out of the trenches. He is a very broad-minded chap—is not shocked to see us playing cricket on Sundays, for he realises that whilst on rest men must have exercise and enjoyment, whatever the day may be. I asked him once whether he would feel justified in playing a footer or cricket match on a Sunday, and he said that if he had been in the trenches for several days, and the day that he came out happened to be a Sunday, he would certainly play.
" The services are generally held about in o'clock in tile morning. We simply go down and enter the hut or tent and take our seats. There is nothing formal; the Padre is sure to be there first, and he sits about and has a chat with each man before the service begins. The hut is more or less divided by a curtain or something like that, which separates the service from the part given up to refreshments, and we generally sit round in a circle. There is no set form of worship, and even the hymns are not settled beforehand. The Padre just says, Well, boys what shall we have ? ' and the men ask for their favourites, mostly the old-fashioned hymns, such as Abide with Me or
Rock of Ages.' Then follows a Bible reading and then more singing of hymns. The sermon is generally more of a chat than anything else. The Padre does not take a text, but talks of the troubles and difficulties of the day in the most practical manner. I remember one talk I heard on swearing, and another on drinking. The Padre didn't preach at us, he did not condemn us at all. He just gave good, sound, hard reasons as to why we should not do these things. These friendly chats with their sound common sense do us far more good than hundreds of stereotyped sermons.
" The service finishes up with many more hymns and the Benediction. But even then we do not leave. This particular Padre of ours has introduced what he calls get-away-from-the-war chats.' We sit round and talk about everything in general—of home, of books, and all general topics. _His idea is that we should try to forget about the war for that brief half-hour or so. These talks are very popular; we get large congregations,' and these services really do much more good than the official Church Parade, when the battalion often has to stand in the cold for about an hour on end before the service commences."
To this description of religious services at the front Sydney Baxter adds the following note.
You will remember that he writes of what he himself has seen and felt. He has fought in the trenches, and we who have not, have got to face life from his point of view if we are to understand and help him in the days to come.
" The majority of the men who used to attend these services would probably shock the ordinary church-goer. These chaps would occasionally swear, at times they certainly got too merry.' But this did not make them any the less good fellows. Unless one has actually been at the front, it's no good arguing with him or trying to make him understand the front's point of view. What man who has not been through it can even dimly imagine the after-effect of continuous bombardment and heavy shelling ? This I do want to say: the whole time these men were at the services they were far more reverent than many I have seen in churches in England. On leaving they would probably speak of the Chaplain as a damn, or even more expressive, fine chap; half an hour after the service one might find them playing cards, later on taking rather more than was good for them at the café, and yet there was absolutely no doubt as to their earnestness and sincerity or their attitude towards religion. On the whole they were a far cleaner-living lot of men than those one unfortunately sometimes finds in a place of worship in England.
" They were real good sorts. They would never go back on a pal."