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Historian & Author, John Sadler: "If you only read one book on the Western Front this year, make sure it's this one."
The Half-Shilling Curate, as he was affectionately known by his family, tells the very personal story of an Army Chaplain, the Reverend Herbert Butler Cowl from Christmas Eve 1914 to the end of hostilities in 1919. His descriptive account from his own personal letters and writings, illustrate the value of faith during the war - the balance between serving God and carrying out his duties as a captain in the British Army.
Herbert's engaging story told of the man who matured from humble Christian beginnings, to the start of his journey discovering faith, love and a sense of duty and moral responsibility. At the outbreak of war he volunteered to become a Wesleyan Army Chaplain. With meticulous detail, the reader is taken on Herbert's journey with the Durham Light Infantry from the objective view of life in the Army Home Camp in Aldershot, to the adventure of France and the reality of Flanders on the western front near Armentières.
Whilst serving at the front, his service was cut short when he was severely wounded during heavy enemy bombardment at the front. On his journey back to England he was placed in a cot bed aboard the hospital ship Anglia when she hit a German mine in the Channel. As a result of Herbert's actions on that fateful day, he became one of the first Wesleyan Army Chaplains to receive the Military Cross for exemplary gallantry.
His second battle was recovery and although he was never fit enough to return to overseas duties, he returned to work as an Army Chaplain in the Army Garrisons and Home Camps in England. The book gives an insight into day-to-day life and the strains of service as an Army Chaplain on the home front at Colchester and Portsmouth.
Twenty years later, Herbert a Methodist minister with a family living in Acton, found himself in the centre of another battle - the Second World War. As he stayed in London through the London blitz, again the reader gains an understanding of one man's faith during war and the comparisons that can be seen for a new generation.
Herbert's story concludes with the final chapter of his life and the intimate observations of a spiritual man driven to follow his faith during war.
Reviews / Endorsements
Amid the noise, haste and destruction of the Western Front, comes a previously unheard and yet utterly original voice telling of the humanity that somehow survived the devastation.
Dr Emily Mayhew
‘A good chaplain is as valuable as a good general’; and this book proves it. As a retired Durham Light Infantry soldier I admire this book for bringing to life the pressures and courage of fighting and the horror and frequency of death in the frontline during World War 1.
General Sir Peter de la Billière
In telling the story of her grandfather’s experiences as a Wesleyan Army Chaplain during the First World War, Sarah Reay has shed light on the way one member of that church responded to the crisis that engulfed the world.
The Rev Dr Peter Howson
Meet the author ...
Born and educated in Pembrokeshire, Sarah Reay lives in rural Northumberland with her husband and two sons. She began her working life as a horse instructress in the New Forest, relocated to Corsica in order to become a fluent French speaker, worked as a project manager for a property developer in London and now runs a facilities management consultancy with her husband in the North East of England.
However, from an early age, her father, Michael Cowl (son of The Half-Shilling Curate) encouraged her to nurture an inquisitive interest in history.
Those early days of youthful curiosity developed in her a great enthusiasm for bygone times - especially The Great War.
From the thrills of flying a WW1 Tiger Moth, to visiting the sombre graves of those fallen in battle, Sarah embarked on years of research in locations across England, France and Belgium to become a dedicated self-taught historian. Sarah’s unstinting and unrelenting desire to research meticulously the account of her grandfather’s role in The Great War has given her a considerable understanding of Army Chaplaincy. As a Christian, Sarah has become engrossed in her grandfather’s unique and intriguing tale of war and faith.