This project is looking at the association between our church, Romsey and World War 1. It is funded by a Heritage Lottery Grant and will run until 2017.
COMMUNITY AWARENESS WEEKEND - A BIG THANK YOU
Many thanks to all who attended and helped to prepare for the Variety show on Friday, 10 February. Compèred by Romsey Town Mayor, Mr John Parker, and entertainment provided from various groups throughout the community the evening was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
The evening was based on an article from the Romsey Congregational Church Magazine of February 1916 which described the hall decorated with flags, plants and other items loaned from the local community. The hall was similarly decorated with Union Jacks, bunting and red, white and blue decorated tables; along with plants adorning the stage with the piano being brought alongside the stage to set the scene for the re-creation of our Military Social Evening.
Entertainment for the evening included poetry recitals, comedy sketches and songs and everyone enyoyed joining in with the choruses of the war time classics, as they would have done during the original event. A quiz was held during the evening based on Romsey and the war history. Refreshments followed the theme of traditional cakes, breads and jams of the war period, including an authentically made Trench cake, laid out on the table and accompanied by drinks of the time such as ginger beer, lemonade and ale donated by the Tipsy Pig.
In the words of Kitchener, We Need Your Help!
The community events are coming up and we are looking for volunteers to help bring them about and do justice to the spirit of the Church Community in 1917. There are three events that need your help, and we are specifically looking for:
10 February, Variety Show:
around 4 people to help front-of-house on the evening
a gang of people to help decorate the hall
a piano player for the evening (to accompany the acts as they are volunteered)
acts for the evening
June, Summer Fete:
Volunteers to help organise the event both before and on the day
1–5 July, Romsey Festival:
a gang of volunteers to help set up the church, build the exhibits and man the event
volunteers for recitals during the 4 days of the event.
Tickets for the Variety Show will be available nearer the event – watch out for the posters when they go up and, if you are still considering the trip to France, we do still have a few places but final date for inclusion will be Friday 17th February.
Firstly, I would like to share with you something I discovered this Christmas about Jelly Babies, or should I say Peace Babies. Whilst references to a baby-shaped jelly sweet can be found throughout the 1800’s, the first real reference can be found just after World War One when they were launched as ‘Peace Babies.’ Each colour was supposed to symbolise a country that had fought in the war. However, production of the sweets was stopped during WW2 as sweets and chocolates were not essential food.
After the Second World War the ‘Peace Baby’ factory was bought by a Christian who hid secret symbols in each of the babies - a fact that is only now coming out. Below is a guide to the hidden symbols but were you aware that you need to lick the flour off to unveil them?
Black = When you lick off the flour you can see a Heart, which represents the sin in our lives.
Green = You will see the Baby Crying, representing God's sadness that People didn't know the way to Heaven.
Red = You will see a B which represents "Blood" as Christ died to show how much he loved us and to show the way to heaven
Pink = Is a Baby, when we become a Christian we become a "child of God" (or born again).
Yellow = Is wearing a Necklace, representing the riches of Heaven.
Orange = Is wearing a Bum Bag which tells us that we need to be prepared for Jesus coming again.
At the back of the church you will find a tub of small packets of Jelly Babies for you all as a ‘thank you’ for your support on the project.
This year we will be focusing on the community, and how, in the face of everything happening, they remained positive and full of community cheer. We have been using the Church magazine to help with our research and have discovered a few events that our church community and the wider town did get involved with a hundred years ago. We would like to recreate these and I need your help over the last few months of the project to do this.
The first of these events will be our very own Variety Show that will take place in the Church Hall on Friday 10th February and we will be inviting the community to come and join us. We want to take the Hall back a hundred years to reassemble the soldiers Reading and Recreational Room it was back then and we are looking for volunteers to help transform the hall, to provide food and assistance on the night. We need to find a compere for the night as well as someone to play the piano on request. Please let me know if you can help or if you would like to offer some entertainment to share on the night.
For those interested in the trip to France, the date has now been confirmed for 1st - 4th April 2017. We will be spending two days in France around the Somme and Arras area before moving to Belgium and Ypres for a further two days. Places are still available so please get in touch if you would like more information or book your place.
The project will then come to an end in the first week of July when we hold our final exhibition as part of the Romsey Festival. In this exhibition, we will be bringing together all the research found during this two-year project and show just how the Great War affected our church and our town. We welcome any help with research or preparation in putting together some of the exhibition.
For anyone that would like to learn more about any of the events then please come along to our workshop on the 7th January 11am – 1pm in the church where we will be able to share more of the plans. We will also be holding a meeting in the church on the 11th January from 7:30pm to discuss preparations and ensure that we are prepared for our first event.
July saw an incredible month with our four-day trip to France, where we travelled over 500 miles visiting 12 cemeteries and memorial sites including the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. On our return we held a successful evening talking about where we have got to with the project and sharing some of the upcoming events and project recognition that has been gained. We also announced that a trip out to France to lay the last of our crosses is in the process of being planned. The four days will be spent around the Somme visiting Thiepval Memorial, Arras, and Vimy.
Next February we are planning to transport our church hall 100 years back in time to the Reading and Recreational room that was given to the troops staying in Romsey. We have found, looking through the Churches Magazines from 1914 – 1918, that various events were held throughout the war bringing the community together with the troops. Many of these events took the form of a Variety Show where members of the congregation and troops would perform talents such as bird whistling, reciting poems and singing before playing games and indulging together in food.
Below is an extract taken from the February 1916 magazine with details of one of the many events held by the church:
Military Social Evening
A very successful social arranged by the Soldiers’ Recreation Committee was held in the Abbey Hall on Wednesday evening, Jan 19th. A large number of men from the Remount Camp attended and the commodious hall was comfortably filled. The minister of the Church, Rev. D. Lewys Thomas, presided. There was a short musical programme. The Committee was fortunate in securing the service of Miss Jenkins of Bournemouth who sang ‘There’s a Long, Long Trail’ and ‘Somewhere a Voice is Calling’. Mrs. Woods of Romsey sang ‘The Place the Old Horse Died’, a song which evidently appealed to the men. As an encore, Mrs. Woods sang ‘Genevieve’. Mrs. Woods also gave a humorous recitation. An item of the programme, which gave tremendous satisfaction, was a whistling solo by Pte. Cooper, in which he gave a marvellous imitation of some of the British singing birds. During the evening refreshments were served and a number of games, arranged by Messrs. Carden & Carter, were played, and were thoroughly enjoyed. The Hall was beautifully decorated, Messrs. Leach Bros. having loaned the flags, etc., and Messrs. Elcombe Bros., the plants. This was one of the most successful socials held in the Hall and, at the close, the men from the camp showed their appreciation of the efforts of the Soldiers’ Recreation Committee by giving them three hearty cheers.
July means that it is time to pay our respects to those who fought in the Battle of the Somme, in particular the 15 that died from Romsey, mentioned in last month’s memorial service.
Below is an extract from the July 1916 edition of the church magazine. Following the death of Lord Kitchener on the 5 June, the church magazine gives details on their memorial service taken by Rev D Lewys Thomas. The service reflected on Kitchener’s character and life.
Article from Romsey Congregational Magazine - July 1916 Lord Kitchener’s Memorial Service
“… Gathered together as they were in a Christian church, what had they to say about that life? He knew nothing of Lord Kitchener’s inner life, he knew nothing of his religious views; he imagined that very few did; but he did know that there were certain traits in his character that they would do well to ponder over in God’s House that night. For one thing, his was a strenuous life. He was undoubtedly a man of exceptional gifts, but that was not enough to account for the power he wielded and the position he occupied. He was a hard worker from the beginning to the end. From his schooldays until the last Monday afternoon Lord Kitchener had lived a strenuous life. The preacher then made reference to Lord Kitchener’s beneficent work in the Soudan, South Africa, Egypt, and India, and to his crowning work during the last two years, when he had summoned into existence in so short a time the enormous army which at home and abroad was maintaining the honour of the Empire. Carlyle once said that genius was an infinite capacity for taking pains. Lord Kitchener was certainly a genius in that sense. The preacher continued that he was speaking to many young people that night. If they were spared, one thing was certain: the life before them would be a life that demanded brave hearts and willing hands. If they were to achieve anything they must be hard workers. There was no royal road to success, hard work was the surest means. Lord Kitchener’s was also a simple life. During his time at the War Office, the preacher had been told, he always slept in his simple camp bed. He avoided anything like ostentation; he had no taste for the footlights; he never sough popular applause; he had a horror of anything that savoured of personal advertisement. The preacher was afraid that during the past few years the nation had drifted away from the simple life. There had been a tremendous amount of vulgar display; there had been an insane desire for unnatural exciting pleasure, and, in the midst of it all, it was refreshing to contemplate the life of this great man who lived a simple, natural life. Again, Lord Kitchener’s was a life of unrivalled devotion to duty. A week or two ago in the House of Commons Mr. Asquith had to defend Lord Kitchener against the attacks made upon him by some individuals and by some hornets of the Press who seemed to have a mania for attacking men who were heavily burdened with responsibilities. In that speech the Prime Minister said that it was only the stirring call of duty that made Lord Kitchener accept the War Secretaryship. Like every good soldier, said Mr. Asquith, duty came first with him: he subordinated everything to that. The Preacher said that as a Christian minister he could not forget the fact that when the King gave that noble example to the nation a while ago, Lord Kitchener was the first to follow him in abstaining from intoxicating liquor. Well, he was gone; the labourer’s task was o’er; the soldier had sheathed his sword, and had passed “to where beyond these voices there is peace.” But from his unknown grave in the far north he was calling us “to respond to the call of country, according to our several powers, to put far from us all selfish indifference to the needs of others, and to ask for grace to be given us to fulfil our daily duties with a sober diligence.””
The end of June sees the centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme. To mark the occasion, I will be travelling to France to take part in the memorial events at Thiepval, the memorial that bears the names of 72,194 men who fought in World War One but have no graves and is the largest memorial to the missing. During the day I have been given the opportunity to lay a wreath and I will be taking one to remember those that fought from the Church and the Town. In addition, I shall be visiting the graves and memorials of 10 other men in different cemeteries.
Article from Romsey Congregational Magazine - June 1916 Notes of the Month
Our Soldiers’ Recreation Committee has been very busy lately. Since the Troops have come to the Woodley Infantry Camp, the Abbey Hall has been well filled every evening. The more one sees of this work, the more one realizes its importance. The ladies who are giving so much of their time to this work have the satisfaction of knowing that their efforts are fully appreciated by the men from the Camps. A few days ago a number of R.A.M.C. men from the West Country told me that though they had been stationed at various places in different parts of England, they had never met with such real kindness as they had at the Abbey Hall, Romsey. And not only is the hall a place of rest and recreation and refreshment for the men; it is also a place where many of them are influenced for good. The temptations of camp life are many, and were it not for places like the Abbey Hall many young fellows would succumb to them. So I am glad that our Church has taken up this work with such enthusiasm; and I take this opportunity of congratulating the workers upon their splendid efforts on behalf of the Troops.
In 2014 the Abbey United Reformed Church began to research the impact of World War One on the congregation. They soon discovered that the three churches that then formed the Congregational Church saw 228 men go to fight. Throughout the four years of war the churches' magazine gives details on the men and some involvement that the troops from the surrounding camps had on the church.
At the end of the war the congregation wanted to remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives. Enough money was raised to commission the only commemorative stained glass window in Romsey.
To continue the research from 2014, the Abbey URC applied for a Heritage Lottery Grant and in 2015 they were awarded a First World War 'Then and now' grant and began to research stories from Romsey throughout the Great War.
In 2016 the Abbey URC have been inviting the town to get involved in their monthly workshops and share their family stories, along with offering the opportunity of help and advice from local genealogist, Sarah Stewart, to research their own projects. All information gathered will be used in upcoming exhibitions.