The Half-Shilling Curate

A Personal Account of War & Faith, 1914-1918

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Sarah Reay
  • London, England: 
    Helion & Company, Ltd.
    , December
     168 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


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 illustrates the value of faith during the war and 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.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Sarah Reay lives in rural Northumberland with her husband and two sons. 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 First World War 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.


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