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  • Diana Wells

Christmas 1918 and New Year 1919 in St Mary’s Parish Magazines

After the excitement of the November Armistice and four long years of war the contents of the Parish Magazines returned very quickly to normal. The parish groups announced a special Advent preacher for the Church of England Men’s Society (CEMS); the Men’s Provident Club now had 143 members; and the new St Mary’s Women’s Provident Society held its first AGM. 


As winter drew on, the Vicar, Rev. Prebendary Henry Prosser, wrote: “We greatly deplore the discomfort which the congregation suffered during last year’s severe winter. I and the Churchwardens much regret we should be compelled to make an appeal to the Parishioners. The heating apparatus was put in some fifty years ago and is completely worn out. Many people cannot attend the Church and those who do are in great discomfort as it is little better than an ice-house”. The appeal for £240 was successful and the heating was improved further with an anthracite stove, kindly given by “our generous friend, Mr Watkins”. Alfred Watkins was a prosperous “seedsman” and a longstanding churchwarden from 1902 to 1920 who lived with his wife Frances in Heatham House, a private house at that time, which they frequently offered for summer picnics for the church children’s groups. In December 1918 the magazine listed 26 funerals, an unusually high figure even for a midwinter month, the majority aged under 1 year or between 20 and 40, perhaps victims of the infamous influenza.


In January 1919 the Vicar offered his readers good wishes for the coming year, so different from recent New Year’s Day messages: “the constant anxiety and gloomy forebodings have been largely removed and the bright sunlight is beginning to shine through the clouds in which we have been so long enveloped. We must not forget our intercessions for the Peace Conference and all the problems connected with demobilisation. God has helped us and He will continue to do so if we go forward in the same spirit which has breathed in our brave sailors and soldiers.” Now was also the time to begin discussions on installing a War Memorial:A meeting was held in the Mission Room to consider the erection of a Memorial in memory of the men from our parish who have fallen in the war. After a long discussion a Committee was appointed to go thoroughly into the matter, and we hope the proposal which they suggest will receive a hearty support of all our parishioners.”


In February 1919 the Vicar wrote: “There is a tendency amongst some people of thinking that, victory having been won and the fighting over, there is no need any longer for special prayers and intercessions. This is entirely wrong. Upon what is settled at the Peace Conference will depend the future happiness of mankind. There are also serious problems to be faced at home, not the least being the terrible unrest now showing itself in the strikes all over the country. Let us not forget also that our soldiers and sailors in different parts of the world need our prayers even more than during the time of war.”


A note about the return of prisoners of war added: “it is with the greatest pleasure that we welcome back in our midst seven men of our parish who have been prisoners. We trust they are none the worse for their trying experiences and that they will have many years of happy and useful life.” The CEMS asked for names of returning service men. Six more were named and in March there was news of “William and Percy Palmer, who were with General Townend in Kut, and have been in the hands of the Turks”. In May the Welcome Home social evening, attended by over 300 people in the Town Hall, was a huge success - although contributions to the costs “would still be welcome”.



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