Wednesday 28 September 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 14



History repeats itself, and the study of history is as important for the lessons it teaches in the present as for the Information or stimulation it offers of the past. I am not writing history. I am only writing memories. But when my mind was directed, as it specially was, this week to the approaching adjourned meeting of the Assembly to deal with the Sustentation Fund and the general question of ministerial support, it occurred to me that it would be an opportune time to recall the first great Lay Conference after Disestablishment, and, as a friend said, the greatest Lay Conference held in connection with the Church. The same question led to special or adjourned meetings fifty years ago, as it is doing now. The loss of the Regium Donum gave special interest and importance to these meetings and conferences, and led to natural anxiety. It was then known that the Commutation Fund, even with the bonus thrown in, no matter how well invested, would make a drop of at least £20 or £30 in the annual payment to each minister, but it was not known how far the people, who had been accustomed to regard the Regium Donum as a staple supply for the minister, would rise to make up the deficiency or advance upon it.

It was in these circumstances the Lay Conference was held in Linenhall Street Church on the 29th Sept., 1869 — exactly forty-seven years ago. I am quite aware that that Lay Conference and its figures, both as to its aspirations and the failure to realise them, have formed the subjects of discussion and controversy ever since. I only intend to present an outline of the position and proposals at the time, which may prove interesting and informative on the light of the coming meeting and the present position. And the first thing I will notice is the character and spirit of the men who took the leading part in it. It was the first meeting of Presbyterian laymen I had ever attended, and it was a large and inspiring meeting. From platform to pew every man seemed full of faith and hope, spirit and determination. Every Presbytery in the Church, was represented, and over three hundred congregations had direct representation, and in many cases two members from each. “The appearance of the meeting was very striking,” says a chronicler of the time in one of the newspapers. “Such a concurrence of the wealth, influence, and earnest zeal of our Church has rarely been witnessed. No one could look upon the eager sea of faces, in which hope and determination were equally depicted, without the conviction that God was leading His Church, and that He would guide her to a triumphant issue out of all her difficulties. . . . All who loved the Presbyterian Church left the meeting full of bright hopes and cheerful aspirations.” The members of the Sustentation Fund Committee who were present ex-officio, and took part in the conference, were — J. P. Corry, J.P.; John Lytle, J.P.; Thomas M'Clure, M.P.; Wm. Young, W. J. Alexander, Alex. Clarke, Robert Heron, D.L., J.P.; T. Sinclair, J.P.; T. A. Dickson, D. D. Leitch, J. S. Crawford, J.P.; W. L. Finlay, J. Adams, J.P.; Geo. M'Carter, Joseph Cuthbert. All these men represented great interests in themselves, and were the life of the country as well as the Church. All of these did work in their day and generation, and all have now passed to their rest and reward. The last of the group of these grand old Presbyterians to leave this earthly scene was Mr. Joseph Cuthbert, J.P.; and we all know up to the last the generosity and sympathy he displayed towards the Church.

It is impossible to deal with the Lay Conference without referring to what may be said to have constituted its basis, so far as the financial question affecting the Church was involved — namely, the letters and contributions of a young and loyal Presbyterian of the time, afterwards widely and honourably known as the Right Hon. Thos. Sinclair. Mr. Sinclair had entered into the whole question with the enthusiasm of a loyal Presbyterian, and the experience of a business man and mathematician. He was among the first to advocate not only commutation in the interests of the Church, but to show on an actuarial basis how it could be satisfactorily carried out. It must be remembered that when the Conference was held the ministers had not come to any decision on the subject of commutation in the interests of the Church, and the actual sum to be paid had not been definitely fixed, as the Act had not come into force. The question that at the time agitated the Church was the question of the commutation of the ministers in the interests of the Church. With the Church the question was as to future provision for the ministry; the question for the existing ministers was security against loss in the event of their commuting. This, however, must be said for the ministers of the time, that the general feeling was in favour of commutation in the interests of the Church; and that was ultimately carried out, only a dozen or so refusing to adopt the principle, insisting upon the direct payment of their annuities while they lived.

The task Mr. Sinclair set before him was to assure ministers by actuarial calculations, that the commutation, even with a much smaller Sustentation Fund than that contemplated, would provide ample security for the payment of all the annuitants to the very last their full £69; but with a Sustentation Fund of £28,500 the ministerial income of £100 a year, which was the aim of the Conference, would be secured. The second part of his proposal has turned out a beautiful dream in part, because the fund has not yet reached that amount, and in part because the interest of the Commutation Fund was unable, by reason of reinvestments at lower rates, to be maintained on the basis of his calculation. Mr. Sinclair supplied two tables, which showed that so far as the existing ministers were concerned the interest on the Commutation Fund would provide the full £69 for them all, and leave a surplus at the end of fifty-five years one at 3½ per cent., showing a surplus of over £90,000, and 4¼ rate of over £600,000 at the same period. According to his calculation, however, the interest in the case of commutation would fall £12,000 annually short of the amount necessary to secure each minister his £69; and it was to see how far the Church could raise not only that sum, but increase it 2½ times that the Lay Conference was called. It was an exciting time for the ministers and members as well; and I doubt if there was a Conference held since that had a weightier problem to consider.

My reason for referring to Mr. Sinclair and his proposals is that they formed the staple of much of the discussion, and from having looked over the report of the meeting I find that the soundness of his calculations was only called in question by those who were opposed to commutation in the interests of the Church, who were few and negligible. The resolution commended commutation in the interests of the Church, with a guarantee of separate trusteeship to secure the payment to the commuting ministers; and the establishment of a Sustentation Fund aiming at an amount which, with the interest on commutation, would secure to each minister at least £100 a year, independent of stipend. The names of those who took part in that meeting will enable readers of the present day who do not remember the old times or the old men to understand what spirit these lay fathers of Presbyterianism were. The chairman was Mr. John Lytle, J.P., an ex-Mayor of the town, a leading man in its business and public life, and one of the leaders of the political party prevailing in the town at the time. He was a very high-minded and honourable man, and if he had not left his name and character in the men and business which still bears his name, he left it in the Albert Memorial, to which he devoted the salary he had received as Mayor. Belfast was represented by Mr. Charles Finlay, who occupied a high position in connection with our staple industry, and was one of the most modest, gentle, and kindly men that ever lived, and a devoted, loyal, and generous Presbyterian of his day; Mr. Thomas Sinclair, to whom I have referred, whose name is inseparably associated with that great movement, as it has been in conjunction with all the great questions of Church, as well as State, in his time; Mr. Thomas M'Clure, who at the time was member for Belfast, a fine old gentleman of a fine old school, courtly and kindly, who received a Baronetcy from Mr. Gladstone in compliment to his political standing and service; Mr. J. P. Corry, J.P., who was afterwards M.P. for Belfast, and who, separated from Mr. M'Clure in politics, was like him, a leal-hearted Presbyterian, and who, like him, afterwards received honourable party recognition. Districts outside Belfast were represented by Mr. W. M. Kirk, M.P. for Newry, the head of a large and successful industry, and a Presbyterian of traditional and personal loyalty and enthusiasm; Mr. Wm. Tillie, Londonderry, afterwards Lord Lieutenant for Londonderry, a Scotchman who was one of the pioneers of the shirt-making industry in the capital of the North-West, and a Presbyterian to the core, and to the last of zeal and liberality; Mr. D. Drummond, of Dublin, a member of the famous Drummond family of Stirling, and one who upheld the honour of Presbyterianism in the Irish capital with fidelity and honour; Mr. J. D. Carnegie, being an authority on finance, and, with Mr. Drummond, one of the strong pillars of Presbyterianism in the South, and Mr. J. W. Steele, of Cork, of whom I entertain no personal recollections, but he made a very strong speech; Mr. Jas. Sharman Crawford, J.P., Crossgar, son of the great Wm. Sharman Crawford, and one of the pillars of Presbyterianism and Liberalism in the North; Mr. John Adams, J.P., Ballydevitt, who took a great part in the industrial and Presbyterian life of the province; and Mr. D. Leitch, Armagh, afterwards the head of a successful flax firm in Belfast, which is carried on by his son and grandsons, and who was as staunch a Presbyterian as he was a strong Liberal.

I had intended recalling some of the speeches, but, as I have indicated, they consisted largely of explanation of the financial schemes, which are now out of date. There are some sentences, however, which I should like to quote as having a bearing on the present situation as much as on the then existing one. Among Mr. Sinclair's strong sentences were the following:— “It seems to me that the Presbyterian Church is now upon its trial. We now occupy a position which is in the eye of all the world. I well know the indignant scorn with which we would repel any insinuation that the sons of our forefathers will not now vindicate their honoured ancestry and quit themselves like men . . . So surely as we make it [the new Sustentation Fund] of living stones, so surely as it is broad enough to embrace the whole membership of the Church, so surely shall it be stable, enduring, and honourable. Doubtless we shall have difficulties to contend with and disappointments to bear, but faith in our cause must be supreme. It may be that in their generations, in which the echoes of strife and contest have hardly died away, the structure we erect may not exceed a tabernacle of curtains, but still they shall be curtains of richest colours, and there shall be pillars of brass and sockets of silver and rings of gold. But we shall bequeath to those who come after us the pattern, of the temple which shall yet fill the land with glory.” Mr. M'Clure said:— “I trust they [the laity] will in their different congregations try to unite the people in an earnest desire and effort to make provision for the continuous teaching of the Gospel by an educated ministry in that pure and simple form we believe to be most consistent with Scripture, and to provide for the clergy a maintenance in some degree fitting their position.” Mr. Drummond said he did not think the ministers had done their duty in telling the people what they ought to do in the way of giving. If the people were told their duty he was sure they would come up to it and contribute far more largely than they have ever done towards the support of the ministry. Mr. Slator, of Edgeworthstown, a spirited Presbyterian from the Midlands, said that 1d a week from each communicant would raise a sum of £40,000 beyond all the Government ever gave them, beyond all subscriptions to their missions, and beyond all their stipends. Mr. Crawford referred to the number of young men present at the Conference, and said that as long as they had these young men, and so long as they were assisted by the fair sex, so many of whom had graced the meeting with their presence, he had no fear for the Sustentation Fund.

There was an apple of discord thrown into the meeting for a time by Mr. Hans M'Mordie and Professor Dill, M.D., who objected to committing the meeting to the commutation principle, but after some explanations and manifestations of disapproval the amendment was withdrawn. The entire resolutions were carried not only unanimously, but enthusiastically.

The speeches were all eminently practical and, unless, perhaps, in the case of Mr. Sinclair, given above, devoid of perorations. But if there were no rhetorical perorations, there were others, several of the speakers concluding with promises of an annual subscription of £100 each to the new fund.

The issue on which this article will appear, the 29th September, will be the forty-seventh anniversary of this Conference, which was held on the 29th September, 1869. So that it will be three years more before the half-century will be completed, and I hope by that time those who are alive will see a revival of zeal for sustentation such as followed the inauguration of the fund. We now know that faith has been kept with all the commuting ministers, and that by commuting they gained rather than lost. It is true those of them who survive, or their successors, have still to be passing rich on less than the £100 a year so hopefully anticipated by the Lay Conference, but they are more than half-way towards it, and the spur which it is hoped the adjourned meeting of the Assembly will give to the movement a further advance will be made. The total sum received from the State was a few thousand pounds less than was forecasted at the time. The actual amount was a little over £580,000. In the report of last Assembly the amount of commutation invested capital is put down at £585,705. The failure of the combined funds to realise the £100 a year has been twofold; about half in the shortage of interest from the original calculation, and the other in the shortage of the Sustentation Fund beyond anticipation. But it must at the same time be mentioned that there are considerably more ministers to be provided for. At the formation of the new fund the number of ministers was 550, and now it is about 600. The number of communicants then was 126,858. The number reported the last Assembly was 104,306. Mr. Sinclair's calculation was that with an increase of one penny per week more than was contributed £27,500 would be realised. For the first seven or eight years — at any rate, from 1872 to 1879 — the high-water mark both of interest and contribution was reached. For these years the dividends exceeded £28,000, and the contributions to the Sustentation Fund in three of the years exceeded £25,000. And in six of them the equal distribution in the form of bonus over the £69 was £22. The interest kept gradually falling, as was inevitable in the reduction of interest owing to the state of the investment market. In 1912 and 1914 the interest was, respectively, £20,681 and £20,622. For 1915 it was £21,878, and for the present year £21,189.

The Sustentation Fund in some of the earlier years exceeded £25,000; but in 1878 it fell to £24,832, and in the following year to £23,792, and kept within that line for several years (with some spasms at £24,000), till 1906, when it passed the £24,000, and has kept in that street since. In 1915 it was £24,268, and in 1916 £24,444. I am afraid that for some years to come we cannot look for much advance in the dividends, so that it will be chiefly to the Sustentation Fund we must look for any substantial advance.

Now, as I am making this contribution as much from the point of view of the future as the past, I wish to point out that as the Church was face to face with a crisis in 1869-70, it is no less face to face with a crisis now. Not politics, but war is now the cause. If the withdrawal of the old Regium Donum made the outlook somewhat dark for ministers and people, the war nowadays does the same. And in some respects it does worse. The prices of the necessities of life were not affected by the Irish Church Act, but they are affected by the diabolical act of the Kaiser. A pound sterling now would not purchase as much as fourteen or fifteen shillings would have done in the 'seventies; and, therefore, a larger sum would be required even to place ministers in the position they were then; and the objects of the old movement, as the new, were to put them in a better position. I admit the same applies to the laity; but, at the same time, if the war has brought financial losses to many of them, and especially to the working classes and farmers, it has brought gains.

At the same time, I am not one of those who believe in blaming the laity over much for the present position of this fund. I only blame the section of them, which is, unhappily, too large a section, who do little or nothing, or less than nothing, for everyone who does nothing is using his influence and example against the fund.

As I have pointed out, the number of our communicants has fallen, largely as the result of migration and emigration. There were larger numbers to appeal to in the first decade than in the last decade of the period under review. And not only so. We had princes in the Presbyterian Israel in the first decade, princes in the grace of liberality, an in all other Presbyterian graces, who have passed away, and in too many cases have left no successors at all, or successors who do not rise to the same height of generous enthusiasm, as those who went before. So that when I find that year is only a little over £1,000 less than it was in the fattest of these fat years, and this with a lessening of numbers to appeal to. I do not think our people have done badly according to the standard of the past. What has now to be done is to raise a new standard. Ten pounds additional annually from all the congregations of the Assembly would enable the fund to top the £30,000 and realise the dream of Mr. Sinclair and his colleagues of the early 'seventies. There are, I admit, many congregations in the Assembly from which, such an addition could not be expected, but there are others that might increase it by fives and tens. With the loss of large contributors some of our best congregations have reduced by as much as £100, and in some cases more than their early contributions to the fund. If more of our outstanding men would follow the example of their fathers in loyalty and liberality and all others do a little more this might be done.

I know it is easy to write this on paper and easy for the reader to forget it. But as I read from day to day of the growing spirit of liberality among our people to objects connected with the war I cannot but feel it will be equally manifested in the Church. We are labouring to keep up our armies at the highest pitch, and we are doing right. But it is no less a duty to ourselves and to those who come after us to keep up our ministry at the highest point of educational training and of freedom from the cares and worries of the world, without which it is impossible for any man, and especially any minister, to carry on his work. The importance of maintaining an educated ministry was one of the chief concerns of the fathers of the Lay Conference, and that is becoming more important every day. With the growth of education among the people, the education of the ministers who are expected to be leaders and guides as well as ensamples to the flock is a paramount necessity, and will become more and more so every day. The inducements and prospects held out to clever young men in other walks of life are now so many that our clever young men — and I cannot blame them — are seeking for careers in which appeals for sustentation will not be as necessary or as numerous. There is a marked decrease of students in all our theological colleges, and though that in part may be explained by the demands of the war and the spirit of loyal and patriotic enthusiasm and sacrifice, it is almost inevitable that new fields and almost new worlds will be opened up in the future to tempt our promising young men away from the Church.

We are proud of our educated ministry, and have every reason to be, but if the race is to be continued, the endowments will have to be increased if we are to retain that combination of ability with goodness, without which no minister can be of service to his congregation or his cause. And I cannot help thinking at times that what must be a deterrent to such young men is just the fact that such statements and appeals as I am indulging in are necessary. No man of the character and capacity for the ministry, or for any good and great work, would like the prospect that such appeals would have to be made from time to time to secure a "living wage," as if he were a quay porter or a mechanic — and in many cases not as well provided for in the end. It is in the hope of helping to end that state in the Irish Presbyterian Church that I am turning for a moment from the past to the present, and with an eye on the future, in the hope that now that the Church has arranged to make a special appeal at a special Assembly for establishing the question of ministerial sustentation on a sound, satisfactory, and permanent basis something will be planned, discussed, and decided that will render such writing unnecessary in the future. From the point of view of the Church it is discreditable, from the point of view of the ministry of the Church it is undignified, and from the larger interests of life and faith and Church in the future it is a blot that ought to be removed once and for ever.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 29th September 1916.

The "Man in the Street" was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Kitchener's Men

Have you heard the story of “Kitchener's men,”
    How he made an army from nothing at all?
Nerved, each as if with the strength of ten.
    For the one great cause they came at his call,
And smote, with the veteran's might and ken –
That great new host, the Kitchener men!

Silent and grim he held to his way,
    Held the critics' gibes in scorn.
Faced the task of each clamant day,
    By the level track or the thicket of thorn;
“ 'Tis a slow siege war,” he said, “but then
You shall win, at the last, with Kitchener's men!”

When the battle broke, that first of July,
    On the German front, from the Somme's bright flood –
Through the shrapnel scream and the slogan cry –
    They sealed his vow in their red heart's blood.
On, north, o'er the Ancre brook and fen,
Those serried ranks of “Kitchener's men!”

Loud and high was the song of the shell,
    As it splintered and crashed through the Mametz Wood;
When a young life reeled in the rush and fell,
    Another stepped in where his pal had stood;
O'er trench and crater and “dug-out” den
The waves swept on – of “Kitchener's men.”

Gordons, and Suffolks, and Royal Scots,
    Kent and sturdy Northumberland,
Their blood-stained blue forget-me-nots
    Have kissed at our heart and thrilled on our hand;
For each, as I said, had the strength of ten,
That dauntless host, the Kitchener men!

Sons of the North, and sons of the South,
    Stafford, and Erin's Fusilier,
Londons and Yorks, but all one mouth,
    One throat, one heart, with the Britons' cheer;
If you ask of England's “where” and “when,”
Go, read the story of “Kitchener's men!”

Ulster lads, with the song of the Boyne
    And the “No Surrender!” of Derry's gate,
With the sinewy arm and the girded loin
    And the faith that mocks at Hell and Fate,
O streams of the Strule and the Erne and the Bann,
The stream was red where their young blood ran!

And the signal star shot into the air,
    “Come to our help!” – but they never came;
So they fought to the last, and died, at Serre,
    Those Lancashire lads! Oh, they played the game!
What else could they do, just there and then,
Than fight and die? – They were “Kitchener's men!”

Where was Kitchener? Who can tell
    Of the vigil-post whence he gazed, from far,
As his young troops marched, and dared, and fell
    In the hottest front of the world-wide war?
His spirit, I think, was proud just then
'Mid the splendour of God and the glad “Amen!”

Where does he rest 'neath the restless tide? –
    By the black-ribbed rocks or the white-ridged sand?
His Ocean-tomb is great and wide
    As his field of battle was wide on land.
His work was done! And he died just then
When the bugle called for “Kitchener's men!”

Rev. Dr. J. Laurence Rentoul, Melbourne.

Poem from The Witness, 22nd September 1916

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 13



The passing of the Irish Church Bill in 1869 ended the connection between the Church and the State in this country, and, so far as my memory serves me, questions and controversies arising out of that monopolised the chief attention until the 'sixties came to an end and the 'seventies commenced, and even for many years afterwards. There was not only the political effect of the measure to be discussed, but the practical results of it. The supporters of the Establishment clung to the hope that the Lords, with Lord Cairns, an Ulsterman, as Lord Chancellor, at their head, would throw out the Bill. But they did not, and the complaints of its members were deep and loud and long. The Lords were accused of treachery, and even the Crown did not escape. Most of the language used was strong and violent, and not a little of it by ministers of the Establishment, and ministers of Belfast, too. But it was reserved for one, happily not in Belfast, to bring discredit on the Church and his cloth by declaring that he would kick the Queen's Crown into the Boyne. This was a Rev. Mr. Flannigan, from the borders of Ulster. His foolish phrase about "kicking the Queen's Crown into the Boyne" was for years dished up in Nationalist journals and in Nationalist speeches as if it represented the feelings and spirit of the Church. But it only represented a few extremists, and the phrase was as much regretted and condemned by his brethren of the Church as it was by all loyal men in the country.

There is this, however, to be said for those that took the extreme "Church" view. It was maintained by the supporters of the Establishment, and I have no doubt it was technically true, that the Disestablishment of the Church was a breach of the Act of Union, and a betrayal not only of the Church, but of the Protestantism of the country. It was alleged that if the Union was broken on one point it could be broken in all, and we nave since had evidence that a complete breach became a question of practical politics, and that a complete breach, except in so far as an out-flow of British gold is concerned, is the popular demand and desire of the day.

The controversy and feeling created by the passing of the Church Act was for a period as strong and bitter as the agitation about the passing of Home Rule. At public meetings, in the pulpit, and in the Press the passing of the Act, the treachery and disloyalty to Irish Protestantism which it was regarded as representing, were subjects of discussion and denunciation not for weeks and months, but for years. And Belfast even more than Dublin was the centre of the controversy. The fact that the vast majority of Protestants then, as now, resided in Ulster, and that Belfast was the capital of Ulster in general, and of Irish Protestantism in particular, kept the fires of controversy burning here almost day and night, on the Sabbath as well as on the weekday.

The robbery of the Church was the burden of many a song and many a sermon, many a speech and many a leading article. Home Rulers have told the British that as the agitation over the Disestablishment of the Church passed over in time so would the agitation against Home Rule. It is quite true that agitation passed away by the healing influence of time and the loyalty and liberality of the Protestant denominations affected. But while the agitation against the Bill was in some respects as strong as the earlier stages against Home Rule, there was and is this difference. While with the friends of the Establishment there was bitterness as well as disappointment, and a strong feeling of principle as well, the measure did not affect or rouse Presbyterians to the same extent that the Home Rule agitation has done. With many of them there was the feeling and the hope that out of their temporary suffering and sacrifice there would come relief to the country from agitation and grievance-mongering; that the loss or sacrifice to them and the Sister Church would be a gain to the State, and with characteristic patriotism the ministers of the day threw the funds provided into the treasury of the Church, and the people added their share, too, not to the extent they should have done, but yet to a moderately satisfying extent for the time.

The vast majority of the Presbyterians of that generation who lived through the stages of the Home Rule controversy, and who survive to day, and accepted patriotically and philosophically the Irish Church Act, were and are the strongest opponents of Home Rule; and among the strongest of its opponents were, so long as they lived, supporters of the policy that led to Disestablishment. Presbyterians and all others to-day will understand what I mean when I say that the late Right Honourable Thomas Sinclair was as staunch a supporter of Mr. Gladstone in his Disestablishment policy as the Right Hon. John. Young was an opponent. Yet Mr. Sinclair was no less enthusiastic an opponent of Home Rule than Mr. Young – more enthusiastic no man could have been – and to the last hour of his active life devoted himself to the cause of the Union with an ability, zeal, and energy as unequalled as it was brilliant and effective.

As one who passed through that period of stress and strain, and saw and heard much of what went on in our midst during the time, I am prepared to say that however strong the feeling and however strong the sense of justice or of British ingratitude, the feeling that lay beneath even the strongest opponents of the Gladstonian policy was not within measurable distance of the feeling of deep-rooted and determined antagonism as that created by Home Rule.

Whatever may have been the breach in the Act of Union, the Irish Church Act did not mean even to the opponents of Disestablishment what Home Rule means. It is true, it was recognised by the old Liberals of the time as a concession to Romanist demands and a surrender of Protestant interests, but they were content to ignore these in the hope that, as a result, we would have an Ireland of activity rather than agitation, of prosperity instead of poverty; of union not only with England, but within the country. And then we had the British Government and the British Parliament to take charge of the country. There was no thought then and no dread of the state of things that has since arisen. The Protestants of that time took the declarations of Roman Catholics at their lip value, and believed that the removal of this great and undoubted grievance, this removal of a religious inequality or disability, would bring about reconcilement and contentment. The Roman Catholics clamoured for equality and got it, so far as the State was concerned. They did not then realise the force of what Mr. Disraeli had said a decade or two before, that the Church, while clamouring for equality, was demanding supremacy – and would not be content without it.

As one who was in the midst of this conflict, and from official position and circumstances had full opportunity of understanding the feeling and spirit that prevailed, I can testify that such a possibility as the demands now made and such a possibility as the demands now conceded never entered their minds. What did enter their minds was the hope, with many amounting to a conviction, that the measure then passed would soothe and satisfy Roman Catholic feeling. The Liberal spirit of the time was expressed by the Rev. John Macnaughtan, who defending himself against the charge of working with Roman Catholics, justified his action on the principle of fair policy, equality, and statesmanship, said if it ever came to be a question between Protestantism and Romanism be would be found with his back to the cathedral wall. And he was a Liberal of Liberals, a voluntary in religion as opposed to the principle of Establishment, which he carried so far that when he came to this country he refused to accept the Regium Donum.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 15th September 1916.

The "Man in the Street" was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.

Saturday 10 September 2016

Hate and Pity at Ginchy

Subaltern's Human Letter to His Aunt

by 2nd-Lieut. Arthur Conway Young

We are privileged from time to time to reprint the private letters of serving soldiers, written on the field to their relatives at home, which, despite strict censorship, often contain the most vivid and human descriptions of life at the Front and during battle. This is abundantly true of the following account of the Irish attack on Ginchy, on September 9, 1916, written by 2nd-Lieut. A. C. Young, of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Mr. Young, who was educated at the City of London School, and had been a journalist on the "Japan Chronicle" at Kobe, survived this action but was killed on August 16, 1917, at the age of 27.

MY dear Auntie Maggie,

As I told you in my last brief note, I took part in the battle of Ginchy, and I promised you when I had time that I would give you an account of it . . .

Try and picture in your mind's eye a fairly broad valley running more or less north and south. You must imagine that the Germans are somewhere over the farther, or eastern, crest. You are looking across the valley from the ruins of Guillemont. About half-right the farther crest rises to a height crowned by a mass of wreckage and tangled trees. Well, that is Ginchy . . . It was like being near the foot of Parliament Hill, with the village on top. Our right flank was down near the bottom of the valley; our left extended up to the higher ground towards the ruins of Waterlot Farm.

The trench was very shallow in places, where it had been knocked in by shell-fire. I had chosen it as the only one suitable in the neighbourhood, but it was a horrible place. British dead were lying round everywhere. Our men had to give up digging in some places, because they came down to bodies which were lying in the bottom, having been buried there when the parapet blew in. The smell turned us sick. At last, in desperation I went out to look for another trench, for I felt sure the Germans must have the range of the trench we were in, and that they would give us hell when dawn broke. To my joy I found that a very deep trench some distance back had just been vacated by another regiment, so we went in there.

This man is coming back from Ginchy after it had been captured on September 9, 1916. The losses of the six battalions that took part in the attack were so heavy that every man who could possibly struggle back to the dressing-station on his feet had to do so. This wounded man has found the ever-ready help of a couple of his comrades to get him over the last trench he will see for a long time. (Imperial War Museum)

The night was bitterly cold. I have felt hunger and thirst and fatigue out here to a degree I have never experienced them before, but those are torments I can endure far better than I thought I could. But the cold – my word ! it is dreadful . . .

However, dawn broke at last. It was very misty. All night we had been trying to get into touch with the unit on our left, but without success. So the Captain sent me out with an orderly to see whether I could manage it. We two stumbled along, but the mist was so dense we could see nothing.

We came to one trench after another, but not a living thing could we see – nothing but dead, British and German, some of them mangled beyond recognition. Bombs and rifles and equipments were lying all over the place, with here and there a greatcoat, khaki or grey according to the nationality of their one-time owners, but of living beings we could see no sign whatsoever.

There was a horrible stench in places which nearly turned our stomachs. To make matters more wretched we could not make sure of our direction, and were afraid of running into a German patrol, or even into a German trench, for such accidents are by no means uncommon in this region. However, we managed to find our way back, and report that up to such and such a point there was no one on our left.


THE Captain was not content with this, so I went out again, this time with another officer. Having a compass on this second occasion I felt far more self-confidence, and to our mutual satisfaction we discovered that the unit on our left was the right flank of an English Division. Captain Edwards was very bucked when we brought back this information. As the mist continued for some time afterwards we were able to light fires and make breakfast . . .

It was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon when we first learned that we should have to take part in the attack on Ginchy. Now, Auntie, you expect me to say at this point in my narrative that my heart leapt with joy at the news and that the men gave three rousing cheers, for that's the sort of thing you read in the papers. Well, even at the risk of making you feel ashamed of me, I will confess that my heart sank within me when I heard the news.

I had been over the top once already that week, and knew what it was to see men dropping dead all round me, to see men blown to bits, to see men writhing in pain, to see men running round and round, gibbering, raving mad. Can you wonder therefore that I felt a sort of sickening dread of the horrors which I knew we should all have to go through? Frankly, I was dismayed.

But, Auntie, I know that you will think the more of me when I tell you, on my conscience, that I went into action that afternoon, not with any hope of glory, but with the absolute certainty of death. How the others felt I don't exactly know, but I don't think their emotions were far different from mine.

You read no end of twaddle in the papers at home about the spirit in which men go into action. You might almost think they revelled in the horror and the agony of it all. I saw one account of the battle of Ginchy, in which the correspondent spoke of the men of a certain regiment in reserve as almost crying with rage because they couldn't take part in the show. All I can say is that I should like to see such superhuman beings. It is rubbish like this which makes people in England think that war is great sport. As a famous American general said, "War is Hell," and you have only got to be in the Somme one single day to know it.


BUT to get on with the story. We were ordered to move up into the front line to reinforce the Royal Irish Rifles. The bombardment was now intense. Our shells bursting in the village of Ginchy made it belch forth smoke like a volcano. The Hun shells were bursting on the slope in front of us. The noise was deafening. I turned to my servant O'Brien, who has always been a cheery, optimistic soul, and said, "Well, O'Brien, how do you think we'll fare?" and his answer for once was not encouraging.

"We'll never come out alive, sir!" was his answer. Happily we both came out alive, but I never thought we should at the time.

It was at this moment, just as we were debouching on to the scragged front line of trench, that we beheld a scene which stirred and thrilled us to the bottommost depths of our souls. The great charge of the Irish Division had begun, and we had come up in the nick of time . . .

BETWEEN the outer fringe of Ginchy and the front line of our own trenches is No Man's Land – a wilderness of pits, so close together that you could ride astraddle the partitions between any two of them. As you look half-right, obliquely along No Man's Land, you behold a great host of yellow-coated men rise out of the earth and surge forward and upward in a torrent – not in extended order, as you might expect, but in one mass – I almost said a compact mass. The only way I can describe the scene is to ask you to picture five or six columns of men marching uphill in fours, with about a hundred yards between each column. Now conceive those columns being gradually disorganized, some men going off to the right, and others to the left to avoid shell-holes. There seems to be no end to them. Just when you think the flood is subsiding, another wave comes surging up the beach towards Ginchy.

WE joined in on the left. There was no time for us anymore than the others to get into extended order. We formed another stream, converging on the others at the summit. By this time we were all wildly excited. Our shouts and yells alone must have struck terror into the Huns, who were firing their machine-guns down the slope. But there was no wavering in the Irish host. We couldn't run. We advanced at a steady walking pace, stumbling here and there, but going ever onward and upward.

That numbing dread had now left me completely. Like the others, I was intoxicated with the glory of it all. I can remember shouting and bawling to the men of my platoon, who were only too eager to go on.


The Hun barrage had now been opened in earnest, and shells were falling here, there, and everywhere in No Man's Land. They were mostly dropping on our right, but they were coming nearer and nearer, as if a screen were being drawn across our front. I knew that it was a case of "now or never," and stumbled on feverishly. We managed to get through the barrage in the nick of time, for it closed behind us, and after that we had no shells to fear in front of us.

I mention, merely as an interesting fact in psychology, how in a crisis of this sort one's mental faculties are sharpened. Instinct told us, when the shells were coming gradually closer, to crouch down in the holes until they had passed. Acquired knowledge, on the other hand – the knowledge instilled into one by lectures and books (of which I have only read one, namely Haking's "Company Training") – told us that it was safer in the long run to push ahead before the enemy got our range, and it was acquired knowledge that won.

And here's another observation I should like to make by the way : The din must have been deafening (I learned afterwards that it could be heard miles away), yet I have only a confused remembrance of it. Shells which at any other time would have scared me out of my wits, I never so much as heard and not even when they were bursting quite close to me.

Both before and after the taking of Ginchy the fighting was of the fiercest and the losses enormous. The top photograph shows the battlefield as it was on the day the village tell to troops of the l6th (Irish) Division after a piper had rallied the men. Troops are advancing towards the German lines over open ground subject to heavy shell fire. The lower photograph is the approach to the village as it is today, with its wayside calvary. (Photos, Imperial War Museum and Wide World)

One landed in the midst of a bunch of men about seventy yards away on my right : I have a most vivid recollection of seeing a tremendous burst of clay and earth go shooting up into the air – yes, and even parts of human bodies – and that when the smoke cleared away there was nothing left.

I shall never forget that horrible spectacle as long as I live, but I shall remember it as a sight only, for I can associate no sound with it . . .

We were now well up to the Boche. We had to clamber over all manner of obstacles – fallen trees, beams, great mounds of brick and rubble – in fact, over the ruins of Ginchy. It seems like a nightmare to me now. I remember seeing comrades falling round me.

MY sense of hearing returned to me, for I became conscious of a new sound, namely, the continuous crackling of rifle-fire. I remember men lying in shell-holes holding out their arms and beseeching water. I remember men crawling about and coughing up blood, as they searched round for some place in which they could shelter until help could reach them. By this time all units were mixed up : but they were all Irishmen. They were cheering and cheering and cheering like mad.

It was Hell let loose. There was a machine-gun playing on us near by, and we all made for it. At this moment we caught our first sight of the Huns. They were in a trench of sorts, which ran in and out among the ruins. Some of them had their hands up. Others were kneeling and holding their arms out to us. Still others were running up and down the trench distractedly as if they didn't know which way to go, but as we got closer they went down on their knees, too.

In this formation and over such ground as this the British Army went forward to fight on the Somme. It has been remarked by the writers of this and many other chapters that the value of discipline and training was never better proved than in such attacks as this. These men are supporting troops going up to the attack near Ginchy on September 9, 1916. A shell from the enemy's artillery is bursting just behind them. In the foreground is a trench with a litter of discarded equipment on the parapet. (Imperial War Museum)

To the everlasting good name of the Irish soldiery, not one of these Huns, some of whom had been engaged in slaughtering our men up to the very last moment, was killed. I did not see a single instance of a prisoner being shot or bayoneted. When you remember that our men were now worked up to a frenzy of excitement, this crowning act of mercy to their foes is surely to their eternal credit. They could feel pity even in their rage.

By this time we had penetrated the German front line, and were on the flat ground where the village once stood surrounded by a wood of fairly high trees . . . As I was clambering out of the front trench, I felt a sudden stab in my right thigh. I thought I had got a "Blighty," but found it was only a graze from a bullet, and so went on . . .


McGARRY and I were the only two officers left in the company, so it was up to us to take charge. We could see the Huns hopping over the distant ridge like rabbits, and we had some difficulty in preventing our men from chasing them, for we had orders not to go too far. We got them – Irish Fusiliers, Inniskillings and Dublins – to dig in by linking up the shell-craters, and though the men were tired (some wanted to smoke and others to make tea) they worked with a will, and before long we had got a pretty decent trench outlined.

While we were at work, a number of Huns who had stopped behind and were hiding in shell-holes commenced a bombing attack on our right. But they did not keep it up for long, for they hoisted a white flag (a handkerchief tied to a rifle) as a sign of surrender. I should think we must have made about twenty prisoners. They were very frightened. Some of them bunked into a sunken road or cutting which ran straight out from the wood in an easterly direction, and huddled together with hands upraised. They began to empty their pockets and hand out souvenirs – watches, compasses, cigars, penknives – to their captors, and even wanted to shake hands with us!

THERE was no other officer about at the moment, so I had to find an escort to take the prisoners down. Among the prisoners was a tall, distinguished looking man, and I asked him in my broken German whether he was an officer. "Ja! Mein Herr!" was the answer I got. "Sprechen sie English?" "Ja!" "Good," I said, thankful that I didn't have to rack my brains for any more German words. "Please tell your men that no harm will come to them if they follow you quietly." He turned round and addressed his men, who seemed to be very gratified that we were not going to kill them.

I must say the officer behaved with real soldierly dignity, and not to be outdone in politeness by a Hun, I treated him with the same respect that he showed me. I gave him an escort for himself and told off three or four men for the remainder. I could not but rather admire his bearing, for he did not show anything like the terror that his men did.

I HEARD afterwards that when Captain O'Donnell's company rushed a trench more to our right, round the corner of the wood, a German officer surrendered in great style. He stood to attention, gave a clinking salute, and said in perfect English, "Sir, myself, this other officer, and ten men are your prisoners." Captain O'Donnell said "Right you are, old chap!" and they shook hands, the prisoners being led away.

There were a great many German dead and wounded in the sunken road. One of them was an officer. He was lying at the entrance to the dug-out. He was waving his arms about. I went over and spoke to him. He could talk a little English. All he could say was "Comrade, I die, I die." I asked him where he was hit, and he said in the stomach. It was impossible to move him, for our stretcher-bearers had not yet come up, so I got my servant to look for an overcoat to throw over him, as he was suffering terribly from the cold. Whether or not he survived the night I don't know.


AFTER the counter-attack had subsided I was ordered to take my men and join up with the rest of the battalion on our right. There we spent the night in a trench. We must have been facing south. It was a miserable night we passed, for we were all very cold and thirsty. We had to keep digging. When morning broke it was very misty. We expected to be relieved at two in the morning, but the relief did not come till noon.

Never shall I forgot these hours of suspense. We were all hungry. The only food we could get was Hun black bread, which we picked up all over the place; also Hun tinned sausages and bully beef. We had to lift up some of the dead to get at these things. Some of them had water-bottles full of cold coffee, which we drank. We all craved a smoke. Fortunately, the Hun haversacks were pretty well stocked with cigarettes and cigars.

I got a handful of cigars off a dead Boche, and smoked them all morning. Also a tin of cigarettes. His chocolates also came in handy. Poor devil, he must have been a cheery soul when living, for he had a photograph of himself in his pocket, in a group with his wife and two children, and the picture made him look a jolly old sport, and here he was, dead, with both legs missing! The trench (between ours and the wood) was stacked with dead. It was full of debris – bombs, shovels and whatnot – and torn books, magazines, and newspapers. I came across a copy of Schiller's "Wallenstein."

Hearing moans as I went along the trench, I looked into a shelter or hole dug in the side and found a young German. He could not move as his legs were broken. He begged me to get him some water, so I hunted round and found a flask of cold coffee, which I held to his lips. He kept saying, "Danke, Kamerad, danke, danke." However much you may hate the Huns when you are fighting them, you can only feel pity for them when you see them lying helpless and wounded on the ground . . .


ABOUT ten yards farther on was another German minus a leg. He, too, craved water, but I could get him none, though I looked everywhere. Our men were very good to the German wounded. An Irishman's heart melts very soon. In fact, kindness and compassion for the wounded, our own and the enemy's, is about the only decent thing I have seen in war. It is not at all uncommon to see a British and German soldier side by side in the same shell-hole nursing each other as best they can and placidly smoking cigarettes.

A poor wounded Hun who hobbled into our trench in the morning, his face badly mutilated by a bullet – he whimpered and moaned piteously as a child – was bound up by one of our officers, who took off his coat and set to work in earnest. Another Boche, whose legs were hit, was carried in by our men and put into a shell-hole for safety, where he lay awaiting the stretcher-bearers when we left. It is with a sense of pride that I can write this of our soldiers.

WELL now, that's the story of the great Irish charge at Ginchy so far as I can tell it. I suppose by this time the great event has been forgotten by the English public. But it will never be forgotten by those who took part in it, for it is an event we shall remember with pride to the end of our days. Need I tell you how proud we officers and men are of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who played as big a part as any in the storming of that stronghold, and who went into action shouting their old battle-cry of "Faugh-a-Ballagh," which means "Clear the way!"

Will write again soon.
With fondest love,
Ever your affectionate nephew,

Original source unknown.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 12



I sometimes get afraid that my memory is becoming fleeting and fitful, scattered and diffused, and, like myself, somewhat disjointed. Like myself, too, it has not been trained satisfactorily in the way it should go. When I projected these papers I had no definite line or subject in my mind, and I now find it difficult to concentrate my mind on any one subject. As I take my walks abroad, I meet one person who suggests memories in one direction, and another immediately afterwards turns it in another. One place or one incident recalls certain memories, which are all driven out of my head as I come in contact with others. In fact, it seems to be of a chameleon character, and takes its hue from its surroundings.

For example, every time I meet my friend Dr. Lowe, the General Secretary of the Assembly, all my memories take an ecclesiastical turn, and Presbyterian at that, and then for a time I can think of nothing else until my path is crossed by someone else. The other day, for example, in pursuit of same aid to memory on some subject I came into contact with my friend Mr. Meyer, the Town Clerk, and at once municipal matters, and the marvels of Corporate foresight, activity, and virtue became my obsession. No doubt, Mr. Meyer was little more than an infant in arms when my Corporate studies commenced; but he was rather a precocious youth, and was able to recall as a child many things that had first impressed me as a man.

We began to exchange memories of the Corporation and the town, and we were both able to recall, if not the old Town Hall in Police Square, at least the new Town Hall in Victoria Square, which was its successor. That, of course, has given place to the new Town Hall, or, rather, City Hall, and the old Town Hall is now more associated with war than peace — recruiting for the war or assisting those who have gone to war. Mr. Meyer, however, called my attention to one item that he had accidentally come across to show the care and economy that were practised in those days. A committee, after careful inquiry, had come to the conclusion that a clock was required for the Town Hall, and they reported in regular form that they recommended the Corporation to spend the sum of five pounds in that useful addition to the municipal equipment.

With the aid of maps and memories we both arrived at the conclusion that few of us in this day recognise the comparatively limited area that represented Belfast in the early 'seventies. The Waterworks and Richmond represented the extent of peopled Belfast on the North side, and the Blackstaff its business end on the South. It is true there was further South a Botanic Road, a Malone Road, and a Lisburn Road, and the Queen's College, the Botanic Gardens, the Workhouse, and the Deaf and Dumb Institution beyond, with Wellington Park and Windsor Avenue thrown in. There were also a number of private mansions beyond, enjoying all the privacy of truly rural retreats, and as far from the madding crowd as St. John's Church, Malone, is at present. The old Northern Counties Railway was practically the terminus of the city at the York Road end, and Connswater and Mountpottinger Corner were the inhabited limitation on the County Down side. The Lunatic Asylum represented the utmost fringe of the Falls Road. The Shankill Graveyard was about the last occupied area on the historic road, and the junction of Oldpark Road, save for St. Mary's Church and the Crumlin Road mills and a few private residences, represented all of active or private life that was beyond it.

The great part of all the growth beyond that belongs to the half century under review. It was while recalling these things that I really began to realise the vast strides our city has made, and the vast debt we owe to those men who, as Corporators or capitalists, land developers and investors in land and houses, have created the greater Belfast that is at once our pride and glory.

While in a general way we boast about Belfast, I question if we all realise as we should the changes the last half century have wrought in the growth and life of the city, in its extension of area and increase of population, in the character of its people and its buildings, its streets and its great industrial works, and the teeming population, which have acted and re-acted to raise the city to its present position, industriously and commercially, in population and prosperity, in harmony and contentment.

Since the idea of this took shape in my mind I have taken some walks through the new areas, part on foot and part in imagination; and the more I have seen and the more I have thought the more am I filled with admiration for the grandeur of the conceptions and the excellence of the execution in many cases. In passing from an old area to a new, whether in the urban or suburban districts, one cannot help being struck with the change in taste and character of the streets and buildings. This is, if possible, more conspicuous in what may be called the working men districts. Not only in the size and construction of the houses is there a marked change, a change in the conveniences and comforts; but in the streets and the surroundings there are evidences of taste as well as design, of health as well as comfort. In the olden time houses were built generally to the very front of the street, and usually back to back without either air space or facility for removing refuse. The idea was to utilise every foot of ground regardless of everything else. In these later and better days of houses and streets provision is made for spaces in front and rere; houses are not packed close together, and where refuse used to be thrown out we often find neat flower spots or clean open spaces. I do not think there is a town or city in the kingdom where better provision is made for the working classes not only as to the cheapness, but as to the completeness of the houses and the healthy surroundings that are provided. This is general over all parts of the city, and in central as well as in suburban districts.

Then when we come to the suburban districts, we have miles of extension on all sides, beautiful villa residences with well laid out grounds, splendid wide streets, and good houses, with, in many cases, trees, shrubs, and flowers, which impart picturesque charm to the scene. Hundreds of acres that fifty years ago were only waste unoccupied ground or little cultivated fields are now covered with fine houses, streets, and gardens, and characterised by a neatness, tidiness, and sign of comfort that delight the eye and rejoice the heart. The Crumlin and Shankill Roads are almost encroaching on the mountains; the Antrim Road residential area extends almost to what are ironically called Bellevue Gardens; the Knock and Belmont districts are almost joining with Dundonald and Holywood; Cregagh is fast threatening the Castlereagh Hills; the Malone and Lisburn Roads making a residential race to Dunmurry; the Falls threatening even to leave the Cemetery behind, and the York Road joining up with Greencastle. And in all continual improvements in the character of the houses and in the extent of ground round the houses or margining the streets, signs of growing taste, increasing comforts, and increased prosperity.

I hardly realised myself the real character and importance till my mind or eye became concentrated on it in connection with the article. Familiarity, I fear, makes us forget both the growth and the beauty of our city and its surroundings. The central or low-lying situation of much of it does not lend itself to picturesqueness; but the city has been made picturesque, and a bird's eye view of it from one of the surrounding hills will enable us to realise fetter the extent of the charm of our city, and fill us with just pride. Only the other day I found myself in what I may call the garden city that Sir Robert M'Connell has created on the Cliftonville Road. I wandered through the maze of its streets, everywhere being struck by the character and variety of the villas and streets, the cleanliness that prevails everywhere, the endless variety of shrubs and flowers that adorn the grounds in front of and around the houses. Only a few years ago this was waste fields, and now it is a small town, a perfect scene of beauty and comfort. And one feature of this is that all the houses are owned bv the occupiers; each occupier is his own landlord, and feels the personal interest in making his home, his estate, as neat, picturesque, and comfortable as possible. The project of Sir Robert in developing the property on these lines was an ideal one, and it has been carried out ideally and successfully. The development of which such fine finish is shown here is going on in various parts of the city, if not quite on the same lines, at least on the lines of tasteful improvement.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 8th September 1916.

The "Man in the Street" was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.

Sunday 4 September 2016

The Red Cross Nurse

She goes amid the maddened press,
    Of Teuton, Briton, Slav, and Gaul,
Our nation's White Ambassadress,
    The foe of none, the friend of all.

Above the guns, above the cheers
    For Flag or Kaiser, Folk or King,
The common cry alone she hears —
    The cry of human suffering.

Still men will play the devil's game,
    Though, all must lose and none may win
And still a foolish world's acclaim
    Exalts the sworded paladin;

But tears will fall and lips will play
    And hearts beat warm in every land
For her who saves while heroes slay.
    Oh, valiant soul; oh, gentle hand!

Poem from The Witness, 27th August 1915.
Image top taken from a WW1 poster for the Belgian Red Cross.

To the Sisters of the Red Cross who have perished in Hospital Ships 
sunk by German submarine

When at last the deeps reveal
    The treasure they have stored.
When the victorious trumpets peal
    For the coming of the Lord –

In glory then shall these arise,
    To take their crowns in fee.
Who hallowed by their sacrifice
    His altars in the sea.