While preparing a post about the Vimy Memorial dedication ceremony, I came across a poem written by Frederick George Scott. In 1914, at the age of 53, Scott enlisted with the Canadian Army. According to Wikipedia, he served as the senior chaplain to the 1st Canadian division. He was both an Anglican priest and a poet.
Project Gutenberg offers Scott’s book The Great War as I Saw It, a full account of his service during WWI. For an earlier post about this book, click here.
Chapter IX relates his first Christmas of WWI and it seems fitting to include a bit here. Scott had decided to spend that day with the men who were in the front lines.
“As soon as I could cross the bridge, I made my way to the trenches which the 16th Battalion were taking over. They were at a higher level and were not in a bad condition. Further up the line there was a barn known as St. Quentin’s Farm, which for some reason or other, although it was in sight of the enemy, had not been demolished and was used as a billet. I determined therefore to have a service of Holy Communion at midnight, when the men would all have come into the line and settled down. About eleven o’clock I got things ready. The officers and men had been notified of the service and began to assemble. The barn was a fair size and had dark red brick walls. The roof was low and supported by big rafters. The floor was covered with yellow straw about two feet in depth. The men proceeded to search for a box which I could use as an altar. All they could get were three large empty biscuit tins. These we covered with my Union Jack and white linen cloth. A row of candles was stuck against the wall, which I was careful to see were prevented from setting fire to the straw. The dull red tint of the brick walls, the clean yellow straw, and the bright radiance of our glorious Union Jack made a splendid combination of colour. It would have been a fitting setting for a tableau of the Nativity.
The Highlanders assembled in two rows and I handed out hymn books. There were many candles in the building so the men were able to read. It was wonderful to hear in such a place and on such an occasion, the beautiful old hymns, “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The men sang them lustily and many and varied were the memories of past Christmases that welled up in their thoughts at that time.”
Later he offered a second communion service for those men who had been on duty the night before.
Near Ypres in April 1915, he wrote Requiescant:
In lonely watches night by night,
Great visions burst upon my sight,
For down the stretches of the sky,
The hosts of dead go marching by.
Strange ghostly banners o’er them float,
Strange bugles sound an awful note,
And all their faces and their eyes
Are lit with starlight from the skies.
The anguish and the pain have passed
And peace hath come to them at last,
But in the stern looks linger still
The iron purpose and the will.
Dear Christ, who reign’st above the floor
Of human tears and human blood,
A weary road these men have trod,
O house them in the home of God.
Wishing you joy for this Christmas season and all good things in 2014.
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