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Memories of the two World Wars in the St Martin’s Archives

News St Martin – Talking Points

Friday 8 November 2013

From our records, we have selected some memories that represent the many thousands who died and suffered during two world wars.  We shall remember them along with many others on Remembrance Sunday, the 10th November 2013.  These have been added recently from enquiries we have received.

Stone memorial commemorating the names of 42 men who died in World War I.

One series of memories may be familiar to those who have walked along Church Path between the church and the St Martin’s “Schools” building, where the Connection is now housed.  The undated wall plaque (pictured), opposite the Light Well, is headed “Rest in Peace”.  We had an enquiry as to whether or not it is a First World War memorial.  Peggy Wylie, one of our Lay Chaplains who does invaluable work for the archives, has established that it is.  There are 41 names listed and she has found reference in the parish magazine (The “Monthly Messenger”) to a number of them.  A brief note about a few will, we hope, help us appreciate that they are not just names; each had, and lost, a life in untimely fashion.

Frank McNeal was an old boy of St Martin’s School. He was born in Spring Gardens across the Square, and died, aged 25, on HMS Hawke, sunk on 15th October 1914.  He had been a Post Office Telegraphist & Wireless Instructor; was a good all round athlete, excelling in swimming, boxing, and cricket.  Cecil Stone was lost in June 1915 with HMS Pathfinder.  He too had been an old boy of the school and a member of the church choir.  William Payne died on 30th June 1915, from injuries sustained two days before at Dardanelles.  He had been in the Bedfordbury Choir and in Mr Messenger’s Bible Class. Frank Phillips was killed at Gallipoli on 28 Nov 1915.  Arthur Askew was a quiet, unassuming fellow, who talked little but did much. He was wounded, taken prisoner and died, aged 24, at Hooglede in Germany on 8th May 1916. W T Messenger had been a Lay Reader at St Martin’s and was killed on 21 May 1916.

A picture of the HMS Martin at sea

For another series of memories, we are indebted to Tom Meaden and the HMS Martin website (  He lost his uncle, Thomas Cusack aged 18, when the destroyer was sunk in 1942.  Exactly a year later, a memorial service was held on 10th November (70 years ago this Remembrance Sunday) at St Martin’s “To the Proud and Cherished Memory of The Men of HMS Martin, who lost their lives during the African Landings November 10th 1942″.  It was arranged by Mrs Marie Stephens, who lost her son, Able Seaman John Stephens aged 22 years, on the same occasion.  His best friend was Stoker James Charles Rawlins, who was also lost aged 24years, and we have a copy of the letter (pictured) that Marie Stephens sent to his widow, Mrs M K Rawlins, inviting her to attend the Memorial Service at St Martin’s.  Altogether some 159 men were lost out of a crew of 220. A photograph of the ship is on their web site.

One of the frustrating aspects about our register of services is that the day & time is recorded, along with the clergy who officiated, but the person/institution commemorated is not named. We are therefore grateful for the hundreds of service sheets which give us a more detailed record, be they funeral/memorial; wedding; or other forms of commemoration.  We are also grateful to those who let us know about others, such as the HMS Martin memorial service. Many of those lost and referred to above, were men with naval connections. This serves to remind us that St Martins is also the Admiralty Church.

Although women were not, for the most part, engaged in the fighting, they became, in both world wars, increasingly the mainstay of the ‘home front’ and often suffered the losses of sons and husbands, as in the cases of Marie Stephens and Mrs M K Rawlins.  Others lost other family members and friends, while yet others suffered the pain of “not knowing” what had happened to those who were simply listed as “Missing”. The monument of Edith Cavell, opposite the Vicarage, reminds us of those who served closer to the “front” and who made the ultimate sacrifice as a result of their dedication. In 1920 Dick Sheppard wrote in the St Martin’s Review that this memorial should have been dedicated to all women at war, with Edith Cavell taking a leading position. The memorial to women in world war two, unveiled in Whitehall in 2005 has, to a considerable extent, fulfilled that wish.

Micheal Hellyer