Joshua at the Somme

By John Ellis


Trinity Congregational Church, Brixton

I was invited to the launch of an unusual book at Trinity Congregational Church in Brixton. It tells the story of the Young Men’s Bible Class through a magazine The Angels’ Voice which they produced themselves from 1910 to 1913. Long before duplicators, let alone photocopiers or laptops, they described in words, pictures and poems their activities and passed round a single copy amongst themselves in return for a subscription of 3d (1p). Sometimes their sisters managed to sneak a look as well.

Life was carefree and fun. There was regularly “Our Football Page” and other features included “The Ramble” or a poem about travelling on the nearly new Bakerloo underground line. More daring was “Our Political Page” where, in a church predominantly aligned with the Liberal Party, one member of the Bible Class wrote anonymously about “Why I am a Socialist”.

The magazines are a rare survival from another world, made acutely poignant because of the fact that the authors would be plunged into the First World War only a year after the last issue. The brother of the Editor, James Godden, is one of those from the Bible Class whose names appear, joyless now, on the church’s war memorial.


Trinity war memorial including G Godden

At the centenary of the opening day of the Somme we have another reminder of the horror of it all. Of my myriad of Moderator memories, leading prayers at the Thiepval Monument to the Somme victims stands out. On that first day, the plan was that the Allied guns would have so decimated the German lines that the infantry advance would be into undefended territory. That massive miscalculation resulted in 50,000 British deaths by nightfall.


Thiepval Memorial

We mark that centenary in the aftermath of a massive political miscalculation. The Government assumed its preparatory work would ensure a Remain vote in the EU Referendum and then easier progress towards its longer term objectives thereafter. In one day of voting that plan proved fatally flawed.

Whatever the turmoil after a political misjudgement, the human damage is of course not comparable to that which follows a military misjudgement. Indeed some of us would have preferred the Referendum campaign to have focused rather more on the merits of negotiation over gunfire as a means of resolving European differences. But perhaps however uncomfortable the United Kingdom feels at the moment, we can still be grateful that our generation has been spared what our forebears faced in 1916.


Cross standing over the Lochnagar Crater, the largest mine explosion on the first morning of the Somme

And Trinity Church is still there. However different the world looks and however painfully we grieve the heart of God by human decisions and mistakes, God does not abandon us. From Joshua onwards, we hear the call to “Be strong and of a good courage”.

This piece concludes my contributions to this page of the URC website. If you have been a regular reader, thank you for that. If you have used these Blog posts to pray for the United Reformed Church, its congregations and its contacts, a double thank you.  


2 thoughts on “Joshua at the Somme

  1. Helen Lidgett

    Thank you, John, for your blogs. Always interesting, informative and thought provoking, with a delightful leavening of humour. I shall miss them. Delighted to see you are to become CWM Treasurer, and clearly from your blog about the CWM meeting in Jeju you have a challenging task ahead.
    Blessings and prayers.
    Helen Lidgett

  2. Tony

    Great blog. Pity don’t believe any of it with your church not holding marriage sacred.

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