Each month staff at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum look back to what the Norfolk Regiment was doing 100 years ago, and tells their story through objects from the museum’s collection. See previous blog posts here.
For many serving soldiers, religion was an integral part of daily life. This small wooden communion set, used on the Western Front by Reverend L E Baumer while serving with Norfolk’s 8th battalion (and currently in the Regimental Displays at Norwich Castle), highlights the importance of religion to many soldiers during the First World War.
The delicacy of the polished set and its mere existence today suggest it has been well cared for. Baumer and his fellow chaplains delivered Divine Service every Sunday and offered spiritual and practical support to thousands of men. This set would have been at his side across the Western Front;, from dugout to trench to field station. Over 150 Army Chaplains were killed during the First World War.
In May 1915, an officer in Norfolk’s 1st battalion wrote;
“A padre came up onto the wood this morning and gave us a service. It was the weirdest I have ever been to; the bullets were ‘zipping’ and humming just over us, to say nothing of the German guns which just about then had a sudden fit of extra energy”
In a time of unprecedented horror, many impressionable young soldiers turned toward religion to find comfort, while others turned away. Either way, Chaplains were always there to listen. Cecil Upcher, of the 9th Norfolks speaks of ‘the Padre’ with affection, and gives us an insight into the role of these men, many of whom never returned;
“Reported at HQ and were sent off to a billet a mile away. No one there so we trudged back again to HQ and there poured out our woes to the Padre.”
“The officers race was quite amusing, I needless to say came in with the dregs and there were a lot of them. Quartermaster, Padre & the Colonel had a big start, the Quartermaster won.”
“The Padre never turned up yesterday but I’m not surprised as I know they had heaps to do further back.”
“The Padre has just been up to visit us and have a chat. Also the [Colonel]. One appreciates people coming round I can tell you.”