On the 11th November 1918 the armistice to end the Great War was signed. A hundred years later, Downside Abbey is remembering both those monks who served as military chaplains and the Old Gregorians of the school who served and gave their lives.
Between 1914 and 1918, 14 Downside monks and a monk of Erdington Abbey who would later become Abbot of Downside, served as military chaplains. Administering to the spiritual needs of the soldiers, these monks experienced the full horror of the Western Front. One monk, Dom Stephen Rawlinson, was Principle Catholic Chaplain on the Western Front and was responsible for over 800 chaplains.
Despite none of our chaplains losing their lives during the conflict, though two were seriously wounded, we still remember their service. This week we have laid poppies on the graves of those monks buried here at Downside to acknowledge their role during the war. A poppy has also been placed on the tomb of Dom Leander Ramsay, who was headmaster in the school 1902-18 and knew the OG’s who died in the war as ‘my boys.’ He prayed every night in the Abbey church for those who had died and for the safe return of those still away.
The following excerpt from a letter by Dom Norbert Birt who served at the military hospital at Netley shows his joy at the ending of ‘the war to end all wars.’
‘I hardly know where to begin; The happenings of the last three weeks have been so stupendous, so vast, rushing one on top of the other, as to give one a feeling of being almost stunned. It all looks like a miraculous answer to prayer. All seem to feel that here, expressed in so many words by men and women whom one would hardly have expected to express themselves. Deo gratias! I don’t know when I said a Te Deum so fervently as on last Monday. It would be difficult to describe to you the joy of the men at the cessation of hostilities: it has had an almost marvellous effect in accelerating convalescence, showing how spirits work on the body. I shall never forget the scene when the official notification was read out in solemn form by the chief to all who could possibly attend the parade. And the cheers for the King that followed; It was good after all these years of horror and anxiety; I am afraid I took but small part in it; my emotions were too strong and fairly overpowered me.’