by Sarah Reay
Solihul, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2018. Pp. xviii, 200.
Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $59.95. ISBN: 191109646X
A Chaplain with the BEF
Herbert Butler Cowl (1886-1971), served in the British Army as a chaplain from Christmas Eve of 1914 until 1919. Drawing on Cowl’s many surviving wartime letters, many of which are included in the book, and other documents, Herbert’s granddaughter Sarah Reay reveals him to have been a devout, sensitive man, committed to his duties and his family. Reay opens with a look at Herbert’s early life in late Victorian England, his religious education, courtship, and marriage.
Then, of course, Reay follows Herbert into the Army, and we see him performing the many duties of chaplain under often trying conditions, about which he often comments in his letters. The high point of his military service occurred after he had been seriously wounded. As he was being evacuated to Britain aboard a hospital ship, the vessel was torpedoed, and despite his own injuries, Herbert then rendered aid to fellow passengers. For that he received the Military Cross, one of the first chaplains to be so honored.
Reay follows Herbert’s life into the post war era, during which he resumed duties as a clergyman and served as chaplain to various schools. This account of Herbert Cowl’s life gives us some valuable insights into middle class in Britain in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, as well as the work of a chaplain at the front.
The Half-shilling Curate (and we will not spoil things for reader by explaining the title) is a good read for those with an interest in learning about life at the front, the chaplaincy in action, or just looking for an inspiring tale.
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