Cathedral Blog

Search all blog posts

Remembrance 2018: Books of Remembrance - Turning of the Pages

Written by Emily Essex, posted on Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Since 2014 we have been marking the centenary of the First World War, and as we approach the centenary of the Armistice this year a number of contributors have come together to reflect on the theme of Remembrance, and the ways in which we honour the fallen here at Christ Church Cathedral.

The Chapel of Remembrance in Christ Church is dedicated to the memory of the 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. The Chapel contains the Rolls of Honour for this local regiment in two books: one Roll for the First World War, containing 5878 names, and the other for the Second World War, with 1408 names.

World War I Roll of HonourThe books are available to view in the Chapel of Remembrance, and the lists of name after name are physically held in that space. The scale of loss that those books represent is almost incomprehensible, not just in length but in depth: each and every single name a real, human person. And this is just one list of men from one regiment in one Cathedral.

Sir Bernard Paget initiated the founding of this regimental chapel, which was dedicated in 1931. Tragically his younger son, Tony, is listed in the book commemorating the fallen of the Second World War, killed in action on 5 March 1945.

The chapel itself is intended as the spiritual home of the regiment, a place where the fallen are remembered and where there is always space for those who mourn them.

The ways in which we remember are varied but they are crucial. And at Christ Church, one of the ways in which we remember is through the Books of Remembrance and by the ceremony of the Turning of the Pages.

The Turning of the Pages is a bi-monthly service, taking place throughout the year, in which we remember those who gave their lives in both the First and Second World Wars, and in subsequent conflicts.

Those books which live in the Chapel of Remembrance do not simply sit gathering dust, at each service of the Turning of the Pages a page in that Roll of Honour is literally turned, a fresh page visible to those who may come to view the books, and as part of that service the names of those listed on these pages are read aloud.

It is an important but a quiet commemoration, one that many people are unaware of. But it takes place consistently throughout the year, beyond our seasonal return to Remembrance. And to those who are aware of it, it is a deeply powerful experience.

Canon Brian Shenton, who officiates at these services says: “I find it very moving because we not only mention their name, and where they were killed, but also their age. And when you listen to those names, sometimes they’re 17 year olds, 18 year olds, assuming that they gave their correct age (and they probably didn’t). Sometimes you hear the same name occurring again and again: uncles, brothers, fathers and sons…”

The men commemorated in that Chapel often lived nearby in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and some were even members of Christ Church.

Like Major Edward Hartley Kirkpatrick, who studied here at Christ Church, and was killed in action on 15 May 1915: the first day's attack on the Festubert salient, a component of the larger Artois Offensive, in which 2nd Ox and Bucks suffered nearly 400 casualties.

Or Captain Francis Hugh Beaufort who was up at Christ Church 1902-05. Captain Beaufort was present at the action near Richebourg on 15/16 May 1915 when the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and the Enniskillen’s captured some German earthworks. He came unharmed out of the terrific fighting during the nights but was shot by a sniper whilst trying to reach his commanding officer on the following morning.

The stories are endless: young men dead within 10 days of arrival, brothers killed within days of one another, brave men like Captain Archibald Allan who was awarded the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty…great courage and initiative.” (London Gazette, 25 May 1917) only to die from wounds in Italy a year later.

World War I Roll of HonourCaptain Allan’s commanding officer said that he was “impossible to replace”. Who could dispute that? What soldier, comrade, son, could ever be replaced?

Christ Church Cathedral holds the memories of all those who lost their lives as part of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, just as it exists to care for those who are left behind. Cathedrals often function as holders of national grief in times of distress. They are a gathering place for those who want to feel part of something bigger, and for those who cannot finds the words themselves to express quite what it is they feel.

The Turning of the Pages is a ceremony which touches those who lost loved ones, but it is also opens up a space for the memories of those who have themselves been in conflict.

Canon Brian says: “Each time, I find myself looking at the faces of the former soldiers who come each month to remember. Many of them have been under fire, and they experience this service in a very different way to those who haven’t.”

Remembrance is not easy or simple but it is important. Because freedom is always worth celebrating and peace is always worth celebrating and courage and compassion and a fierce longing for a world free from injustice is always worth celebrating.

The Books of Remembrance are an important part of the fabric of our Cathedral. An important witness to the memory of those who died and who will not be forgotten.

As each year we promise: we will remember them.

 

 

Our blog posts are written by a range of writers and reflect their personal views. Publication should not necessarily be read as endorsement by the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church.