“Their Cross to Bear”: The Church of England and Military Service during the First World War

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From the earliest days of the First World War, the Church of England and its clergy closely aligned themselves with the British government’s interpretation of the conflict and actively supported the national war effort, notably playing a major role in the recruitment campaigns of 1914 and 1915. Despite their vocal support for the war, however, the leadership of the Church was adamant, until the final year of the conflict, that junior clergymen should not volunteer to serve as combatant officers. Clergymen of all denominations were also formally excluded from the terms of the Military Service Act of 1916 and enjoyed a somewhat sheltered status in wartime Britain. This apparently contradictory position attracted a steadily increasing degree of criticism throughout the war years, both from the Anglican laity and from traditionally anticlerical quarters. It also further alienated working class opinion and caused significant frustration and anger among Anglican army chaplains on the Western Front. Drawing on a variety of contemporary sources, this article outlines and assesses the criticism directed at the Church on the issue of military service from 1914 to 1918 and closes with commentary on the longer-term impact of the clergy’s wartime rhetoric and activity for Anglicanism in Britain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-200
Number of pages36
JournalAnnali di Scienze Religiose
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2015


  • First World War
  • Cultural history
  • Religious History
  • Church and State
  • British history

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