A remarkable book has appeared entitled With Mercy and With Judgement and with a sub-title, Strict Baptists and the First World War. It is written by Matthew J. Hyde. Dr. Hyde is a research scientist and a minister among the Strict Baptist Churches. He has done years of research into the stories of the soldiers, their families and churches who were involved a century ago in the First World War. He has produced a book that is 550 pages in length but as each page is double columned what the reader has in effect is 1100 pages each one the size of a paperback page. There are several hundred photographs. The paper and print is clear as one expects from a book published by the Gospel Standard Trust Publications. Its cost is 13 pounds.
This is church history writing at its finest, original research, the gathering together of diaries, letters, memories, church reports, poems and hymns written exactly a hundred years ago. There are 120 pages of diaries, and 200 pages of letters, from the front, from parents and friends, from homes to servicemen and from ministers to their members in the war. There are forty pages of poetry. All this is prefaced by an overview which describes the evangelical Christian’s response to war, life in all the armed forces, the war on the home front including the role of women and the bombing raids, the literature that was distributed at the front (there was a paper shortage and Christian magazines had to be shortened), the problem of co-operation in ecumenical prayer meetings with liberal and sacerdotal congregations, the loss to the churches, the Sabbath desecration, the end of the war and the needs of the returning men.
There is a terrible poignancy and grief in reading the letters from boys in their late teens who discussed with their parents and ministers if they should volunteer to fight for their country, and who soon were in the trenches in France under fire. They write home of their hope in God, and then are killed in the conflict. Yet there is little bitterness and anger against God in the responses of their parents. I read these pages also through the eyes of the Free Presbyterian men, like John Murray and his two brothers who volunteered and fought in the conflict, two did not return and John lost his eye. I also read them conscious of the fairly recent printing of J. Gresham Machen’s letters to his mother describing much of what he saw and heard during those years he worked in France for the Red Cross serving American soldiers.
Here is a book that captures the piety and godliness of the evangelical churches of England a century ago. It is very moving. What a heritage has been lost. There are so many letters and memories of the war that could be quoted, but you must read this for yourself. It will drive us to cry to God that our sick society may be spared the need of another conflict like this. In wrath remember mercy.