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November 11, 2018: All Souls in the Great War

by Elizabeth Terry


With the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I taking place this month, I spent some time recently in our archives looking into how then-young All Souls and its parishioners responded to the war.

From a bound volume of century-old Weekly Message issues, I learned that All Souls invited sixty “boys in khaki” to a 1917 Christmas caroling party held on the front lawn. “It was our one best chance to give something of Christmas cheer to those already on their way ‘over there,’” recounts the correspondent.  The parish later hosted dances for Marines from Quantico, and the newsletters contain both sweet accounts of the servicemen’s gratitude (“The hospitality extended made me think of my own church back in Michigan…”) and gentle guilt-trips for potential dance partners (“Any young lady who can help make a pleasant evening for these young men is doing her bit in no small way…”).

In January 1918, then-rector Henry Sterrett was called up to be a chaplain to the Army’s 26th Engineer Division. He served with them for over a year, at Fort Dix in New Jersey and in France. While he was away, his father, All Souls’ founding rector, James MacBride Sterrett, stepped back in to keep things running on the home front. Fr. Henry sent regular updates back to the parish, which were printed in the Weekly Message.

One of the most cherished items in our archive is our World War I service flag. This banner with 48 blue stars and 2 golden ones used to hang in the back of the church, but years ago archivist Marko Zlatich tucked it away for preservation. The blue stars represent not only All Souls members but also their nephews, cousins, and brothers. We do know that the two gold stars honor Julian Noyes Dowell, who died in France on May 2, 1918; and George Baldwin McCoy, who died in France as well, on July 20, 1918. I don’t know what their precise connections to the parish were, but Marko informed me that two blue spruce trees, no longer standing, were planted in their memory in front of the church.

Unfortunately, the Weekly Message went on hiatus after Easter 1918 and didn’t return for a year and a half, so we don’t have any of the absent rector’s dispatches from France, or accounts of how the parish marked the Armistice. Exploring the archives led me to reflect on the profound sacrifices made in wartime, and also to wonder what parishioners 100 years from now will learn of us. I pray they will find more evidence of peace than of war.

Last Published: November 8, 2018 9:00 AM
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