Did the Great War leave God “hanging on the old barbed wire”?

The Fire Window in the
Regiment Chapel of Manchester Cathedral. Credit: © Copyright David Dixon and licensed
for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

In the
north-east corner of Manchester Cathedral
there is a large rectangular chapel. The focal point is a stained-glass window
in the east wall, a vast arch of red, orange and yellow glass that suggests
flames and destruction. On the altar frontal beneath it and completing the fire
motif is a phoenix. In the Manchester Blitz of 1940 the cathedral was bombed
and burned. The Fire Window commemorates both the long nights of destruction
and the city’s resurrection out of the flames.

The Regiment
Chapel
as it is known commemorates, remembers and celebrates the service of
The Duke of Lancaster Regiment and its precursors, including the Manchester
Regiment. From the walls hang flags and battle honours, heavy with the
conflicts of the twentieth century including Mons, Ypres, the Somme and Cambrai.
Along the north edge are sturdy wooden display cases full of weighty books of
remembrance, packed with the names of the fallen. On alternate Wednesdays there
is a simple service called ‘The Turning of the Leaves,’ when the pages of the
books are turned over. These are pages thick with memory, ritualized into
manageable remembrance.

It is troubling
to think about how the Church of
England
has been complicit in the ways in which war has been prosecuted. Elie Halévy
notes how in the Great War
of 1914-18
, for example, state control of thought took two forms: the
negative, aimed at suppressing opinions deemed contrary to the national interest;
and the positive, appropriately termed “the organization of enthusiasm.” The
Church of England was very much part of the latter. Indeed, until the formation
of a government Department of Information in 1917, propaganda was very much the
business of private initiative.

As Albert
Marrin, who argues that the Great War was the last European holy war, has…

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