The Half-Shilling Curate : One Man’s Account of the Great War and Faith


Having volunteered as an Army Chaplain in Christmas 1914 and being assigned to Durham Light Infantry and Northumberland Fusiliers, Herbert Cowl would venture to the killing fields of the Western Front armed only with his faith…


 The Reverend Herbert Butler Cowl 


‘The Half-Shilling Curate’ – as The Reverend Herbert Butler Cowl was affectionately known to his family – saw his Great War military service cut short when he was severely wounded during a heavy bombardment at the front line. On his journey back to England, he was placed in a cot bed aboard the hospital ship Anglia, when she hit a German mine in the English Channel. While recovering, he was awarded the Military Cross for exemplary gallantry.

Now, 100 years on, Herbert’s granddaughter – Sarah Reay – is paying tribute to his story with the publication of his own personal letters and writings in her much-anticipated new book: The Half-Shilling Curate. A Personal Account of War and Faith 1914-18.

“My father, Michael Cowl (the son of ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’), encouraged me to nurture an inquisitive interest in history from an early age,” says debut author Sarah, aged 50, who lives in rural Northumberland with her husband and two sons.

“I’ve flown a First World War bi-plane and visited the sombre graves of those fallen in battle – spending years researching in locations across France, Belgium and England to become a self-taught historian. As a Christian, I became engrossed in my grandfather’s unique and intriguing tale of war and faith, which I have recounted in The Half-Shilling Curate.”

Published by Helion & Company Ltd, The Half-Shilling Curate will officially be launched at the Literary and Philosophical Society Library in Newcastle on Thursday, 27 October. BBC News editor and author Hugh Pym – whose grandfather was also a Great War chaplain – will introduce the evening, which will include a short talk by Sarah on her book and Army Chaplaincy in the Great War.

“Twenty years after the Great War ended, my grandfather had a family and was a Methodist minister living in Acton, when the Second World War was declared,” adds Sarah. “He stayed in London – enduring the Blitz. A spiritual man to the end of his life in 1971, this story of one man’s faith during war has a universal message, which is as relevant today as it was back then. I am immensely proud of my grandfather’s story, and to have been able to pay tribute to him in my book.”

Duncan Rogers, Publisher at Helion & Company Ltd, adds: “The pre-release reviews of Sarah’s work from academics and members of the military have been hugely favourable, with retired Durham Light Infantry soldier General Sir Peter de la Billière stating: ‘A good chaplain is as valuable as a good general’; and this book proves it. I admire this book for bringing to life the pressures and courage of fighting and the horror and frequency of death in the frontline during the Great War’.

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