Great War Memoir Launch Hailed a Huge Success

hugh-sarahTHE BBC’s Hugh Pym (pictured above left) was guest of honour at the official launch of a new memoir on the Reverend Herbert Butler Cowl, who volunteered as an Army Chaplain in Christmas 1914.

The Half-Shilling Curate. A Personal Account of War and Faith 1914-18 – written by The Rev Cowl’s granddaughter, Sarah Reay (pictured above right), and published by Helion & Company Ltd – was unveiled at the Literary and Philosophical Society Library in Newcastle during a champagne reception.

half Shilling CurateThe book recounts The Rev. Cowl’s experiences on the Western Front with the Durham Light Infantry and Northumberland Fusiliers. Having been severely wounded during a heavy bombardment, he was on board the hospital ship Anglia when it hit a German mine in the English Channel. While recovering, ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’ (as he was affectionately known by his family) was awarded the Military Cross for exemplary gallantry.

“Hugh’s grandfather was also a Great War Army Chaplain, and he generously wrote the foreword to my book,” says Sarah, whose friend, pianist Deanna Bolton composed a piece of hymnal music entitled ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’, which she debuted at the event.

“Hugh introduced the evening – during which I shared my memories of my grandfather, the background to my four-year project in researching and writing his story, and my joy that everyone can now share the life and times of an incredible man who had served his king, country and God 100 years ago.”

Friends and family members, who had travelled from as far as British Columbia, were greeted by live piano music from the Great War period, with champagne and canapes being served in the open library.

Guests included three (out of four) of The Rev. Cowl’s great-grandchildren, along with one of his great-nieces. There was representation from the Durham Light Infantry Association from retired Major Chris Lawton MBE DL.

Sarah read aloud a few of her favourite passages from the book, which included the following extract from one of the Rev. Cowl’s letters home to his parents in 1915:

‘Sometimes as I cross a bit of rising ground between here and Headquarters, where the country is open, and the road only lined by an endless avenue of huge polled witch-elms, I stand in the darkness; watch the probing searchlights flicker on to the clouds and hear those grim far off voices speaking death. It is a new sound; it is another world; and it calls to unprecedented scenes and experiences. God grant as we march into it all, that there may arise a man in me that is sufficient to this new occasion!’

Music continued after the speeches and guests met Sarah (who describes herself as a self-taught historian), asked questions and had their books personally signed as they enjoyed further refreshments.

The Half-Shilling Curate. A Personal Account of War and Faith 1914-18 is now on sale at and at

Visit the official The Half-Shilling Curate website here.

Follow Sarah Reay on Twitter and on Facebook.

This entry was posted in Events and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *