The Church of England and the First World War

By Alan Wilkinson

The classic account exploring the complex and multifacted role played by the Church of England in British society during World War One.

ISBN: 9780718893217


The Church of England and the First World War (first published in 1978) explores in depth the role of the Church during the tragic circumstances of the First World War using biographies, newspapers, magazines, letters, poetry and other sources in a balanced evaluation.

The myth that the war was fought by ‘lions led by donkeys’ powerfully endures – it turns heroes into victims. Alan Wilkinson demonstrates the sheer horror, moral ambiguity, and the interaction between religion, the Church and war with a scholarly, and yet poetic, hand. The author creates a vivid image of the Church and society, the views of the Free Church and Roman Catholics, the pastoral problems presented by war, the traditions born of imperialistic British history, and the urges for reform.

The Church of England and the First World War is written with compassion and great historical understanding, making the book hard to put down. This expert and classic study will grip the religious and secular alike, the general reader or the student.

Additional information

Dimensions 216 × 140 mm
Pages 392
Illustrations b&w

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Trade Information LGENPOD

About the Author

Alan Wilkinson is an Anglican priest and the former Diocesan Theologian for Portsmouth, as well as the former Chaplain of St Catharine’s College Cambridge and Principal of Chichester Theological College. He has taught previously at the universities of Cambridge, Bristol and Portsmouth and for the Open University, and now lives in Chichester with his wife, Fenella. He is the author of The Church of England and the First World War (reprinted 2014 by the Lutterworth Press), an in-depth exploration of the ambiguous role played by the Anglican Church in the war and the pastoral issues which arose from its unprecedented horrors.


List of Illustrations
Preface to Second Edition
Some Relevant Books Published since the Second Edition
Preface to Third Edition


1. The Coming of War
2. The Church and the War Effort
3. The Church’s Ministry at Home
4. Moral Issues in Wartime
5. The Church at the Front
6. Some Chaplains
7. The Army and Religion
8. Death, Bereavement, and the Supernatural
9. Patriotism is not Enough
10. Faith and War
11. Preparing for Peace
12. Remembrance

Biographical Notes on Principal Figures


Endorsements and Reviews

Gathering together an impressive range of printed sources, it remains the leading published work on the subject.
Stephen Parker and Tom Lawson, editors, God and War, 2012

It is the most vivid account yet available of English religion in this or any other period of the twentieth century. … But Canon Wilkinson is no apologist for the official church.
David Edwards, in The Church Times

Few non-fiction books enjoy such durability and it is a tribute to the quality of the original research that The Church of England and the First World War remains the definitive and comprehensive work on the established church in that conflict. … Wilkinson gives a vivid impression of the role of the Church in providing practical and emotional support for anxious and bereaved relatives of those fighting as well as service to the fighting men themselves. It is a mark of the quality of the original analysis that thirty-six years after initial publication Wilkinson’s book is still relevant, not only to the historical Church as it entered the war in 1914 or indeed as it emerged from it in 1918, but as it exists today with all the moral and theological complexities, contradictions and ambiguities that that entail from any meeting of conflict and the spiritual. … For church historians this volume presents the war as a watershed for the life of the Church and its place in society.
Julia Lee Dean, in WW1 Daily, 24 February 2014

In each of the chapters of his book, Canon Wilkinson examines a different aspect of the Church’s role during the war, from the surprise at the start of hostilities at all, to the service provided to woeful widows at home and weary warriors at the front, to the question of the morality of the war, and how Christians of various stripes responded. … In providing a history of how the Church attempted to deal with these and other issues, Canon Wilkinson offers something of a blueprint for how the Church might choose to face a society in the throes of deep change – a lesson from the past, providing a possible pattern for the future.
Michael Trimmer, on, 1st March 2014

Alan Wilkinson, an impressively insightful Anglican priest, surveys comprehensively the Church’s involvements in the Great War – ranging from the livid propaganda, through agonized reflection, to an incipient pacifism that was not fully articulated within Anglicanism till the 1930s.
Jonathan Benthall, in The Times Literary Supplement, March 2014

I read this volume when it was published the first time around. Reading it again as the centenary commemoration of the First World War approaches is an even more sobering and profound experience. No one is allowed to misunderstand the complexities and ambiguities of the church’s involvement in this most tragic of conflicts. This historical and perhaps unintentionally theological reflection on the horror of this particular war is masterful.
Rob Marshall, Team Rector of East Ham, on Thought for the Day (BBC Radio 4)

If you wish to read a fully researched penetrating, balanced and insightful critique of the Church’s ministry at a pivotal time in our nation’s history, then you will not be disappointed.
Simon Lemieux, in Pompey Chimes, May 2014

There are many interesting pen portraits and episodes set out here, and some illuminating pictures … This remains a very good introduction to its subject.
Michael Yelton, in Anglo-Catholic History Society Newsletter, May 2014

Dr Wilkinson has made some interesting and welcome additions in this edition which is timely in view of the date … The very detailed notes and bibliography should help readers to go deeper into understanding just what made people endure suffering and hardship and deaths almost without number, and continue to honour and serve Jesus, the incarnate Lord.
Aidan CR, in Quarterly Review of the Community of the Resurrection, St John the Baptist 2014 (No 446)

The book is meticulously researched … It is a work of great scholarship and … a most compelling book to read.
Jeremy Symes, in Quaker Voices, September 2014

… a timely republication of an important work on a subject of topical relevance for the next few years, as we enter a quinquennium of remembrance.
Lee Gatiss, in Churchman, Vol 128, Issue 3

This book is particularly useful to understand the impact of this War on the psyche of Christians in Britain, the resultant moral dilemma about the credibility of their faith claims in public places, and their missionary work both at home and overseas. Anyone who wishes to understand the First World War and the Church of England will find this book insightful and helpful.
Daniel Jeyaraj, in Theological Book Review, Vol 26, No 1

… packed with memorable stories and striking facts.
Peter M. Waddell, in Reviews in Religion & Theology, Vol 22:4

Wilkinson’s work is a welcome reprint of a classic study originally published in 1978 by the SPCK. At the time it was the first full-length study on this subject that appeared in England, and, although other studies have come out since, it still remains essential reading on the role of the Church of England during the Great War.
Jan Marten Ivo Klaver, in The Heythrop Journal, Vol 59, Issue 2