Active Service Hymnal

During the Great War there was a wide variety of religious publications produced for soldiers, sailors and airmen. Many were printed and distributed by religious charities such as the Religious Tract Society or the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), however there were also many publications printed by the government itself, including today’s item, an Active Service Hymnal:

This little book measures approximately 2″x3″ and so can slip into a pocket easily and the cover includes a nice image of a British soldier. The inside of the cover shows that the book was printed by His Majesty’s Stationery Office:

The book has a range of traditional hymns, as indicated by the contents list at the front:

Services in the field were welcomed by some troops and despised by others, but these pocket hymnals allowed the men to join in the communal singing. Pat Leonard was a padre on the Western Front and he describes the services he delivered on the 17th October 1915:

I’ve just got back from a Parade Service- out of doors of course and rather cold. I had two Celebrations this morning, the first at 7 am for the men. I rigged up a little altar with cross and lights in a bell-tent, and the men crowded round- very primitive but very nice. At 8am I had another, this time in a hut for the officers of the Brigade. No small work packing up everything and transporting it elsewhere for each Celebration. Twelve officers came including some of the Staff Officers. We had such a ripping Service, again very primitive but less so than the one in thee bell-tent. No altar rails or pews of course, but a folded blanket formed altar rails and kneelers combined.

The printing data at the back of the book helpfully dates this hymnal to November 1916 and shows it was one of a print run of 40,000:

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