The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

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Swaffham Prior is a small village on the edge of the Fens some 5 miles north east of Cambridge. It is noteworthy for having two churches a few hundred yards apart. One with the unusual dedication of St Cyriac and St Julietta is now a redundant church that has been converted into an art gallery. The other church, St Mary the Virgin, is the present day parish church and contains a very unusual and interesting stained glass First World War memorial.

Swaffham Prior lost 23 men in the Great War, a high price for such a small village. The squire Charles Allix, who was also church warden was determined to honour these men one of whom was his nephew. The many Non-Conformists in the village were strongly opposed to the idea of a War Memorial in the church and refused to contribute towards its cost, so the Squire simply commissioned and paid for the Memorial himself. It cost 170 and was designed by Thomas Curtis and eventually dedicated by the vicar on 21 December 1919. The three stained glass windows were placed in the North Aisle and the 23 names were inscribed on a separate tablet near the chancel.

Each window consists of about a dozen small scenes each one having a Biblical text inscribed underneath. The first window on the left represents the horrors and dangers of war. One shows a soldier peering into a captured German dug-out and another shows British soldiers in a trench firing at advancing German troops. Others depict liquid fire, a howitzer, a shell factory, a Zeppelin flying past a full moon and even a German U-Boat about to collide with an anti-submarine net with the text “Though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent and he shall bite them”. A German fighter plane is also depicted accompanied by the text “Though they climb to the Heavens thence will I bring them down”.

The second window stresses more the good that can come out of war in terms of Friendship, Comradeship and Caring. For instance a YMCA hut is shown, a Red Cross hospital, a military chaplain giving the last rites to a dying soldier. More bizarrely there is a picture of a water pipe line being laid in the Sinai Desert with the text “For in the wilderness shall waters break forth and streams in the desert and the parched ground shall become a pool”. Another depicts a motorised field kitchen, whilst signalers erecting a telegraph pole has the text “There is neither speech nor language but their voice is heard among them”. Another glass shows a motor ambulance being loaded up with wounded men on stretchers and the words “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people”.

The third window shows the benefits of peace as the men return from war. With scenes of ploughing, harvesting, sheep grazing and women gathering crops the horrors of war are forgotten and normality is restored.

All in all this is a remarkable memorial and deserves to be more widely known. The Non-Conformists meanwhile showed their annoyance by installing their own War Memorial in the Methodist chapel the following year.

John Symonds

Christmas Edition 2013

Stained Glass War Memorial, Swaffham Prior