100 Years ago today…

The Tablet      Page 28, 6th November 1915



A great gathering of Catholic sailors took place at Rosyth Naval Base on All Souls’ Day. Between 2,300 and 3,000 participated in the Requiem service held for the repose of the souls of those of their comrades who had died in the course of the war. A huge building was placed by the authorities at the disposal of the Rev. Father Sweeney, Inverkeithing, by whom the bulk of the arrangements were carried out. Such an assembly under one roof of so large a number of Catholic sailors is practically unique, yet their numbers were less than a tithe of the Catholic men from Great Britain and the Colonies of the Empire serving in the Fleet. A temporary altar with pulpit platform and catafalque was erected for the service. Over the catafalque was spread a Union Jack. The Bishop of Dunkeld officiated in presence of the Bishop of Aberdeen, assisted by Father Sweeney, Father Robertson (Dunfermline), and the Rev. Dr. Connolly (Inverkeithing). The duties of cross-bearer and altar servers were undertaken by midshipmen of the Fleet. The music of the English hymns was rendered by a naval orchestra, and the singing of the sailor congregation was marked by striking fervour and volume, and thrilled the few privileged visitors who were spectators of the wonderful gathering.

After Mass the Rev. Father Davidson, C.SS.R., ascended the pulpit and delivered a stirring discourse. He said that he was but voicing the feeling of all present in publicly thanking those whose gracious permission had made that assembly possible. It had given them the chance of performing a duty dear to the Catholic heart of honouring the brave .and helping our dead. Never in the annals of the Church in this country, nay, nowhere in the pages of the history of our nation may be found the record of any similar assembly. “We are here to honour and help our dead. Their end has been glorious. They who go down to the sea in ships of war to do battle carry their lives in their hands. The only peril of the years gone by was shot and shell belched forth from the oaken sides of the men-of-war. In these our day’s human ingenuity has exceeded itself in devising means of destruction and of sending men to death in crowds. There are on all sides the secret perils of the deep, the submarine with its torpedo and the hidden mine. The methods have changed, but the spirit is the same. Courage, we know, never deserts our fighting men. Brethren, I would not have you disconsolate concerning those who have fallen asleep. ‘The souls of the just are in the hands of God,’ and we believe He will bring a part through fire. Here is our hope for those who were not perfect in life—and who is perfect? Who shall go up to the mountain of the Lord, who shall stand in the holy place?—the innocent in hands and the clean of heart. They lie there to be cleansed yet more. ‘As silver is refined I will refine them.’ They are there to pay back the debt of temporal punishment due to sin of which the guilt has been forgiven, and they are helped by the suffrages of the faithful. They need your prayers and sacrifices. You, my dearest brethren, have still to face the perils of the deep for this war is not yet won. Your watchword is Be ye ready, aye ready’ to meet the foe. The Fleet of England is her all in all. Her Fleet is in your hands, and in the Fleet her fate. You, under the Most High, must prove the instrument to crush the Prussian lust for power, that lust which has made rivers of blood and ruined the homes of a peaceful people. It is your work to help to restrain and confine within limits a civilization gone mad, to teach a nation that a nation’s word is her bond. Your work to guard our shores by day and night, to watch the bright horizon line or peer into the fog Lo watch for foemen. And your sailor King and Country trust you every man, from the admirals in supreme command to the humble toiler in the stokeholds. God bless and strengthen you in your labour, and protect you in the watch and send you home the victors.” The Absolutions were given by the Bishop of Aberdeen and the Bishop of Dunkeld, and in conclusion the National Anthem was played by the orchestra.

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