The Great War’s test of faith for church rector

Ian White in the churchyard of St John the Baptist. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Ian White in the churchyard of St John the Baptist. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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A Leeds community is marking the Great War centenary with a booklet in honour of those who fought. Andrew Robinson reports.

HE WAS already a widower by the time war broke out in 1914 but much worse was to come for the Reverend William Draper.

The Leeds rector faced the war years without the support of his wife, Emilie, who died in 1913, and he had to look on as his four sons joined the war effort as he ministered to his flock in Adel.

For such a small village, Adel paid a high price during the Great War, with 18 local men losing their lives from a population of just a few hundreds, many of them farmers.

The Draper family paid by far the highest price, losing three sons during the course of the conflict. Another Adel family lost two sons.

Mr Draper’s three sons are remembered on a simple brass plaque in the parish church of St John the Baptist where he was in charge from 1898 to 1920.

The plaque sits alongside the list of former rectors going back to the year 1400.

The current priest in charge, the Reverend Ian White, points out William Draper’s name whenever schoolchildren visit the church and invites the pupils to read the list of 18 men who fell in the Great War.

The keen-eyed among them quickly notice that there are three Drapers on the list of the fallen.

“I ask the children if they can explain this and tell them that these were three sons of the rector of the parish and that they all died in the First World War.”

“For the older children, it strikes them as being something significant and important. This was the guy ministering to his parish and he lost three of his sons.”

Visitors to the church are reminded just how big an impact the loss of 18 men would have had.

“Adel was tiny at that time. For a few hundred residents to lose 18 sons must have had a real impact. When I first arrived at this church five years ago it was something that the local history group told me about.

“It is quite sobering to reflect on the impact the First World War would have had on this parish at the time, with so many lives lost from amongst such a relatively small population.

“We remember all these men by name at our annual service of remembrance, and I hope visitors to the church will take the time to remember them.”

The 18 men are remembered in a new 60-page booklet produced by the Adel history group which helps visitors navigate the headstones recording the lives of some of the men.

The booklet has been produced by Ann Lightman and Val Crompton, who have spent years piecing together the lives of the men who served.

Their research established that the first of the Draper sons to die was Roger Francis Draper, a married man who sailed for Gallipoli on July 5 1915 with the 8th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. He was killed in action, aged 25, just over a month later at Suvla Bay and is remembered on the Helles Memorial in Turkey, one of 21,000 names on this memorial which is one of 
five to the missing at Gallipoli.

The eldest of the sons, Mark Denman Draper, an officer in the Royal Flying Corps was killed in a flying accident on February 7 1917 – less than two weeks after he was posted to his reserve squadron.

The 32-year-old officer was on a training flight at Hendon with a 19-year-old captain from Brisbane when it came down.

“The inquiry did not establish a definite cause for the accident – the aircraft was completely destroyed, but it has been suggested since that the instructor might have been more familiar with a rotary engine, whose handling technique was very different. Mark was 32 and on his second flight,” booklet author Ann Lightman notes.

William Penrhyn Bodington Draper was the final son to lose his life, in May 1918, from wounds sustained three weeks previously at the Second Battle of the Lys. He was 24.

The youngest brother, John Godfrey Beresford Draper, survived the war. He became a Second Lieutenant in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and was invalided out of the service after being gassed in France in 1917.

It is not known how Mr Draper dealt with the loss of three sons but in 1920 he left Adel to take up a position as Master of Temple Church in London.

He married again, had a son and later took up the post of vicar of Weare in Somerset before his death in 1933.

Also commemorated in the booklet is William Robert Launcelot Calrow, whose name is recorded on the grave of his grandparents in the Adel churchyard.

Calrow, who was born in Texas and educated in Britain, joined up in 1913 and served as an officer with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, sailing for France with the first Expeditionary Force on August 12, 1914.

He was killed in action aged 19 on October 7 1914 by a high explosive shell which landed at the door of the officers’ mess.

His captain later wrote: “The day he died we had a particularly nasty time in the trenches. 
Calrow behaved perfectly splendidly, and one of the men remarked on it to me, saying ‘Young Mr Calrow is a hero if ever there was one’. Another officer said: ‘He was a thoroughly reliable officer, perfectly cool under fire, and always as brave as you make them.”

A century after the start of the war, the Adel community is marking the occasion with a Lights Out memorial service at the church on Monday August 4 and war poetry will be read by candlelight at Adel Memorial Hall from 10pm.

Ann Lightman says it is timely to reflect on the loss of life in the Great War and to consider whether it was worthwhile.

“One must wonder if this appalling loss of life, the suffering these men and those that survived experienced, the sorrow faced by so many, losing brothers, husbands, sons, fathers (many unknown to their children), neighbours, was worth it.

“Perhaps some battles must be fought whatever the consequences?”

On August 4 she will remember families who were devastated by the losses in battle.

“I will remember the devastating consequences on all the families. Researching my own family made me realise how much war blighted the lives of those who remained behind.

“My Uncle Dai suffered trench fever that affected his bones so much he could not really do manual work. He never married and he wouldn’t say anything about the war.

“Carrying out this research has turned me into quite a pacifist.”