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Religions identified within the ERY
The available data on religious affiliation within the East Riding Yeomanry is as follows:
- Church of England (COE) 276 (72.5%)
- Roman Catholic 18 (4.5%)
- Methodists (all types) 56 (15%), of which Wesleyan 40, Primitive 10, Free 2
- Miscellaneous Non Conformists & others 26 (6.5%) - of which Unitarian 1, Congregationalist 9, "Non conformists" 4, Baptist 4, Presbyterian 2, Salvation Army 1, "Protestant" 3, Watchtower Bible Society 2
- Jewish 5 (1.5%)
This figure only equates to about 15% of known members of the ERY between 1903 and 1918, so must be treated with a certain amount of caution. The main sources are the service and pension records (religion was usually, although not always recorded as part of attestation), supplemented occasionally by baptism/marriage records/burial records. There are also scattered newspaper references to soldiers having been associated with a particular church or chapel - typically as part of an obituary.
We cannot know of course, how far the religious affiliation put down on a recruitment form reflects any actual religious belief on the part of the individual soldier. Was "COE" a default entry that the NCO/Officer completing the recruiting forms might use if the recruit hesitated and didn't really know how to answer? In an age where religious belief was more widespread in Britain and public professions of atheism/agnosticism less common than today, we are not able to tell what percentage of ERY recruits really held no religious beliefs at all (but were reluctant to say so). You do not see 'non believer', 'atheist' or anything of that nature entered on ERY attestation forms.
The data, such as it is, does reflect the strong tradition of Methodism within Hull and the East Riding. The majority of ERY soldiers listed as Methodists were privates, with a few non-commissioned officers as well.
As this project has only looked at a sample of officer service records, there is less data for them on religious belief. We might suspect that the majority were Church of England, though there are a few definite exceptions - Basil Henry Chichester-Constable, Francis Maxwell-Stuart and Phillip Langdale were all Roman Catholics, the latter being from one of the oldest Catholic families in the region.
The small number of Jewish ERY soldiers - Cecil Krotoski, Isadore Novinski, Abraham Rosenston, Gustave Vinegrad and Lewis Smaje Wolff - were all privates; four of them were living in Hull in 1911 and one (Novinski) in Sunderland.
There is absolutely nothing to suggest that religion played any part in ERY recruitment and the proportions of the different faiths conforms pretty closely to the makeup of the general population at the time. Local factors can be detected in one particular respect only - the tradition of Primitive Methodism in the East Riding can be seen in the 10 (at least) recruits professing that faith.
Religious provision within the regiment
How were the spiritual needs of the troops catered for?
Like any other unit in the British Army, the ERY had Sunday services in peacetime and when at a fixed base during the war. There would have been other occasions on which the services of a regimental chaplain would have been called for - particularly in the field, where a (perhaps) hurried burial, and appropriate words for the deceased might be required at short notice. The ERY's first chaplain was the Reverend Arthur Montague Batty (appointed 13th June 1903, resigned 5th May 1908). He was educated at Oriel College Oxford and in 1911 was at Thorpe Thewles vicarage in County Durham. He followed his father into the religious vocation. Batty presided over religious services at the first ERY training camps and can be seen in images in the album of Major Jack Lee Smith (Hedon Museum collection).
The Reverend Frederick Bladworth Marsdin was appointed acting chaplain in January 1905. He was the son of Septimus Marsdin, who owned a Hull shipping company. F.B. Marsdin studied at Pembroke College, Cambridge, before undertaking several clerical appointments. He was also chaplain to the Hornsea company of the Royal Garrison Artillery. He died in 1915 after a lengthy illness, so he did not go abroad with the regiment.
The ERY seems to have gone to the Middle East without its own dedicated chaplain. However, the unit's war diary for 7th August 1917 notes that E.M. Cooke had been taken on the strength. He is probably to be equated with the Reverend Ernest M. Cooke (British Red Cross & the Order of St. John of Jerusalem).
It is not known what arrangements there were (if any) for the non- Church of England soldiers in the ERY. Were they obliged to attend communal services, or were there exemptions? In the field, far away from their usual places of worship, they may have had to rely on forming their own unofficial worship groups.