Much to the relief of the parishioners, the vicar of Baildon the Rev A E Sidebotham, who had gone to Belgium for a holiday, reached home last weekend.The rev gentleman sailed from Hull to Zeebrugge on the Belgian coast on Tuesday 28th July and proceeded to Knocke-sur-Mer, a few miles north of Ostend, making the Palace Hotel his headquarters.Interviewed by a representative of the Times & Express, he said the first signs of the impending crisis were observed on Saturday 1st August. English tourists became uneasy and sought the advice of the Vice-Consul, Lieut-Col Boilleau, who urged them to return home as quickly as possible.Ominous signsOne of the ominous signs was that a large number of German men staying at the Palace Hotel received telegrams calling them back to the Fatherland.The visitors at the hotel also included a number of English army officers who left hurriedly on Saturday.
German women and children promptly departed and so general was the exodus that by Monday only two visitors remained at the hotel. On the previous Saturday nearly 200 people were staying there.On Monday there were conflicting reports about the outbreak of hostilities. One rumour was to the effect that Liege had already fallen and that the Germans were now pushing their way through Belgium towards the French frontier.The Vice-Consul paid a visit to the Palace Hotel on Tuesday evening and told Mr Sidebotham and an old lady, the only visitors still staying there, that they must leave within twelve hours.Mr Sidebotham had a return ticket by the Zeebrugge route and was making inquiries about a boat from that port when the old lady previously referred to appealed to him to travel with her via Ostend and Folkestone.The old lady suffered from an affliction of the heart and was in a very distressed condition. Mr
Sidebotham at once changed his plans and having found that a boat was about to leave Ostend on Wednesday, started to solve the problems of the journey from Knocke-sur-mer – a distance of 25 miles.There was no train service for civilians and for some time it looked as though he would be unable to procure a vehicle of any description.Electric tramwayEventually, however, Mr Sidebotham arranged for a motor car to call at the Palace Hotel at seven o’clock the following morning when the journey to Ostend was duly commenced.About midway, however, they were pulled up by Belgian soldiers who respectfully informed the occupants that the car was immediately needed for military services. There was nothing for it but for the vicar and his friend to alight.Fortunately an electric tramway was near at hand and on this they completed the journey to Ostend. The quayside was packed with people who had been waiting for a boat since the previous day. Soon after the boat came alongside, it was crowded with passengers.
Whilst crossing the Channel to Folkestone, many torpedo boats were seen but no firing was heard.One thrilling incident which Mr Sidebotham witnessed was the capturing in mid channel of a steamer which was carrying contraband goods.Mr Sidebotham succeeded in getting his luggage through and also that of the old lady whom he befriended but he came across many people who had not been so successful.Harrowing tales were told by many people of the exciting experiences through which they had passed.Mr Sidebotham seems to have been greatly impressed by the gallantry which has been shown by the Belgian soldiers. Lacking the smartness of appearance and fine physique which one naturally looks for in great fighters, the pluck and dash of the Belgians at Liege has come somewhat as a surprise to many.Shipley Times & Express 14-8-1914
We are fortunate to have extensive coverage of Rev Sidebotham’s war though facts about the rest of his life are hard to come by.The story starts at the very beginning of the war with the reverend gentleman on holiday:
Just over a year later we read:The Rev A E Sidebotham, M.A. Vicar of Baildon, left the parish on Tuesday to take up duties as chaplain to the 1st Lancashire Brigade who are in training in the South.The rev gentleman succeeded the Rev W J Margetts, who has now charge of a church at Beckford near Tewskbury.Mr Sidebotham’s first curacy was at West Bridgeford, a suburb of Nottingham. In 1902 he came to St Paul’s, Manningham, where he remained 18 months. For eight years he served under Canon Rawdon Briggs in All Saints’ Parish.He has travelled a good deal in France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland.Shipley Times & Express 24-12-1915
On 7 April 1916 the newspaper published this:In his monthly letter to his parishioners in Baildon, the Rev A E Sidebotham, writing from No 3 General Hospital, Rouen, said: ‘There are several Baildon boys attached to this hospital whom it was a real joy to meet, viz., L Cpl Handel Nunn (formerly of Baildon Station), Pte Crossland (now of Saltaire who used to be in the choir in Mr Margett’s time), and Pte Dean from Charlestown.‘As I was returning home from a funeral and striding along the main road, I suddenly came across Sgt Major R Oddy. We had a long chat and subsequently spent an evening together.‘It was a great delight to see them all and to find them looking so fit and well in spite of the fact that some of them have had no leave for over twelve months.‘I am beginning to realise now something of the unspeakable horrors of this war. Whenever I go to Saint Sever Cemetery, some little distance from here, as I have to go so very often, it is one of the saddest sights to see the serried rows and rows of little wooden crosses standing out sharp and terrible above the ground.‘These mark the last resting places of our brave and gallant dead. But they also speak with an eloquence more moving than words, and cry out to us to press on in the fight of right and never lay down our arms until the cause for which they fought and died has proved triumphant.’
On 8 December 1916, the Shipley Times & Express published a long letter the Rev Sidebotham had written to his parishioners describing life at the Front:When I arrived back here after spending a very pleasant holiday with you, though far too brief, I found the battalion stationed in the same place as when I left.A few days later we suddenly received orders to be on the move and the whole division was conveyed in about 100 motor omnibuses and after a somewhat tedious journey, occupying eight hours, we arrived at ________. The next day we moved to ______, nearer to the front; on the following day we went to the reserve and subsequently in the firing line.We have now returned to the salient where we originally were but a little further south with the French troop immediately on our right.Execrable weatherThe weather, I am sorry to say, has been execrable and the mud is something to be remembered for a long time.I had some experience of mud on Salisbury Plain last winter but it was not a patch to the quality or quantity on what we have out here. In most places it is up to one’s knees and in some up to the waist. The wounded have to be carried back on stretchers some four miles as the motor ambulances, on account of the impassibility of the road, cannot get any nearer, and for similar reasons, the shells have to be conveyed on pack horses.We occupy land lately wrested from the enemy and the result is that the whole country has been devastated by shell fire and there is not one stone left upon another.Whenever we fall back in reserve we improvise some kind of shelter by utilising empty ammunition boxes or pieces of corrugated iron or erect bell tents.The nearest habitable village is eight miles behind our front line and after having done our turn in the trenches and in reserve, it is a change eagerly looked forward to when we are able to get back to proper billets, have a hot bath, dry our clothes and get a general clean up.
There is, of course, a great deal of sickness and many men are sent down with trench feet, rheumatism, bronchitis etc. But in spite of the hardships and the adverse weather conditions (and our greatest enemy has been the mud, not the Germans) the spirit of the men is unbroken and their cheery optimism is remarkable. A week or two ago, when we were back in the rest billet for a short time, who should come into our mess one afternoon but the Prince of Wales? He had tea with us and chatted quite freely for some time.HM King George is Colonel in Chief of this battalion, a title he first assumed when Prince of Wales.TanksI saw the other day for the first time four of those mysterious engines of war, whose doings have been so vividly described by war correspondents, known to us as “tanks” but variously named Behemoth, boojum, juggernaut, jabberwock, snark, salamanda, toad, tortoise, dreadnought, dragon, etc. One could say much about them but I must refrain.The first time I went up to the trenches in this part of the line I saw a sight which is continually meeting one’s eyes, viz, rows of wooden crosses, standing sharp and terrible above the ground.They mark the last resting places of those who have fallen gloriously in battle on the fair fields of France.Mr Asquith’s sonI stepped aside as I invariably do on such occasions and the first inscription I read was that to the memory of Mr Asquith’s son and next to him Mr Tennant’s son, the under-secretary for foreign affairs.Raymond Asquith had a most brilliant career at the university, taking the highest possible degrees and subsequently at the Parliamentary Bar, he had maintained his reputation.When I contemplated the end of his career, already invested with an aureola of brilliance, and, had he lived, would have shone with an even greater lustre, my first feelings were those of sadness.
But then I thought to myself “What is life given for but to be used up? And how can it be used better than being devoted to such a high and sacred cause?”EmancipationAnd as I lingered a little at his grave in the gathering gloom, I recalled the words of his father uttered on a memorable occasion: “This is not merely a material, it is also a spiritual conflict. Upon its issue everything that contains the promise of hope that leads to emancipation and fuller liberty for the millions who make up the masses of mankind, will be found sooner or later to depend.”It is a source of much gratification to myself and I trust to you, to know that the Bishop of Richmond was the messenger at Baildon during the National Mission of Repentance and Hope.His Lordship has had a vast and varied experience of such work and I am sure that his addresses would be marked by great spiritual force and insight.I can only hope and pray that the Mission has done something to recover the fallen, rouse the careless, cheer the anxious and uphold the faith of God’s servants.It is because the world is not in harmony with God that we have the world as it is today.I want you to remember that vice is not here by God’s will. Strife and malice and envy are not here by God’s will. War and bloodshed and slaughter are not here by God’s will.They are here by man’s will because man has set up his own will in opposition to that of God.The new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness will be an assured fact when “We learn with God to will one will, to do and to endure.” And so I wish you all most sincerely, whatever you troubles and anxieties, may be a peaceful Christmas and one which need not be devoid of real and solemn joy.I may be able to get another leave at the beginning of January. I cannot say for certain but it is possible. It depends whether leave is still open and whether we have the full complement of chaplains. Several have had to go sick but we may be at full strength by then.
Rev Sidebotham got his wish and on 5 January 1917 the paper carried a report of a powerful sermon he preached in Baildon:Special services of intercession were held at the Baildon Parish Church on Sunday ‘for the Empire and nation in this time of war.’There was a crowded congregation at the morning service when the Rev A E Sidebotham, who for the past 12 months has been serving as chaplain to the forces and for five months has been in France, preached a powerful sermon in which he paid an eloquent tribute to the men who had laid down their lives for the Empire and urged the nation to ‘carry on’ until victory has been achieved.The vicar said he need hardly say how glad he was to have an opportunity once more of meeting his parishioners and of saying a few words to them from that pulpit.He little though a fortnight before that he would be spending Christmastide and the last day of the old year in the parish of Baildon.It was just over 12 months since he went out to act as chaplain to the forces and what a momentous and trying time it had been for all of us.Now we were on the threshold of a new year and he would like to say something which would strengthen us in the trials and the difficulties which lay before us.
The first think which was required at a time like this was a patient endurance and courage.The question which was continually in our minds was this: When is this war going to end?Self-sacrificeIf there was ever a time in which we ought to call up all our resources of courage and self-sacrifice it is now, when the enemy is showing signs of weakening, that we must go forward in order that our victory may be final and complete.I hate war. War, however just it may be, however necessary and however chivalrous, is a ghastly business.I hated it before I went out and I assure you that I hate it infinitely more since I have been out.I have seen sights which I shall never forget to my dying day.It is because I hate war that I do not want a patched-up peace. Some people are talking about terms of peace but I have no sympathy with them because at this stage, peace could only be mischievous.I want a real peace, not a mere
armistice. I want a real peace, not a mere breathing space for further hostilities.Peace born of weariness or weakness or mere sentiment can only be the prelude to greater wars.Moreover we must keep faith with our fallen brothers. We must keep faith with those who went out and fought and fell in the belief that we should not sheathe the sword until the militarism of Prussia had been laid low.Our cup, I know, is brimming over with sorrow and anguish unspeakable, though not with shame.Our mighty dead lie thick upon the devastated fields of France and we deplore and we mourn their loss with indescribable grief.We know and the whole world knows, that they have fought for and given their lives for the same ideal as that for which Jesus Christ sacrificed His.Therefore we must see to it that we fail not in patient endurance and courage to carry the war through in order that their trials and sacrifice may not be in vain.
Again, proceeded the reverend gentleman, we wanted something more than patient courage and endurance, we wanted hope. We had great need of hope.PessimismAbout three weeks ago he was speaking to a chaplain who had just returned from England and in reply to an enquiry as to the state of things in England he said that a wave of pessimism seemed to be going over the country.He did not know whether or not that was true – the people at home were in a better position to judge – but he could tell them this, that there was no pessimism amongst the boys at the front.They were fighting with the glory of victory on their faces and with a courage and confidence which no danger or difficulty could daunt.The coming year was likely to be the most crucial time of the war but he hoped and trusted that before the year was over we might see the dawn of peace.
A letter to the parish magazine, published in the newspaper on 17 November 1916, reflects the thought and feelings that must have been shared by many men as they went off to war.In a current issue of the Baildon Parish Magazine, the vicar, the Rev A E Sidebotham says:I was just sitting down to write a letter to you when word came that we had to move on in a few hours. We are leaving by motor buses and our destination is unknown but I rather suspect that we are going back to the salient where we originally were.I should therefore like to take this opportunity as it may not occur later, of saying what a real joy it was for me to see you once more.My only regret is that in the few days at my disposal and with so much to do, I was unable to visit you all personally.It was also, indeed, a great privilege to take part in the services of the Church and to be present at the united gathering we had in the Towngate, which was of a very impressive and inspiring nature.Dug-outsIt is ten months since I was in Church and on the Sunday I was present I could not help contrasting the conditions under which we had gathered together to worship God with those we have experienced since I came out here.I have celebrated the Holy Communion in dug-outs, in the trenches, in the open air with empty
boxes serving as an altar, in barns and other buildings with gaping holes in the walls caused by shot and shell, and then to come back to such a beautiful little Church as Baildon with its dignified service, was a source of much inspiration and joy.I am afraid we do not always appreciate and value properly our blessings till they have been taken from us.There is a couplet in Young’s ‘Night Thoughts’ which has often occurred to my mind, especially since I came to France, and it is this:“How blessings brightenWhen they take their flight.”We do not always appreciate the comforts of home and ordered life till we have lost them. We do not always realise what England means to us till we have left it behind“I travelled amid unknown menIn lands beyond the sea;Nor, England! did I know till thenThe love I bore to thee.”I left Victoria early on Friday morning and it was a relief to me when our train moved out of the station.Though I had no one to say ‘good-bye’ to, I could not help feeling for those brave women
who tried to keep up as they parted with those who were dearer to them than life itself.White cliffsThe journey to Folkestone takes about two hours and as I looked through the windows of the train and caught a glance of the nestling villages and the riverside meadows and the nodding elms and the grey manor houses dreaming over their garden walls, I thought to myself that this England is worth fighting for.And as we stood on the deck of the ship that bore us away from her shores and looked back over the flying foam at the white cliffs that were fading away in the grey mist, our hearts went out to her as they had never done before.So Wordsworth felt as, on another occasion, he saw the evening star rise over England from the seashore at Calais.“Fair star of evening splendour of the westStar of my country! on the horizon brinkThou hangest stooping – There, the dusky spotBeneath Thee, it is England: there it lies,Blessings be on you both.In a reference to the Church at Baildon, Mr Sidebotham says: As a Church and as a people, we at Baildon have great cause for thankfulness and gratitude to Almighty God for many blessings vouchsafed to us.Let us, therefore, as far as we are able, see to it that our work in the parish is not hampered more than needs be, because of the withholding of the necessary financial support.