St. Andrew’s During World War II

St. Andrew’s and the Second World War

photoSt. Andrew’s circa 1935

Like every community across most of the globe, St. Andrew’s was deeply affected by the Second World War. Nearly 200 members of the parish left to serve in the military — men and women. Those remaining at home faced not only fears for their loved ones but also the threat of the war reaching our shores. Daily life was made more challenging by black-outs and rationing. Through it all, the parish continued to worship and work as a community of dedicated Christians.

While the threat of war began to spread across Europe and Asia in the late 1930s, St. Andrew’s was focused on a more local issue. The new church (our present-day structure) had just been completed, at a cost of $250,000. The rules of the Episcopal Church required that any mortgage be paid in full before a church could be consecrated. The effects of the Great Depression were still felt by many families and contributing money to pay off the mortgage was a struggle for some. The annual income from pledges was only $8,000: an additional quarter of a million was a lot to collect.

The rising conflict in Europe did concern the parish. In 1939 Father Findlay wrote to the congregation, describing the “extraordinary human events” which he felt presented the Church with both a responsibility and an opportunity “for a broader service to humanity than we have known since the dark ages…” The Men’s Club hosted a speaker who described the struggle of the Finns against Soviet invaders. In the spring of 1940 the Young People’s Fellowship heard from a Red Cross official who told them of the need to help refugees in Poland and Finland. In response, St. Andrew’s began to collect money for the Red Cross.

photoFr. Findlay Rector 1923 – 1946

The outbreak of war between Germany and Britain made a stronger impact. The Women’s Auxiliary began to sew and knit items to be sent to Britain; the younger women in the parish formed a Junior Red Cross chapter. Like most Americans, however, parish members were not eager to join the conflict in Europe. The announcement of America’s first peacetime draft made many Americans uneasy. The College and Business Group, which included many students from the State College for Teachers (now the University at Albany), hosted a speaker to discuss “Pacifism and the Draft.” When the draft registration day came, requiring all men between the ages of 21 and 36 to register, Fr. Findlay wrote to the parish that parents were certainly “aware of the implications…”

Though the United States remained uncommitted to war, St. Andrew’s began to place a greater emphasis on patriotism in the worship service. The American flag was brought out, carried in the processional and recessional and placed in a stand by the altar during the service. The congregation began to sing a verse of “America” each Sunday. The draft, accompanied by volunteer enlistments, was being felt in the community: by January of 1941, 15 young men from the church were serving in the Army or Navy. Their names were read from the altar at Easter services. A group for wives and mothers of those enlisted was formed; its numbers grew rapidly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

January of 1942 found 26 parish members enlisted and facing combat in the now-declared war against Germany, Italy and Japan. A special Sunday night service was instituted, held in the chancel for the family members of those in the military. The parish gathered items to be sent in Easter “sunshine boxes”: cookies, razor blades, cigarettes and leaflets. Fr. Findlay wrote a letter to all the men in service, the first of many he would send out during the war. He told them how much they were missed and how important it was that they pray and attend services whenever they could. Each man received a small cross and a thin, portable copy of the prayer book. Fr. Findlay also wrote the servicemen the news of the parish — who was in service and where, the doing of old friends still at home. He encouraged them to write and promised to answer every letter.

The congregation was now enlisted on the Home Front. The Women’s Auxiliary held “victory teas” to raise money for War Bonds. The parish bulletin reminded congregants to collect rubber and other items to be turned in. Women were encouraged to volunteer at local hospitals. A steady stream of young men was being called to serve in the military, including the organist who left to join the Navy in July of 1942. The growing number of families from the parish and the surrounding community with members in the armed forces found a new place for prayer at the church: the chapel was opened each day for their use. The “ War Chapel” had a flag by the altar, helpful literature by the doors and a book where the names of those in service could be written.

The men lost to the military, 126 by October of 1943, had left gaps in the life of the parish. The Choir made an appeal for volunteers to make up for those called to serve. The parish budget lost pledges at a time when expenses went up sharply. The parish was required to buy “war bomb insurance” and to pay extra for heating oil. The rationing of oil restricted activities at the parish during the winter until the government forced a solution. The parish was required to convert from oil to coal heat — at a cost of over $3,000 dollars (roughly the salary of the Rector). Despite the size of the challenge, the money was raised in less than two months.

The war hit home in the spring of 1944 when the first member of the parish, Lester Wingate, was killed in action. Fr. Findlay had received a letter from Lester not long before his ship was torpedoed; the Rector printed the letter in the Easter bulletin for all to read. There were now 150 men and women serving in uniform from the 500 families of the parish. A service flag, covered with stars representing those in the military, stood at the altar during worship.

Buoyed by the successful invasion of France, in mid-1944 Fr. Findlay began to make plans for the post-war period. He wrote to the soldiers and sailors to tell them how much their return was anticipated and told the news of marriages and babies. For those as yet unclaimed, he had good news —“…let me tell you there will be plenty of girls left when you get home.”

News of battles won was made bittersweet by the rising toll of the victories. The Easter bulletin in 1945 listed seven young men who had been killed in the war — six of them lost within a ten-week period. “…Our Easter today” wrote Fr. Findlay “is but a shadow of the glory compared with theirs.” The parish began collecting clothing to be sent to the liberated countries and money to be used to reestablish missions in Asia ruined during the war. When peace finally came in August of 1945 the parish held a service of thanksgiving. Through all the challenges of the war years the congregation had continued to support the needs of the parish: in 1946 the mortgage was paid off and the new church was consecrated.

Fr. Findlay had one last war-related duty. He put together a plan for a memorial to the eight men who had died. Inspired by the War Memorial at Winchester College in England, he decided to turn the narthex at St. Andrew’s into a space where all those who had served and died would be forever remembered. One Sunday, May 24, 2009, we fulfilled Fr. Findlay’s committment by gathering in the Church to honor those who served and by mounting the memorial plaque now in the narthex in remembrance of those who died: Jack Tiffany Benjamin,Edward Weston FosterNelson Kinnear MooreFrank Alden Ramsay, Jr.Richard Alexander SelkirkCharles Dolfie ShufeltWalter Cecil Warner, Jr., and Lester Brayton Wingate.