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Art from war – descendants of WWI soldiers sought for St Paul’s commemoration

Direct descendants of soldiers badly injured in WWI are being sought by St Paul’s, as the Cathedral prepares to display a unique piece of embroidery crafted by more than 100 recovering men ...

Direct descendants of soldiers badly injured during the conflicts of WWI are being sought by St Paul’s, as the Cathedral prepares to display a unique piece of embroidery crafted by more than 100 recovering men.

Months of research by the Cathedral’s Collections Department has revealed 133 names of men from the UK and beyond, who worked to create an elaborate altar frontal, used for many years after the War at the high altar.

Now, as part of its plans to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, St Paul’s will set aside an area of the Cathedral for four years, to enable worshippers and visitors to mark the events of 1914-18, with the altar frontal as the main focus.
And ahead of a special service of the Eucharist on Sunday 3 August 2014 – at which the altar frontal will be used for the first time since the 1940s – St Paul’s is seeking relatives of any of the men whose recovery was aided through the embroidery of this powerful piece of art. It is hoped that photographs, letters and other items personal to the soldiers can be found so that their stories may be told to Cathedral visitors over the period of 2014-18.
But with 133 names, ranks, numbers, regiments and hospitals of soldiers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as the UK, it is hoped that local, regional and national media, as well as social media, can help trace the relatives.

The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor of St Paul’s Cathedral, said: “The hands that clung to life in the trenches of the First World War and which lifted the bodies of dead comrades into graves, came home to craft this beautiful altar frontal. It is a symbol of faith despite everything and a deeply moving tribute to those who did not return.

“It is our privilege at St Paul’s to let it stand as a memorial to the sacrifice, courage and legacy of a world at war and we are very keen to identify some of these men and learn of their stories.”

Anyone who recognises a name on the list, should contact The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel at

History of the St Paul’s WWI altar frontal

- The WWI altar frontal shows intricate floral and bird designs with the chalice of the Eucharist and the palm branches of martyrdom
- Men recovering in hospitals all around the country contributed to the frontal and their individual pieces of embroidery were sent to the Royal School of Needlework at their headquarters in Kensington to be stitched onto the frontal as a whole
- It was made for the previous High Altar, which was later destroyed by bombing in WWII
- The post-WWII altar is of different dimensions and as such, this particular altar frontal has not been used since the 1940s
- A remarkable and beautifully illuminated book accompanies the frontal which contains the handwritten names of every man who worked on the frontal, together with the names of their regiments and of the hospitals at which they were patients
- The frontal is currently being restored by the Cathedral’s broderers
- Embroidery was a classic device for the rehabilitation of soldiers during WWI, because this intricate close work greatly helped to reduce the effects of shell shock

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