St Michael’s 1939-1945

The outbreak of the Second World War dealt the parish an immediate financial blow, since it was dependent on the Michaelmas collections and social events to make up shortcomings: that year, the Church Expenses account was £200 in debt. Services were cut back to three Masses on the day of the Festival and the Evensong of the Eve of the Festival was cancelled, meaning the Festival made only a quarter of its usual amount. The verger was dismissed on 30th September and the organist’s pay reduced by £10. Paper shortages and lack of funds meant that the Parish Magazine itself was discontinued and replaced with an single-sheet Parish Paper until December 1939, when even that seems to have been suspended. However, it still proved possible to put on the heating, albeit only on 28th October.

The parish’s children were evacuated from London by November 1939, under the charge of Miss Challier, Treasurer of the parish’s Sanctuary Fund. Individual confirmation services for the St Pancras Deanery were amalgamated into a single one at St Michael’s on 10th December 1939. Near to several railway termini, the Camden area was heavily bombed, causing a major housing crisis and plans to redesign the area’s road and rail network – Camden Town Tube Station was hit, the Parish Hall suffered minor damage from an incendiary bomb and most of the roof and windows were blasted off the Church School. Even as late as August 1944 a V1 or ‘doodle-bug’ prevented a social event by the Catechism Party. However, no members of the congregation were killed on the home front and the church itself survived the war undamaged – one of only 77 of the 701 churches in London to come out of the War physically unscathed. Even so, its fabric began to deteriorate and difficult wartime fundraising had to be undertaken to assist with the church’s debt, leaking roof, and repeatedly-failing boiler.

Detail from the London Country Council’s post-war Bomb Damage Maps showing St Michael’s and its surroundings, including the heavy damage to the block just behind it west of Kentish Town Road.

Thirty servers and choir members joined up. By January 1945 almost all of them were overseas, serving in the Mediterranean, Burma, India, East and West Africa and India as well as Italy and north-west Europe. Only two were killed. One of these was Arthur Bangs (1925-1941), lost at sea as a 15-year-old Cabin Boy in the Merchant Navy when his ship was sunk with all hands by bad weather off Iceland. The other was Sergeant Ted Garbutt (1924-1945) of the Royal Air Force Reserve, later posted to 55 Squadron, Royal Air Force. His publican father had served as a batman in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.

Ted was the youngest of the pre-war servers at St Michael’s and had been the last of them to join up – he was 18 in 1942 and was probably called up that year. His unit fought in North Africa, the invasion of Sicily and the Italian campaign. Edward was reported missing in April 1945 after an air raid near Cesena in Italy, but his death was only confirmed in time for the August 1945 Parish Magazine. A Requiem Mass was held for him on 23rd July 1945 and the following year an anonymous donor gave purificators and a lavabo towel in his memory.1 By November 1945 a memorial fund had been established for a more permanent memorial. The funds it raised were used to commission a set of illuminated altar cards by one Mr Harding, showing a mixture of prayers from the Book of Common Prayer and the English Missal. They were first used at Michaelmas 1947 and – though no longer in use – still hang in the Sacristy today.2

Edward Smith.


Header Image A Shelter in Camden Town under a Brewery : Christmas Eve, 1940 Watercolour, Olga Lehmann. © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 1899) used under an IWM Non-Commercial License. Original.

  1. Parish Magazine, February 1946
  2. Parish Magazine July 1947; August 1947.