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03 January 2014

Peter Denton writes:
Prebendary Francis Vere Hodge, who, as chairman of the trustees of Glastonbury Abbey, led the team that organised the financing and building of its visitor centre, died on 15 December, aged 94.

When he was ordained in 1948, after a distinguished military career in the Second World War, he became the seventh successive generation of his family to be a Church of England parson. After a curacy at Battle, his first living was Iping and Linch, Sussex. In 1958, he moved to Kingswood, Surrey.

In 1965, he returned to his roots in Somerset, where he was appointed Vicar to the Moorlinch and Greinton group; and, in 1979, he became the first Bath & Wells Diocesan Rural Affairs Chaplain. This involved administering the Church's help and advice to communities in agriculture, horticulture, animal welfare, and other rural matters. In addition, he was Rural Dean of Glastonbury from 1975 to 1979, and revised the contentious method of calculating each parish's share of the Deanery Quota payable to the diocese for its running costs. He was also resident honorary chaplain to the Royal Bath and West Show.

He saw his ministry as caring not only for his parishioners, but also the animals, trees, plants, and the soil itself. He was one of the first to hold services of blessing for animals and, later, for all creation. In 1982 - the 800th anniversary year of Wells Cathedral - he memorably organised the first Service for the Whole Creation, held inside the cathedral and on its extensive green in front of the magnificent west portico.

From 1984 to 1988, he was chaplain to the Yeovil and District branch of the Churches' Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies. In 1979, he was appointed a Prebendary of Wells Cathedral in recognition of his long and exemplary service to the diocese.

During the War, as a Forward Observation Officer with the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, he had pioneered a new role for the Royal Artillery. On the night of 13/14 July 1943, with two others, he parachuted into Sicily, and, in support of an infantry attack, called for fire from Royal Navy ships offshore. Such liaison had not been attempted before.

The operation was to secure the Primosole Bridge, linking Catania with Lentini and Syracuse; Captain Vere Hodge's laboriously encoded situation reports led to "extremely accurate and effective fire on the advancing enemy". Aged just 23, he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry.

The fall of Catania was vital for the final Allied advance on Messina and the capture of Sicily, and enemy firepower was sustained and severe. After being dropped at dusk near the Primosole Bridge, he reconnoitred likely observation posts. At dawn, he called for, directed, and corrected offshore naval fire to knock out enemy positions. The task lasted for 20 hours. The official citation described him as having "complete contempt for his personal safety", and he "so skilfully directed the fire of the six-inch guns from a cruiser that heavy casualties were inflicted on the attacking infantry".

In June 1944, he was mentioned in despatches after dropping with the 7th Parachute Battalion into France, near what became known as Pegasus Bridge. For a month, he and his party engaged numerous targets in support of the Paras. This included one from the grounds of Bénouville Chateau when a battleship, HMS Ramillies, fired on a strongpoint just 200 yards away. Both operations in which he was involved became a Parachute Regiment Battle Honour.

On his retirement in 1984, he maintained his active interest in ecclesiastical affairs. Besides his trusteeship at Glastonbury Abbey, he wrote a number of books and pamphlets on the subjects of nature and religion.

He married Eleanor Connor in 1942. She died in 2012. He leaves two sons and a daughter.

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