AS A Methodist minister, historian, patriot, adviser, pioneer in the prison, health, and education services, lecturer, musician, impresario, orator, antiques expert, humorist, and writer, George Kendall was a polymath, firmly grounded in the principles of Samuel Smiles’s “self-help”. The son of a Yorkshire policeman who died suddenly, aged 36, and a mother from a farming background, Kendall remembers his childhood with affection: he inherited his grandfather’s grateful heart. Graduating from the steel works to ordination training and a ministerial appointment in Lincolnshire in 1906, he embarked on a career that was remarkable in many ways, not least in the events that he witnessed
First, there was the occasion during his ministry at Windsor (1913-15) when he saw Archduke Ferdinand departing for Sarajevo after visiting King George at the Castle. “Whether I am psychic or not is a matter I have often wondered about”, he writes, “but I had a strange premonition that night — an uncanny feeling that some tremendous upheaval was shortly to take place.” Having joined the Army Chaplains Department in May 1915, Kendall experienced the horrors of that upheaval, sometimes burying the young officers and men to whom he had offered spiritual comfort earlier in the day. In 1916, he not only witnessed the “Mad Rising” in Dublin, but had a chat with De Valera, captured, and briefed the Prime Minister, Asquith, on his arrival after the execution of Connolly.
Kendall’s subsequent work with the Imperial War Graves Commission involved identifying and reburying countless fallen soldiers. Here again, he was in the right place at the right time when the process of choosing the Unknown Warrior took place in November 1920. As the senior chaplain, it was Kendall who accompanied the coffin, covered with the Union flag, to the coast, and who testifies in his autobiography that the identity of the warrior was, indeed, unknown.
Surviving the blitz during the Second World War, when he was chaplain to a balloon squadron and delighted the crowds at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, Kendall continued his ministry in London, recalling with deep affection the fellowship for which Methodists are famous: “we are like a big family.”
His own family have served him well in this publication, recruiting a wide range of individuals to introduce particular chapters, which they were sent in advance. That the contributors include Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Maev Kennedy, and the Revd Lord Griffiths reflects the reach of a man endowed with remarkable gifts.
Dr Wheeler is a Visiting Professor at the University of Southampton and Chairman of Gladstone’s Library.
Daring All Things: The autobiography of George Kendall (1881-1961)
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