Rev. Sidney Reeves Barnes, O.B.E., T.D.


Rev. S.R. Barnes, O.B.E., T.D.

THE Rev. Sidney Reeves Barnes, O.B.E., T.D., was the only son of the late Rector of Wombwell near Barnsley, Yorkshire. His earliest recollections date back to the days when his father was working at Victoria Docks, East London. in the parish of St. Luke’s, helping Dr. Stevens, who was afterwards Bishop of Barking. The childish memories called up by the interviewer were picturesquely illustrated with the gliding forms of Chinamen and Lascars who, passing through the streets formed a contrast to the rather drab surroundings of English poverty.

The next move was to a dame school in Brighton where his father was licensed to St. Peter’s (long celebrated for its beautifully trained choir) and attached to St. Luke’s before it became a separate parish.

His father’s next sphere of work took them back to London, this time to St. Andrew’s, Bethnal Green, where the Oxford House was just beginning to make itself felt.

During this stage the boy was admitted to the choir-school of St. Mary Magdalene’s Paddington. It was then under the control of Richard Redhead, equally famous as an organist and a voice trainer. To a very wide public he is known as a composer, chiefly of sacred music, much of which is to be found in Hymns Ancient and Modern”. One of his hymns, “Rock of Ages” is an almost universal favourite still.

Going to and from Paddington to Bethnal Green, Mr. Barnes in his early boyhood was in touch with the original members of Oxford House and he has a clear memory of many who afterwards became celebrated as leaders of men. Amongst these he mentioned the present Bishops of London. Durham and Exeter. The voice of a choir boy cannot last for ever and Mr. Barnes, when the breaking point came, left the choir school and passed into Colet House and later into the public school of St. Paul’s. While there, a severe attack of typhoid fever laid the poor boy low, and this greatly hindered his after career; For though, in due course, he went to Worcester College, Oxford, and kept all his terms at the University, he was never quite able to make up for the time lost through his physical disabilities, and finally went down without proceeding to his degree.

About this time his father was presented with a crown living in Yorkshire, and the young man who had been till then rather vaguely destined by his family for Holy Orders, came under other influences and decided on a military career. He received his commission in the 5th Battalion of the York and Lancashire Regiment.


York and Lancaster Regiment

When the South African War broke out he was serving in Ireland, and from Fermoy barracks in County Cork proceeded to South Africa to the 1st Battalion In the course of the war he found himself in command of a small fort near Majuba Hill, where, true to his family traditions, he did all in his power to keep his men straight by starting a regular system of prayers and hymn singing. This, being entirely a voluntary service, was much appreciated by the soldiers.

At first several Roman Catholics and a few Nonconformists held aloof, but gradually, with the help of a harmonium transplanted to the fort. From a derelict Boer farm (where it was discovered as the sole survivor of household plenishing) all the men were drawn in to take their part in this act of family worship.

Perhaps this experience was responsible for what followed. At the close of the war, Mr. Barnes definitely decided to prepare for Holy Orders, and went through a course of study at one of the Theological Colleges, and after his ordination, acted for five years as Curate in the parish of Kirkham, Lancashire. Then, on the nomination of Major Fleetwood Hesketh, he accepted the living of Stretton. He was Rector there for the next three years, and then appointed Acting Chaplain of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, in October, 1906.


Sidney married Ethel in St. Andrews Church, Huddersfield on the 17th June, 1908. A copy of the marriage certificate is shown below:


Further information about Mrs. Barnes can be found here, which will open a new window.

In November, 1909, The London Gazette published Sidney’s promotion in the volunteer Force to Chaplain, 4th Class, ranking as Captain.


Then, early in the fateful year of 1914, he was presented with the Rectory of Ashwell, by Major-General the Viscount Downe. But, no sooner was war declared than he was appointed Chaplain to the 49th (West Riding) Division with whom he served throughout the war within the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. The vast majority of the candidates were interviewed by the Chaplain-General; Bishop John Taylor Smith. As Chaplain-General he was responsible to the recruitment of Church of England chaplains only.  Other denominations had their own structures to oversee the recruitment of chaplains.

C of E clergy applying to become chaplains had to attend an interview at the War Office in London, where the Chaplain-General had his office.  They were asked a series of questions.  Many chaplains memoirs refer to their initial interview with the Chaplain-General.

The personal Service Records for Army Chaplains who served during the First World War and who left the Army before 1922 are held at the UK National Archives in Kew in Series WO 339.  Not all the Service Record files have survived.  The main files were destroyed in the Blitz in the Second World War.

In August 1914 there were full time a total of 117 chaplains, 89 of them Church of England, 11 Presbyterian and 17 Roman Catholic. In addition to these numbers there were chaplains attached to the Territorial Force (T.F.). By November 1918 on the Western Front alone there were 878 C of E, 389 Roman Catholic, 161 Presbyterian, 127 Wesleyan, 126 United Board, 5 Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, 8 Jewish and 4 Salvation Army. All chaplains were volunteers, and many were indeed curates. C of E Chaplains were initially posted to Brigades.

The names of clergy who were commissioned as Temporary Chaplains to the Forces (T.C.F.) are recorded in the ‘Army List’ Their names were also published in ‘The London Gazette’ the date of their appointment is given. Entries in ‘Crockfords’ Clerical Directory’ normally indicate service as an army chaplain with ‘T.C.F. 1915-16’ etc.


Postcard of Parade Service from WW1.

Rev. Barnes took part in the second battle of Ypres, the Somme, Passchendaele, Cambrai, etc. For nearly four years his duties as M.C. kept him up the front line, where, although blown up, hit in the back by shell and badly gassed, he never once reported sick! But on his return home, the long spell of war conditions took its revenge on his naturally robust constitution and it was as a nerve shattered man that he came to Bournemouth with little hope of becoming ‘fit’ again. But, like many another invalid he found in this climate fresh springs of health and vigour. These gifts were at last so fully restored that Canon Armand (whose sympathy and kind consideration so many of his friends have proved in past years) offered him the post of Priest-in-charge of St. James’. From that date onward his daily life has told its own tale to all who have come under its influence, for both Mr. and Mrs. Barnes have won the hearts of those among whom their happy lot is now cast.

The following anecdotes provide a small insight into the character of Sidney Reeves Barnes…

A sergeant who served under Captain Barnes at Majuba Hill in the South African War fell in the Great War, and strange to say, the friend whom he had known so well as his C.O. was called upon as his Padre all those years later, to read the funeral service over his grave.

Another strange thing came to pass about the same time. In his capacity of Padre, Mr. Barnes had once a painful task to perform: this was to write (as he imagined) to complete strangers to report the death of their son in action. In the correspondence that ensued, he discovered that the lad’s mother had been his little playmate at the Dame School where he and she had both been pupils in the old days at Brighton. They had never met in the interval.

The six decorations gained by this feature, speak volumes for themselves; but the nature of the “gallant and distinguished services in the field” for which he was mentioned in despatches, were not, it seems, of the stereotyped kind.

In 1916, he led the men of the King’s Own Light Infantry into the Battle of the Somme, playing a boy trumpet with six keys, a triumph of skill and pluck calculated to stir the enthusiasm of the men. The trumpet is alive still, and has passed into the proud possession of the Bugle-Mayor of the Battalion.

At Passchendaele, he played a company of machine gunners into action on a penny whistle, and on a later occasion, he repeated this feat on an “occarina”. Being both by nature and on principle a consistent optimist, this versatile “Padre” earned for himself the honourable title of “Old Cheerio” and there are still, he says, many former comrades in arms who remember him by this exhilarating name.

Further information about the 49th (West Riding) Division and its role in The Great War can be found here, elaborating further upon the activities in which Rev. Sidney Barnes was in the midst, as he performed his roles. Indeed, the memorial to the 49th (West Riding) Division at Essex Farm Cemetery, serves as a poignant reminder of his time with the Division.


Army Chaplain tending a Soldier’s Grave, July 1916.

The 1919 New Year Honours were appointments by King George V to various orders and honours to reward and highlight good works by citizens of the British Empire. The appointments were published in The London Gazette and The Times in January 1919, and the entry for Rev. Barnes’ Order of the British Empire (OBE) is shown below:

The recipients of honours are displayed here as they were styled before their new honour, and arranged by honour, with classes (Knight, Knight Grand Cross, etc.) and then divisions (Military, Civil, etc.) as appropriate.


The experiences left Rev. Barnes a sick man. He eventually left the parish of Ashwell and came to Bournemouth in the hope of recovery, and by 1924 he had regained much of his health and was able to accept the position of Priest-in-Charge of St. James’. Sadly he had a few relapses in 1928 culminating in a serious collapse in July 1931.

Rev. Sidney Reeves Barnes had a broad-minded outlook and general air of optimism, and earned the title of ‘Old Cheerio’ because of his perpetual brightness.


Images from the funeral of Rev. Sidney Reeves Barnes, O.B.E., T.D., 10th November 1931, Boscombe East Cemetery.

“Scenes at Boscombe Cemetery on Saturday at the funeral of Rev. Sidney Reeves Barnes, O.B.E., T.D., who was Vicar-designate of the recently created parish of St. James’ Pokesdown. Well known as a chaplain to the forces, and formerly holding rank as a combatant officer, Rev. Barnes was buried with semi-military honours. The top photograph shows part of the funeral cortege entering the cemetery, following a service at St. James’. Below (left): Girl Guides and other young people of the parish on their way to pay their tribute to a beloved figure. Below (Right): Tramwaymen, to whom Rev. Barnes had been chaplain, forming a guard on the way to the graveside.”


Memorial to Rev. Sidney Reeves Barnes O.B.E., T.D., inside St. James’ Church.