Robert Furley Callaway – respected man amongst those who served and fell.

Date of Birth: 9th Oct 1872

Place of Birth: Harbledown, Kent

Date of Death: 13th Sept 1916

Place of Death: Ginchy, France

Rank: Second Lt

Service Number: 9226

Regt: 2nd Battalion, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire

From a wealthy family, Robert was the youngest of seven children. The family lived in Kent and Surrey from the 1860’s – 1890’s. Robert’s family latterly lived at 15, Palmeira Avenue, Hove.

Robert was schooled in Suffolk and later, Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He attended Wells Theological College, becoming Deacon in 1896. Ordained Priest, he served as Curate of Abingdon (1896 – 1898), then moving to South Africa as a missionary until 1902; becoming Principal of St. Bedes Theological College. He later became Director of East Pandoland Missionary (South Africa). During this time Robert Married Amelia and returned to the UK in summer 1914.

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According to a book “Letters from Two Fronts”, Robert Callaway was working as a mission priest in South Africa with his brother Godfrey, a Cowley Father. when war broke out, he returned to England to join the army as a chaplain. But he was dissatisfied with his role and became a combatant officer. In September 1916, a few days before he was killed on the Somme at the age of 44, he described to his wife – Amelia a lecture which the brigade had heard. The language of the letter reveals the paradoxes of his position which he felt keenly, though unsentimentally – note the irony implied in the use of the word ‘conversion’:

. . . Before the route march yesterday the whole Brigade formed up in a cornfield to listen to a lecture by a Scotch Major. It was extraordinarily good, but to me the interest of the lecture lay not so much in the lecture itself as in what the lecture stood for — the entire conversion of our whole attitude of mind as a nation. For it was instruction as to how best to kill (with the bayonet), and every possible device that had been found by experience useful to enable a man to kill as many Germans as possible, was taught. As one writes it down it sounds the most hideous brutality, and yet yesterday I don’t suppose there was an officer or man present who did not agree that if the war is to be won we must fight to kill. Personally, I still shudder at the idea of sticking six inches of cold steel into another man’s body or having his steel stuck into my body, but I shudder merely with the natural instinct of repulsion which is common to at least all educated people. I don’t shudder because I think it any more wrong of me as a priest. I have never for a single moment regretted becoming a combatant. In one only way I can say with St. Paul, ” I glory in the things which concern my own infirmities.” I am proud of just those very things which other people think must be such a bore for me, e.g., coming down in rank [as a chaplain he had been a captain], being under the orders of boys of eighteen, having to trudge along on foot, etc. And for that reason, I rejoiced even when I gave up the Lewis Gun job, though everybody thought me a fool to do so.   Coming back from our march yesterday, we passed all the black fellows (Senegambians) at work. They look exactly like our Kaffirs, except that they are much blacker — most of them are quite young.  

 

This written piece by an old Oxford friend gives us a real understanding of the man Robert was and how highly regarded he was amongst his peers and the College. It also explains the reasons for his death and the bravery of his gallant act to try and save another man’s life.

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Robert Furley Callaway came up to Corpus in October, 1891, from St Alban’s School, as a Commoner. He was somewhat younger and less developed in character than his contemporaries, but his personal charm secured him many friends. Though neither, in the strict sense of the words, a scholar nor an athlete, he was a hard worker, and took creditable classes both in Honour Mods and Lit Hum, and secured a seat in the College Torpid. He took his full share in the social life of the College, and it was largely due to his initiative that the Church Society was started. His period at Oxford was marked by a strong development of character. He had always plenty of moral courage, and his friendships and studies served only to deepen his faith and confirm his determination to spend his life in the service of others. On leaving Oxford he studied at Wells, and went thence to the St Cuthbert’s Mission in Kaffraria to which he was ordained. After some years he married and took a parish, but missionary work once more claimed him, and he took charge of the Holy Cross Mission in Pondoland East. In 1914 his health broke down, and he was sent home, arriving in England just as war was declared. It was characteristic of him that failing to obtain a chaplaincy at once he enlisted in the R.A.M.C. and went to Aldershot. There he was soon discovered and appointed Chaplain to one of the large Hospitals there, and later to the Cavalry Brigade. He could not rest, however, till he got to the front, and he served at Ypres with the 2nd Cavalry Division. It was no real surprise to those who knew him that he then decided that he must serve his country in a militant capacity, though he was well-nigh 43 years of age. He knew that the men to whom he was devoted were going through hell (there is no other word for it) and he felt that he must share it to the full with them. He obtained a commission in the Staffordshires, and after a short training at home went to the front as a 2nd Lieut. He was killed in a most gallant attempt to bring in a wounded man under a murderous fire from machine guns, an attempt which practically meant certain death. His C.O. wrote of him, “I can’t tell you how much I shall miss him and what a loss he is to the battalion. He had such high ideals and was the bravest of the brave. Our only consolation is that his influence and memory will remain with us for good, but I, personally, and the whole battalion who knew him had the greatest affection and admiration for him.” “The whole motive of his life,” one of his best friends writes of him, “was love and sacrifice, and his death seems to be just the perfecting of his life.” First affection, then respect, then admiration, was what those who knew him felt for him. In the example of his life and death he is one of the children of whom the wisdom of Corpus is for ever justified.

 

 


Callaway’s letter to Amelia was found in a book:  Letters from Two Fronts: RF Callaway, Mission Priest, a Selection of His Letters from South Africa 1900-1914, and from France 1914-1916, ed.”

https://www.ccc.ox.ac.uk/Roll-of-Honour-1914-1918/ 

Photographs were found on Imperial War Museum website: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205291703

and on South African Grave Yards Project website: http://www.southafricawargraves.org/search/details.php?id=3253

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