Altar cloth embroidered by first world war injured takes place at St Paul’s Cathedral

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 10:30pm

An altar cloth embroidered by 138 wounded first world war soldiers has taken its place at St Paul's Cathedral in London to mark the centenary of the conflict's outbreak.

The frontal, which has not been on display for seven decades, was embroidered by severely wounded or shell-shocked men from Britain, Australia, Canada and South Africa in memory of their fallen comrades in arms.

"Of the many forms of rehabilitation, embroidery was seen as a good way of greatly helping to reduce the effects of shell shock, owing to its intricacy and need for concentration and a steady hand," the cathedral said on its website.

The intricate needlework was commissioned for the national service of thanksgiving in July 1919 marking the end of the war the year before.

On Sunday the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, presided over a Eucharist service at which the altar frontal was used for the first time since the second world war.

The frontal was specially commissioned for the 1919 national service of thanksgiving, attended by King George V and Queen Mary. Wounded servicemen recovering from their injuries in hospitals contributed small sections, which were collected at the Royal School of Needlework in London to be stitched together.

The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, the precentor of St Paul's Cathedral, said traumatised soldiers had been taught stitching as early as the Crimean war (1853-1856) to bring a calming effect.

"Creativity lifts your mind out of the here and now, and allows you to focus on other things rather than just the physical effects of war, and also the mental effects of war," he said.

"The fact that the men knew they were also creating something which would act as a memorial to their comrades who hadn't returned from the front was also a very important focus for them."

Agence France-Presse