St Martin’s held a number of special services throughout the war. As Leicester’s principal church, much of the formal commemoration of local men who had died on active service took place here. Mostly this was for whole battalions or regiments following a battle where there was particularly heavy loss of life. But even as early as 9th August 1914 a special service was held, called “a special service for military forces.”
For example on 28th May 1915 a memorial service was held for officers Lieutenant-Colonel the Honourable Percy Cecil Evans-Freke, Major William Francis Martin, Lieutenant Colin Peake, Lieutenant Samuel Pestell Donald Thomson, Lieut T E Brooks, Lieut A F Turner and the NCOs and men of the Leicestershire Yeomanry who were killed on May 13th at Frezenberg Ridge.
In June 1915 Canon Nugee wrote “When we see, as we have many times lately in Leicester, the public recognition of the Christian religion, whether in church parades, or in farewell services to our brave men leaving home for the war, or in the solemn memorial for those who have made the supreme act of self-sacrifice…we have only to go on bravely in the same spirit.”
On 9th June 1915 at 8pm the Bishop of Peterborough presided at a solemn service at which he spoke to the people on the spiritual call of the present crisis and the way they should meet it. The service was “attended by a large concourse of people from town and county, and was certainly representative of the Church in Leicester. The Mayor, town council, and representatives of the local authorities were very welcome, and the procession to the Town Hall was not the least impressive part of a notable evening. The Bishop of Leicester conducted a service in the churchyard for those who could not find seats in the church. Both he and the Bishop of the diocese gave addresses very well suited to the occasion” (Nugee).
On 10th December 1915 a service consisting of hymns and psalms was held in memory of the officers and men of the 4th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, many of whom were killed in October at the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Canon Nugee said: “I noticed a remark in a church newsletter last week, that these memorial services were becoming meaningless. I did not understand, neither do I agree… the town of Leicester has never had greater occasion to honour and mourn its dead, than in the persons of these brave men, of whom many never thought of war or fighting before last year, but who since then have sacrificed everything, and died nobly for their country.” Tickets were issued for the service by Captain H Simpson at the Magazine, Leicester.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Peterborough urged St Martin’s – and all churches in the diocese – to special observance of Sunday, 2nd January 1916, in the hope of a better year ahead. Canon Nugee told his parishioners somewhat ambiguously that “our cause has been right from the first, but unless the nation turns to God how can we expect that He will guide and help us to victory?” Soon after Nugee observed angrily that no more than 30 people attended a service held on New Year’s Eve, although over 300 attended a congregational social event held soon after. The following year Nugee’s understanding or tolerance deepened, and he observed that “if sermons and services cannot be so frequent when everyone is preoccupied..let us above all things avoid the attempt to ‘make the best of two worlds’…things are too serious for that.”
In April 1917, not surprisingly, there was an addition to the usual Holy Week reflections in the shape of readings and war intercessions. These were repeated in 1918.
At the end of the war two services of thanksgiving for peace were held on 17th November 1918, one in the morning and one in the evening. Canon Macnutt wrote “The one point I want to emphasise is the need of faith and purpose, ‘lest we forget.’ There are some things we shall never forget, to our lives’ end. But shall we remember the great visions of higher and better things, spiritual things, which have shone through the clouds of war? Ah! We must not, unless our dead are to have died in vain.”