By James Woodward

WE live in a world that has an increased tendency to connect with truth in a generalised, ‘broad-brush’ way. Perhaps we don’t appreciate the complexity of truth as we seek to find wisdom to help us flourish as human beings.

Nowhere is this more apparent than when we consider conflict and war. It is impossible to comprehend the realities of war except through, perhaps, attention to the particular. We see something of the human cost of war as we listen to individuals and their experiences.

At Sarum College we are marking this anniversary of the First World War by attending to a particular story of former student William Addison, who after studying here for ordination and a curacy at St Edmund’s Church (now the Salisbury Arts Centre), volunteered as an Army chaplain in 1914.

He accompanied a number of army regiments landing in Basra in March 1916. He experienced at first hand the human price of war and in April over five days endured the horror of hundreds of men massacred in appalling conditions. On April 9, 1916 Padre Addison carried a wounded man to cover and assisted others to safety under heavy fire. His Victoria Cross citation reads: ‘by his splendid example and utter disregard of personal danger, he encouraged the stretcher-bearers to go forward under heavy fire and collect the wounded.’ Padre Addison was awarded the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on August 3, 1917.

For a few days this August, Sarum College will display the Victoria Cross – one of 1,358 awarded since its inception in 1856 – awarded to the Revd William Addison, and one of just three awarded to army chaplains in the history of the medal.

On August 19, military chaplains, veterans and members of armed forces support organisations and others will gather in the historic buildings at 19 The Close to commemorate this notable alumnus, Padre Addison. We shall display this rare and valuable Victoria Cross thanks to Tim Addison, William’s grandson. In a small way, attending to Williams’s example, we shall be helped to see a little more some of the realities of the First World War. Amidst the horror, we shall have an opportunity to celebrate this man’s example of selfless love for others.

Medals are important reminders of our capacity for humanity and valour, and this one recalls the specific role of Christians in armed conflict. As we concentrate on the example of William, we might be reminded of many others whose courage and sacrifice went unremarked. In those years, soldiers fought for much: a belief that their country was threatened, the rights of small nations, and when it came down to it, the man next to them in the trench. At Sarum College we shall translate the general into a particular tribute to Addison and all the dead of the war, and those who came through it.

Those of us who live in a different age would do well to remember all that others gave by listening carefully and learning.

Professor James Woodward is Principal of Sarum College. For more information or to attend the commemoration, please email