Village History
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Vicar at War

Reredos screen of All Saints, commissioned by Rev Masters.

Reredos screen of All Saints, commissioned by Rev Masters.


Basil Denne Reed had a busy war. He was the curate of All Saints, living at Orchard Cottage; he had to deputise for his extraordinary Vicar, Rev Thomas Heywood Masters, who was absent from the parish from 1914 – 1918.

The Rev. Masters was 49 when he volunteered for active service. Subsequent medical examinations established that he had previously suffered from chest congestion, but this doesn’t seem to have prevented him being accepted. He served first as a Red Cross ambulance driver and then, from 1915, as Chaplain to the 4th Army; he served in France, including the Somme, and was twice mentioned in despatches. In October 1918, a medical board sent him home on three weeks’ rest leave,, suffering from debilitation – ‘rest, tonic, change’. He still managed to return to the front, just in time to witness the end of the war.
Even without his distinguished military record, Masters would have been a notable vicar. Educated in Manchester, Inverness, Hanover and Cambridge, he was inducted as vicar here in 1902. (He also offered services as a ‘University tutor’.) He was an accomplished piano player, and during his curacy in Staffordshire he had met and befriended the composer William Havergal Brian, a working class self-taught composer, celebrated after his death.

Masters knew one of the most distinguished architects of the time, Ninian (later Sir Ninian) Comper, and embarked with him on extensive refurbishment of All Saints Church. It was Comper who designed much of the beautiful woodwork – the lectern, with its carved angels, the riddel posts and frontals of the sanctuary altar, together with the statues of the four apostles, the reredos and other screens in the Lady Chapel, the vestry door and the roof of the lych gate. After the War, Comper was invited by Masters to design the magnificent East Window, which John Mackinlay described in a previous edition of Meon Matters, an outstanding and unique War Memorial, which must have had special meaning for our vicar.

Masters went on to become Vicar of St Peter’s in Petersfield, then Rural Dean at Portsmouth, then Provost at the Cathedral and an honorary Chaplain to the King, being honoured with a CBE. He died in September 1939 and is buried in our churchyard, next to Frank Partridge, the second bishop of Portsmouth.

Betty and Stewart Bussell researched the story of Rev Thomas Heywood Masters, as part of their investigations into the histories of East Meon’s vicars. Despite their best efforts, there is no photo or portrait which definitely depicts Rev Masters. However, the photograph of the dedication of the War Memorial in 1923 shows a clergyman standing by the plinth which may be he …

Detail of dedication service, possibly depicting Rev Thomas Heywood Masters

Detail of dedication service, possibly depicting Rev Thomas Heywood Masters