A selection of letters, ephemera, and photographs of parishioners and WWII Service men and women- 1943-1945 from the Records of St. Michael's Church is exhibited 2nd floor URI Library until November 30, 2005. Curated by Assistant Archivist Sarina Rodrigues Wyant and Emily R. Brown, Graduate Student, GSLIS
At the 1943 Easter services at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Bristol, Canon Parshley couldn’t help but notice the vacant seats in his church. Sixty-six of his parishioners were serving in the armed forces during World War II, and without them his congregation looked small and a little sad. It was shortly after this that he wrote his first “newsletter” to the service people, giving them a little news from home and enclosing a war cross to remind them of their church and their faith and raising the spirits of both those gone to war and those left behind.
The thankful response was so overwhelming that what started as a friendly little note turned into monthly newsletter, as well as extensive correspondence with individual soldiers, sailors, and pilots. Canon Parshley’s letters were full of hometown news and stories from overseas. He quoted from the letters he had received from service people and encouraged them to write to one another as well. He enclosed photographs of the families on the home front (which some soldiers fondly called their “pin-ups”) as well as address books, communion cards, and even a message from the governor.
The church was diligent in keeping its addresses up-to-date – no small feat with the frequency and high security of troop movements. Sometimes fellow Bristolians were able to visit one another overseas because of the information they gleaned from Canon Parshley’s newsletters. Parshley even facilitated communication between the armed forces and their families – especially on occasions when beloved children were missing or killed in action.
Canon Anthony R. Parshley was rector of St. Michael’s Church from 1929 to 1947.In addition to writing monthly letters to service men and women during World War II, Parshley worked in a local factory and organized the relief committee, which sent support to the original St. Michael’s church in Bristol, U.K. During his tenure as rector, he presided at many community, fraternal, military, and ecumenical services in Bristol. He resigned in 1947 to become Archdeacon of the Rhode Island Diocese.
The letters give readers extraordinary glimpses of the battlefield and military life and voice the every day worries that concerned service men and service women during the 2nd World War. Many of the letters are striking in their candor and poignancy.