Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 112 / Number 3
"No Summer Holiday": The Chaplaincy of Richmond's Walter Russell Bowie in World War I
- Samuel C. Shepherd, Jr., pp. 266–302
In 1917 St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond granted its rector, Walter Russell Bowie, a leave of absence
to serve in World War I. As a Red Cross chaplain with Base Hospital No. 45, Bowie ministered to wounded, sick,
and dying soldiers during a major American military offensive in France. In letters to his wife and to the congregation
of St. Paul's, he vividly recounted his experiences and those of his unit, and he depicted the devastation of the
Great War. Meanwhile, Richmonders endured their own wartime sacrifices and suffering, including a deadly
outbreak of influenza. Bowie's correspondence offers a unique window on the life of a World War I chaplain.
With few personal accounts to draw upon, historians have written little about the day-to-day activities of
World War I chaplains. An analysis of Bowie's documents reveals a man who performed a wide range
of duties and pondered the implications of the Great War for the future. Simultaneously, he remained
deeply concerned about his family and conditions in Richmond. Horrified by the destruction he had
witnessed, Bowie returned to Virginia in 1919 and became a dedicated proponent of international
agreements and organizations—such as the League of Nations—that sought to prevent future wars.