The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: Reverend Vivian Redlich

Reverend Vivian Redlich with members of the 4th Dewsbury Scout pack.
Reverend Vivian Redlich with members of the 4th Dewsbury Scout pack.

MANY men from Dewsbury gave their lives during various wars for their country – but few were called upon to give it due to their faith as was the case with Reverend Vivian Redlich, a young curate from St John’s Church, Dewsbury Moor.

He was beheaded by Japanese soldiers as he said Mass on a Pacific island during the Second World War and is now recognised as Dewsbury’s only martyr.

St John the Evangelist Church, Dewsbury Moor.

St John the Evangelist Church, Dewsbury Moor.

Vivian, who lived in Boothroyd Lane, Dewsbury, was a missionary working in Papua New Guinea when the Japanese invaded the island.

He could have escaped but refused to desert his parishioners and was executed on the beach on the morning of July 23, 1942.

His fiancée and seven colleagues also died with him.

Vivian’s quest to spread the word of God took him from Dewsbury in 1923 to the far reaches of Australia with the Bush Brotherhood.

Margaret Watson.

Margaret Watson.

He worked as a missionary in New Guinea during the war but refused to move when it was shelled by Japanese troops.

A Roman Catholic doctor working with him at the time warned Vivian that he should leave but he remained steadfast to his post.

The doctor, who escaped, recalled: “Shortly after dawn Fr Vivian woke me up, saying: ‘There’s a big number of people here. I’m going down to say Mass’.

“He began to vest, and was nearly finished when a native boy rushed in crying out: “Go – do not wait – Embogi came during the night to see where you were. He has gone to tell the Japanese – he wants them to come and kill you.”

“There was dead silence”, recalled the doctor. “I looked at Fr Vivian. He bowed his head in prayer for a few moments, and then said to the people: “Today is Sunday. It is God’s day. I shall say Mass. We shall worship God.”

The doctor left the island but Vivian remained and was beheaded soon after on Buna beach. Also killed was his fiancée and the others who had stayed.

Vivian’s last letter home to his father, Canon Edwin Redlich, which is now preserved in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, read:

“I am trying to stick, whatever happens. If I don’t come out of it, rest content that I have tried to do my job faithfully.”

The Reverend Redlich was born in South Africa in 1905 and took up his first post as a curate at St John’s Church in 1932 at the age of 27.

It was not known why Vivian left the peace and quiet of Dewsbury to be a missionary, but when he left he presented a painting of Jesus to St John’s Church. On the 50th anniversary of Vivian’s death, the Japanese apologised for the atrocity and begged forgiveness.

The Bishop of Yokohama in Japan, visited the church in Leicester where Vivian’s father had been rector, to talk about the matter.

He later sent a five-foot handwritten scroll in Japanese and English apologising for the death of Vivian.

It read: “I would like to express our regretful sorrow for your sad memories of 50 years ago when Fr Vivian Redlich, his fiancée and other people were killed by Japanese soldiers.

“As a Japanese, I convey our deep regret to you all. I am asking for your friendly benevolence to forgive our past. We remember the love, the life and death of Vivian Redlich. We hope for a new mutual understanding and friendship.”

The Reverend John Lawson, who was minister at St John’s at the time, said: “Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian faith because it is in the centre of God’s heart.

“Knowing this has undoubtedly moved these Japanese Christians to ask for forgiveness for their association with the death of Vivian.”

He added: “No doubt Vivian would have said what Jesus said on that first Good Friday – “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Anyone visiting the village of Buna where Vivian was killed, will find that the locals there have remembered him by building an education building called the Martyr’s School.

Other parishioners at St John’s always remembered him as a very caring man who would give his last sixpence to anyone in need, and would do without himself rather than see anyone without.

Another parishioner, the late Arthur Medley, remembered him as a very quiet and spiritual man who gave up his time for others, especially the sick and elderly whom he visited regularly.

As church curate he was leader of the local Scout pack, 4th Dewsbury, and a photograph of him in his scouting uniform can still be seen in the church.