On the steep grass bank of the graveyard, south of the church your eyes may have been drawn to a single war grave positioned among the other larger gravestones in that location. The grave contains the remains of Revd Herbert Gunson who died on 23rd August 1918 while in post as Military Hospital Chaplain at Alexandra Military Hospital, Cosham. Herbert Gunson was born in London on 17th August 1868 and he appears to have come from a privileged background and after being educated by a private tutor matriculated at St Edmund Hall, Oxford in 1889. He was ordained in 1894 by the Bishop of Rochester to the curacy of St Anne’s South Lambeth, where he spent four years in devoted service for The Charterhouse Mission and subsequently about six months as Chaplain of Guys Hospital, London. This seems to have started his career in Hospital Chaplaincy as in 1900 he was appointed to the arduous and responsible post of the great Middlesex Hospital where, it is said, he laboured in season and out for twelve years and was beloved by patients and staff alike. His work in the cancer wards was gratefully remembered. It was referred to in the Address presented to him on leaving in 1914, signed by the Chief Authorities of the Hospital and the Chairman, Prince Alexander of Battenberg. Gunson had been a hard working chaplain at every ones beck and call and his work there had been done almost too conscientiously for his physical strength. On leaving The Middlesex he was offered a parish at Lavender Hill in London, the charge of which he did not feel equal to the strain of accepting. He instead took a short period of rest at West Tisted in Hampshire with his mother and sister. But such rest was not to be for long, for on war breaking out in 1914 he naturally felt the call to offer his services for hospital work as an Army Chaplain. He was gratefully accepted by the authorities and sent to The Fourth London General Hospital at Denmark Hill in London, where he remained until December 1915. Moving on to an Isolation Camp Hospital at Aldershot he himself was laid low with Scarlet Fever from which he recovered. He was then transferred to The Alexandra Military Hospital at Cosham, the large hospital for troops in the Portsmouth Division. He built up a reputation at the hospital as a hard working and devoted chaplain making the hospital chapel in so many ways the centre of his work and his presence on the wards was always welcomed. During November 1917 Herbert Gunson was struck down with diabetes and the hospital authorities gave him all possible attention. It was also fortunate that his mother and sister were nearby having a house in Cosham. In March 1918 his health appeared to be on the mend and he was sent to an Officers’ Convalescence Hospital near Bournemouth returning to Alexandra Hospital during the Summer on Light Duty. But unhappily a relapse quickly followed and on 23rd August 1918 he passed away peacefully in the presence of family and friends, he was aged just fifty.
Herbert Gunson’s funeral in Christ Church churchyard on 28th August 1918, was well attended, including the Commandant and staff of Alexandra Hospital Cosham and the Matron of the Middlesex Hospital where he had served so long. His casket was borne from the hospital to the church on a gun carriage with eight of his fellow chaplains in attendance as pall bearers and a military band playing funeral marches leading the way. At the graveside ceremony conducted by the Assistant Chaplain General Revd. J. Tucker CF assisted by the Revd. J. Rogers CF, Gunson’s successor at the hospital, a firing party fired a volley over the grave and buglers sounded The Last Post. The following morning a special Memorial Holy Communion took place in the Alexandra Hospital chapel. It was reported at the time that although he did not pass away on the battlefield abroad, he none the less died a true soldiers death, when he breathed his last at his post of duty in his own hospital.
Compiled by Keith Fisher