Transcription of obituary published in the Minutes of Conference
JOSEPH FIRTH, O.B.E., M.C.; born in Bradford in 1885, he was trained for the ministry of the Primitive Methodist Church at Hartley College. In 1909 he went to his first circuit, Wallingford; two years lated he moved to Aldershot. There the pattern of his ministry took shape for his ability for chaplaincy work was recognised by the Rev. George Standing, the Primitive Methodist chaplain in the garrison. When war broke out in 1914, though he had only recently moved to Newbury, he was recalled to Aldershot and commissioned in the army. He was posted overseas and served in France, Italy and Macedonia. He was three times mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Military Cross. After the war he was appointed a chaplain to the newly constituted Royal Air Force. His name appeared in the first list of officers transferred to that service from the army. His appointments took him to Egypt, to Halton, where he did notable work among the apprentices being trained in that establishment, and to the Air Ministry where as Principal Chaplain (Methodist) he had responsibility for our R.A.F. work.
The Conference of 1939 appointed him secretary of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force Board; with the outbreak of war he could not be released from his duties at the Air Ministry and it was 1942 before he came to Westminster. The war was at its height; the demand for chaplains, the needs of our Homes and Wesley Houses, the welfare of men and women in the forces were his constant concern, With the end of the war he was faced with the problems of demobilisation and, later, those created by National Service. His splendid record of service was recognised by the award of the O.B.E. He was made an Honorary Chaplain to the King in 1934, and was similarly honoured by King Edward VIII and King George VI.
His long years of service at the Air Ministry and Westminster proved him an able administrator. His guidance was sound, his. judgements correct and fair. Possessed of a keen mind, he was able to go quickly to the heart of any question or problem. A man of integrity, friendliness and humour, he was welcome in any company whether a formal meeting or an informal gathering of men. Great as was his work in the army, the Royal Air Force and for the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force Board, he will be remembered for his genial kindness and pastoral concern, especially for the chaplains who were his responsibility. They knew that through him they were kept in the fellowship of the Church no matter where they might be posted. It was during his time as Secretary of the Board that the practice of an annual meeting of chaplains and chaplains’ assistants with the President was established.
He retired to Hove in 1956, Always a keen sportsman he was able to follow the fortunes of Sussex from his flat which overlooked the County ground. A year before his death he underwent major surgery; though he made reasonable progress, supported by the love of his wife and daughter, increasing weakness took its toll and he died on Tuesday, 28th August, 1973 in the eighty-eighth year of his age and the sixty-fourth year of his ministry.
Joseph was born on 15 October 1885 at Bradford, Yorkshire, to parents Joseph Firth, a coal merchant’s labourer (1891), and Harriet Denby.
He married Gertrude Annie Webber (1892-1938) in the summer of 1913 in the Farnham Registration District, Surrey.
He married Marjorie Carswell (1901-1989) in the spring of 1940 at Hove, Sussex. Records identify one daughter.
- Patricia A (b1943)
Joseph died on 28 August 1973 at Hove, Sussex.
Further information about his work in Armed Forces Chaplaincy, including a picture of Joseph in uniform, can be found by following this link.
- 1909 Wallingford
- 1911 Aldershot
- 1913 Newbury
- 1914 Chaplain, H.M. Forces
- 1918 Chaplain, RAF
- 1943 Sec Royal Navy, Army & RAF
- 1956 Supernum
Primitive Methodist Magazine
W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers