The septuagenarian who volunteered as Chaplain

ShearsWilliam Charles Shears (1839-1928) was a Trinity boy who became a Church of England clergyman. He served as parish priest at Bay Roberts, starting in 1868. Around 1900, the community of Spaniard’s Bay Pond in his parish was renamed Shearstown in his honour. Leaving Bay Roberts in 1903, he relocated to Boston, MA.

On 21 September 1914, Shears wrote The Honourable Walter E. Davidson (1859-1923), Governor of Newfoundland.

“I have just learned from the Newfoundland papers,” he began, “that you are raising a Regiment of Newfoundland boys for active service in the big war now being waged in Europe.”

He had been prompted to inquire if the Governor needed a chaplain to minister to the spiritual needs of the troops. If so, then Shears was the man–he was volunteering his services.

The minister was “of British birth,” his father being “a West Country Devonshire Viking,” and his mother, a Healey, once “removed from the old sod; so,” he declared, “I am half English, half Irish, the best mixture of blood in the world.”

Admittedly, Shears was no longer young in years–he was 75–but he was “young in constitution, health, strength and activity.” He also boasted of soundness of “wind and limb.” During his more than four decades of missionary labour in Newfoundland and Labrador, he had gone “through the rough training which would fit me for the exposure and hardships of campaigning.”

He had been debarred by his “calling from shouldering the rifle or drawing the sword.” Therefore, acceptance “for the service of the land of my fathers” as a chaplain would make him “truly glad and supremely happy.”

He enclosed “a small bill,” to be given “to any Fund being raised for the Regiment.”

Apparently such an offer was in keeping with Shears’ makeup. The editor of the Bay Roberts newspaper The Guardian, Charles E. Russell (1877-1937), referred to the minister’s self-sacrifice and faithfulness.

“For him,” Shears’ obituary reads, “work and life were synonyms. His life was work, and work was his life.” In Newfoundland, he was reputed to be a minister of “fidelity and zeal.” He was “a man mighty in good works, and constant in the service of his Master, and of his fellow-men.”

Russell added an editorial note that Governor Davidson had informed The Rev. Shears “that no chaplain would be sent with the Regiment.”

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