Walter Hurst was the vicar of St Paul’s from 1963, until the church closed in 1964, when he moved with his congregation to the new Cathedral.
Hurst was certainly a man of much courage. He became a chaplain in the army ten days after the Second World War began, and served as a padre for the 22nd Battalion. He was taken as a Prisoner of War during the Battle of Crete in May 1941, and was a prisoner of war for the remainder of the war. He was one of the first men to be taken to the camp known as Galatos Camp, which eventually had 7,000 men in it, mostly New Zealanders. He had a smuggled radio, so at the end of his religious services he would give out news.
When he was taken prisoner, he had a wife and young daughter. After he had been a POW for some months, he managed to send home a letter to his wife, in which he wrote:
During the last seven weeks I really feel convinced that I have been able to do more for the men than at any other time in my career, with services daily and entertainments and sports. I am the only chaplain with a very large parish and it is grand to be with the boys … You need have no worries in the world dear Betty about your man – he is swell. Loving you and thinking of you and Mollie all the time.
He was later taken to Salonika POW transit camp in northern Greece, and then to the notorious Stalag VIII-B POW camp in Germany. He was not finally released until April 1945.
On his return to New Zealand, he worked in a number of parishes before becoming Dean of Wellington in 1963. On his arrival he announced that his new position would encompass a number of different roles: dean of the pro-cathedral, general manager of the new cathedral building which was being built at the time, dean to the city of Wellington and vicar of St Paul’s Thorndon. He was very involved in the new building; every Monday morning he met with the architect and builders of the cathedral.
Once the congregation moved to the new Cathedral in 1966, it was his job to try and repair the congregation after the rifts caused by the discussions about the future of St Paul’s. A number of people I have talked to in the oral history project have told me that he did this with admirable skill. He wrote at the time about the discussions about the future of Old St Paul’s that
‘The problem has not been an easy one. Everyone wanted to do the right thing. This solution will remove the thorns which kept people apart. It will reunite the servants of Christ in the service of Christ’.
Walter Hurst served as Dean of Wellington until 1977, having received a CBE for services to the community a year earlier, and died in 1987.
Hurst announces a hymn in a shipboard service during 2nd Contingent voyage from Britain. Taken 1940 by an official war photographer. Ref: DA-00978-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22809816. Details for this story came from the book Donald J P Fulton, Our Padre: A Biography of Walter Edmund Wilmshurst Hurst (CBE, MA), 1912-1987, Wellington, 2006