Hubert Octavius Spink was born in Dulwich, then near London, on 20 January 1878, the eighth child, of ten, of Joseph Simeon Spink and Lucy Dorothea Spink (née Critchett). The family were wealthy and employed a housemaid and a cook, who both resided at the family home. Joseph Spink worked at the Bank of England, where he rose to the office of Principal of the Issue Department, responsible for issuing banknotes and the acquisition of assets. His sons attended Dulwich College as day boys: Hubert Spink entered the College in May 1889 and left from the Lower 5th Classical Set in December 1894, aged 16. He then joined the London & South Western Bank in 1895 and moved to Lloyds Bank in the City of London the following year. He continued to live at home until 1901, participating in his spare time in sports (gymnastics and rugby), and enjoying philately and glee singing.
In 1902 Hubert attended St Aidan’s Theological College, Birkenhead, and from there he went on to Durham University as an unattached student, matriculating in the Easter term of that year. Records show that he attended the University from May 1905-May 1907. He was a member of St Cuthbert’s Society, and that he continued to pursue his sporting interests is shown by his winning the university’s putting the weight (or shotput) competition. In Easter term 1907 Spink was awarded his B.A. (Classical and General Literature with Theology); he went on to get a M.A. (in absentia) on 27 June 1911.
Ordained as Deacon in 1904, Hubert Spink became Curate of St Philip, Orrell Hey (Litherland) in Liverpool. From 1905–1909 he was Curate at St Cyprian, Edge Hill. During both of these appointments he was regularly travelling across the Pennines to Durham to continue his studies. In 1909 he travelled to Hong Kong, to take up the appointment of Vicar of St Andrew’s Church in Kowloon. Although there is little information about Spink’s work in this parish, he is noted for founding the first Scout troop, or a corps of the Boys’ Brigade with Scout training, in Hong Kong. He left the Far East in 1912 and returned to Liverpool, becoming Vicar of St Clement, Toxteth Park. In 1913 he was appointed president of the Liverpool Boys’ Brigade.
On the outbreak of war, Spink was keen to go with many of his parishioners as they flocked to the various Lancashire and Liverpool regiments, but being prevented by his bishop, it was not until January 1916 that he became a Chaplain 4th Class in the Army Chaplain’s Department, and so found his way to the front. He served with the 1/5th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment, attached to the 166th (South Lancashire) Brigade, part of the 55th (West Lancashire) Division.
On 6 January the Battalion was sent to Hallencourt, near Abbeville, in order to relieve the French 88th Division, which was stationed south of Arras. In the Dulwich College War Record 1914-1919 , Joseph Spink, Hubert’s brother, reports a conversation between them in May 1916 on a journey to Victoria Station, as the latter returned to France from a period of leave: “he told me that he could not expect to come back again if he did his duty as he conceived it should be done.”
The 55th Division moved to the Somme in July and took over a section of the front line near Guillemont. On 9 August Hubert Spink was killed on the front line at Delville Wood while ministering to the wounded and supervising the retrieval and burial of the dead, or “while reading the Burial Office in a place while exposed to hostile fire” (Durham University Journal, December 1916, p.368; the same issue carried a perceptive article on ‘Religion at the Front’). He had been wounded three times in the previous 48 hours and had refused to go to the rear while he could still assist the men. Another chaplain, exhausted from his duties, had asked Spink for assistance, and in so doing, Spink was killed by a shell. His death is described in a memoir by Philip J. Fisher, a fellow chaplain, Khaki Vignettes (1917).
Just before midnight a messenger appears from one of the battalions in the line asking for my colleague [Spink] to go and bury some dead. Very reluctantly I go across the field to our little tunnel bed-chamber and awake him. He reads the message, and decides to go at once. I watch him while he puts on boots and tunic; then return to the dressing station with him and see him off in a motor ambulance, up to the 'Valley of the Shadow' ['…of Death' as the men called it], promising to carry on until he returns.
The hours go by, and we are very busy down below. One battalion has been shelled on the way up, the casualties keep coming in… We are so closely occupied that I scarcely notice the passage of time; only once or twice the thought passes - "He hasn't got back yet." There are many letters to write to mothers and wives who will be anxious; there are those who crave a listener for the relief of speech; there is one poor lad with bad shellshock who lies trembling violently, and tries to jump off the stretcher every time a gun goes off. One has to soothe him, grip his hand, assure him he is as safe as if he were in bed in his Scottish home… Then with a start, I realise that it is 3 o'clock in the morning. Where can my colleague be? For a moment I am filled with apprehension; then I tell myself that he has found them busy at a dressing station farther up, and has stayed to help; that would be just like him. But presently a wounded lad comes in who beckons to me. He has seen a chaplain lying by the roadside up there, he says, in the middle of the fallen lads. Yes, he is sure it was a chaplain; he saw the black on his shoulder straps. The first impulse is to rush out and go find him; but the wounded are still coming in… There is nothing to be done just now but to "carry on" with a choking heart. Four o'clock… five o'clock… six o'clock… The stream of suffering slackens and presently ceases for a time. Then we get a light ambulance car which is standing by, resting for the first time since last evening, and seek what we fear…
It was all too true! He lay in the dust by the roadside, with half a dozen boys of his own battalion lying dead around him. I had seen him aforetime with just such a half-dozen about him, his face lit up with the light of his Master's service, talking earnestly and lovingly to them, preparing them for confirmation. I closed those eyes that had been sometimes so deeply thoughtful, sometimes so alive with laughter, and brushed the dust from the black-edged shoulder straps that he had worn so worthily. I knelt by the side of the stretcher for a few moments, trying to realise it, while many happy, trivial details of our association returned to mind; how we had walked one evening in that other valley, arm linked in arm, singing together common recollections of "Olivet to Calvary", of a night when we stumbled our way together up the dark trenches because he thought he might be wanted there; of other evenings when the day's work over, we waxed merry over a simple game of dominoes; of talks about men and about the Kingdom of God. I pressed the cold hand in the Christian's au revoir, and with heaviness of spirit mounted my bicycle and went off to bear the news to those behind. As I went I seemed to see his best memorial graven again and again in many a soldier lad's heart that had known his spirit's impress: Hubert Spink, Faithful Servant of God.
Philip J. Fisher, Khahi Vignettes (1917), p.96 et seq.
Hubert Spink was aged 38 at his death, and unmarried. He is buried in Dive Copse British Cemetery at Sailly-le-Sac. His sacrifice is commemorated on rolls of honour at St Clement’s C. of E. Church, Liverpool, and at St Andrew’s Church, Kowloon. His name was also recorded on a plaque at Christ Church, Gipsy Hill in London, but which was destroyed by fire in 1982. In addition to St Clement’s, Hubert Spink’s name is remembered in Liverpool on the Southport Civic Memorial. A reredos is dedicated to members of the Royal Army Chaplains Department at All Saints’ Royal Garrison Church at Aldershot.