OBITUARY: Church of Scotland minister who served in Second World War

Reverend Alexander Chestnut MBE, who was a popular Church of Scotland minister and Second World War veteran, was a native of Ballycastle.

Wednesday, 5th June 2019, 3:10 pm

Born on the family farm at Leitrim outside the County Antrim town in May 1921, he was one of four children of James Chestnut.

While working on the farm, he obtained a scholarship to school in Ballycastle, where he became proficient in Greek and Latin and progressed to Trinity College in Dublin.

He joined the army during the Second World War while studying at Trinity, refusing several offers of army commissions and instead becoming a driver and administrator with REME (the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers).

He took part in D Day rehearsals as a lorry driver before being stationed in Iceland and later returning to his university studies.

He also served as an air raid warden in Dublin, with one of his duties being to inspect the German Embassy in the city. Alex Chestnut decided to enter the ministry and he was ordained in 1948 by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

He also married Elizabeth Elliott of Newry in Downshire Road Presbyterian Church in Newry that same year, the Rev N Small, assisted by Rev JG Leitch and Rev J Dunlop, officiating at the wedding. The couple celebrated their 70 th wedding anniversary a short time after his retirement in 2018.

He served as a minster in Northern Ireland for 15 years before crossing the channel to Scotland, where he initially preached at Clark Memorial Church in Largs.

In March 1963 he was appointed minister at St Mark’s Greenbank in Greenock and he retired from the church in 1987 at the same time that it merged with the old West Kirk in the town to become Westburn Church - he and his wife Elizabeth retiring to Largs. In 1992 he was awarded the MBE for his role as Senior Church of Scotland Chaplain in Her Majesty’s Prison, Greenock.

Tributes were many following the news of his death at the age of 98.

Former Church of Scotland Moderator, the Right Reverend John Christie, left the General Assembly to speak at Rev. Chestnut’s service of thanksgiving to a full congregation at St Columba’s Parish Church in Largs.

The Rev. Christie said that Alex, as he was known, had been his minister at Westburn Church in Greenock and was instrumental in him taking up the cloth. He described the Ballycastle man as “an exceptional minister”.

His wartime service in Europe led to him often packing the family including son James and daughters Catherine, Jane and Sandra in a car on camping trips abroad.

Among those who addressed the funeral service was Rev Robert Bell, of Ballyclare Presbyterian Church, his nephew, who said that Alex Chestnut had led ‘a long and incredibly active life in service to King, country and church’.

Rev Chestnut was a keen cyclist in his younger days and had twice cycled around Ireland. He was extremely proud when two grandsons, Andrew and Tom, recently cycled across the United States.

Rev Chestnut’s committal service was held at Largs Crematorium.

He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, his children James - now a vice-president with Coca Cola in America - Catherine, Jane and Sandra, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

His committal service was held at Largs Crematorium.