The latest Steven Spielberg blockbuster movie, The Saving of Pte Ryan, there are two scenes depicting the work and worth of Christian Ministers and Priests during WW II. One shows a clergyman dressed in suit and clerical collar going to the home of Mrs Ryan and telling her that 3 of her 4 sons had been killed or were missing in action and presumed dead. The other is that of an Army Chaplain in full combat kit, helmet and webbing equipment, lying on his belly on Omaha Beach on D-day, 6 June 1944, as shells continued to land all around him men fell dying or wounded and in the midst of the carnage and mayhem this chaplain gives a man the last rites or final blessings before he moves on to find another and another.
Those two scenes could not be more different in their setting and yet they both depict the face of the Church in the height of War. The Army Chaplains of the WW II were not specialist ministers or priests. They were merely men who exercised their ministry under special circumstances.
Historically there were very close theological links between the Church of Scotland and the Reformed Church in Germany. Since the Reformation in Scotland in 1560 there have been close links between the Reformed Churches in Scotland and those in mainland Europe. Reformers travelled frequently and regularly sought refuge in England and in Scotland at times of persecution abroad. Likewise there was a long tradition of Scots travelling to Europe and most especially to study in the universities. There was no sharp decline in the number of Church of Scotland students attending German Universities during the 1930’s. Many students from Scottish Divinity Colleges in the Inter-war years were able to find funding for sabbaticals and holidays abroad and to France and Germany in particular.
In Scottish academic circles there continued to be close ties with the Church in Germany in the Inter-war period. The Professor of New Testament Theology at St Andrews in Scotland, D M Baillie, was a great friend of the celebrated Swiss theologian Karl Barth. With the rise of Hitler, Barth was one of the first churchmen to stand out against National Socialism. In the summer of 1935 Barth was dismissed from his theological chair in Bonn, a position which he had held since 1930, for refusing to swear an unconditional oath of allegiance to Hitler. Eventually banished from Germany, he was appointed to the chair of systematic theology in Basel. From here he continued to write and speak to a worldwide audience against the evils of the Nazi-regime.
In the decade before the outbreak of the 1939-45 war, there was, perhaps surprisingly, a distinctly muted response by the Church of Scotland to the ecclesiastical situation in Germany. Despite the close theological ties within the World Reformed Churches and the fact that many Scottish students, ministers and academics had studied in Germany and therefore had some first-hand experience of the situation, a veil of silence remained in place.Theological students discussed the Jewish situation in their colleges but Karl Barth, who was given honorary degrees by both Glasgow in 1934 and from St Andrews in 1937, failed to instil a positive reaction from the Church of Scotland towards the stance being taken by the Confessing Church (Bekennende Kirche).
The rise of Hitler to power in 1933 had produced discussion in both the Church of Scotland and the Free Church. But despite Commissioners debating the dangers of the situation, there was to be no subsequent follow up that year. It was not until bishop George Bell of Chichester, who, under the influence of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spoke out against German National Socialism on 10 May 1934, that an influential British Churchman stood out in support of the Confessing Church. The General Assembly of May 1934 ignored the whole matter.1Reports, 1934.
From 1934 onwards Scottish Theological Students regularly debated the situation in Germany and particularly the plight of the Jews but this dialogue was not borne out in action. Regardless of how much or how little the Church of Scotland membership generally knew about the German Church situation the only recognisable response in Church of Scotland circles was one of silence.
In the Spring of 1935 Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to Edinburgh to see John Baillie, a prominent Scottish academic and leading Churchman, whom he knew from his student days at Union Theological Seminary, New York. Some have suggested that the aim of this visit was to enlist Baillie’s help in stimulating the Church of Scotland to speak out against the developing situation in Germany. Yet again silence remained.
In March 1937 Karl Barth gave the first of his series of Gifford lectures in Aberdeen and made visits to Edinburgh and St Andrews. The subject of these lectures was the Scots Confession of 1560 in which Barth drew out the confession’s doctrine of resistance to ungodly political powers. In 1934 Barth had been the principal author of the Confessional Church’s Barmen Declaration, a,«prophetic theological statement demonstrating that the Christian faith was incompatible with Nazi ideology».2Shaw, p. 26. The tone of the Gifford lectures of 1937 stood in stark contrast to the passive if reluctant voice of the courts and the majority of the ministers of the Church of Scotland in that day.
J K S Reid, later professor at Aberdeen, went up to Edinburgh University as a student in 1928. During the 1930’s he travelled extensively in Germany, where he later admitted he had little contact with the Church. He was in Strasbourg when Czechoslovakia fell and German soldiers occupied Prague in the spring of 1939, and he recalls that «there was a great sense of fear in the air».3J K S Reid, Taped interview, Edinburgh 3 Mar 1993. In Basel, Reid met Karl Barth, who feared for the worst for Germany, believing that war was inevitable and that military action must be taken against Hitler. There was a cloud, a heavy cloud of menace that was obviously on the horizon as war approached, Reid recalled.
When the war broke out in 1939 Scottish Ministers who volunteered to serve as chaplains often found themselves in very different circumstances to the life in the peacetime parish. In wartime, chaplains often had no regular preaching situation or church in which to worship. Rarely did he have the usual support of Church elders or other committed lay persons to share in the work. At times their congregation were spread far and wide and frequently they carried out their duties in highly dangerous situations and even as depicted in the film, The Saving of Pte Ryan, when under enemy fire.
On a more positive note the chaplains lived and worked each day within military community. Their home was the Officers’ Mess behind the line and they often based themselves with the doctor at the Regimental Aid Post in the midst of Battle. From the home base to the troopship and from the first assault to the last battle, the chaplain had the opportunity to be in the midst of the action and more importantly in the midst of the people.
This lecture will examine some of the experiences and situations that Scottish Chaplains faced in their ministry on active service in 1939-45.
Opinions varied widely as to the chaplains’ duty in battle. It was not laid down in any manual; he received no orders and often worked on his own. He therefore needed to be quite clear in his own mind what his duty was, and how he might best exercise his ministry. It was the experience of the chaplains in the First World War that commanders were not happy with them moving about in the front line and therefore they tended to keep to the rear areas. But the situation was different in WW II. Warfare, particularly in the Western desert was highly mobile and the Commanders expected their chaplains to move from one position to another and to minister to the troops as best they could.
The chaplains who served with the Eight Army during WW II formed themselves into a «Brotherhood», the seeds of which were sown in the Western desert. In January 1944 the Senior Chaplain to the Eight Army, the Rev Freddy Hughes, set down guidelines, based on the work and experiences of chaplains in the Eight Army, as to how best the chaplains might operate under active service conditions. His purpose was twofold. Firstly he wanted to give all chaplains a framework around which their thoughts and experiences could be organised and secondly, Hughes wanted to set out the chaplain’s work in a way that others, both officers and men, could understand and appreciate.
The padre’s work is an unassembled jigsaw puzzle, bits of which make sense. It is about time we pieced it together and showed them a whole picture (…..) maybe much larger and better than they thought.4Ibid., p. Ii.
The starting point, however, was that the chaplain should follow in battle, as at other times, an unchanging principle:
He is there that Christ may work through his personality, and he should attempt nothing else – that is all. It is enough to ensure full employment.5Ibid., p. 6.
I think it is important here to note that the war time experience showed Hughes and other Senior chaplains that chaplains needed to be trained and prepared for whatever might lie ahead, but without laying down a blueprint or a set of dogmatic rules that would be either restrictive or unworkable in a crisis.
Secondly, note that Hughes was keen to articulate the chaplains case in a language that the Army understood. Today, Commanders at all levels are swift to demand Chaplaincy support for their units and formations, especially when deployed on operational duty. And generally speaking the Chain of Command are very supportive of the chaplains work. But do they really understand what we are about? After all they are busy men and we need to meet them on their own ground and in a language and format that is familiar to them, if we are ever to fully satisfy our mission.
Therefore I see a need for Chaplaincy training and the sharing of experiences amongst the brotherhood of chaplains, but equally I see the need to articulate our case in the language of the military market place.
Hughes was determined that each chaplain should know exactly what he had to do and be prepared for every eventuality. It was his belief that if the chaplain was not trained for the various situations he might encounter, he would be easily shaken by events, lose confidence in himself and as a result have a diminishing influence over others. The untrained Padre, according to Hughes,
saintly and brave, wandering round battlefield, set on nothing in particular, but hoping that a useful job will turn up, has no dominating idea controlling him, and every loud bang, bomb-burst, or nearby explosion jumps into the empty saddle and rides him to blazes.6Ibid., p. 5.
Experience in Western Desert and elsewhere confirmed the chaplains of the Eighth Army in the view that
religion has nothing to do with it [meaning their ability to operate on the battlefield]; it is training (….) Therefore training is required for every kind of situation, battle, camp and invasion.7Ibid., p. 5.
Hughes had a saying that Service before Services8I think what Huges meant by his catch phrase – Service before Services – was that on the battlefield conditions did not always make it easy for chaplains to hold formal religious services. Where there was an enemy artillery, mortar or air threat, it was unwise to have large groups of men gathered together even for a short church service. Hughes was therefore commending to his chaplains that they could serve the church well by simply being there and doing whatever they could to alleviate the fears of both officers and men. was all important and it was from this position that he led and trained his chaplains. The conception of the chaplain’s duty in battle, as it developed out of the brotherhood of chaplains with the Eight Army from Alamein to Tripoli 1942-43 divides into seven phases: (1)The approach to battle; (2) Eve of battle service; (3) Voluntary companionship at zero hour; (4) Practical service in battle; (5) Reconstructive companionship in thought after action; (6) The aftermath of battle and the burial of the dead; (7)The epilogue: Thanksgiving and memorial services. These headings will provide a framework for the rest of this article.
The Approach to Battle
Regard all training as an approach to battle. We are detached from Parishes and set in an Army raised to fight effectively for God’s cause. That the Army be effective is the Staff’s job; that it serves God is ours. As the minds of men are turned to battle, spotlight for them the conflict of good and evil, the opposing standards of right and wrong, the just foundations of our cause, the presence of Christ, the value of prayer, the glory of sacrifice, the gift of eternal life, and such things as deepen their sincerity and confidence as soldiers gathered to battle by God.9Ibid., p. 6.
According to Middleton Brumwell, an experienced former chaplain and author of a book called The Army Chaplain, in 1943, the duties of the chaplain in peacetime were familiar and well defined in King’s Regulations. This included the «usual services on Sunday, commencing with early celebrations of Holy Communion, and the Church Parade Services for various units».10Middleton Bromwell: The Army Chaplain, London 1943, p. 36. During the week duties included
visitation to hospitals, detention centres, married quarters and social institutions such as the NAAFI tea or rest room. In addition he should go with the unit to field training manoeuvres. It is as much part of his training for active service as for other branches of the Army.11Ibid., p. 36.
The idea was that the chaplain is given ample opportunity to get to know his troops and to identify with the tasks that lay before them, but equally he too had to prepare himself to go to war.
The British War Office published a handbook in April 1944 entitled Notes for Active Service Chaplains which gave further advice to chaplains on how to minister in the transition to war period or in the battle.12War Office Handbook, Notes for Active Service Chaplains, by The Assistant Chaplain General Second Army. April 1944. Chaplains serving with the troops in the field were to remember that the duty of all chaplains was, first and foremost, the spiritual care for all troops whom they served. The chaplains were therefore to feel that he was part of the Army and that he had an important role to play. The chaplain who understood the problems and situations, which the troops would face, would be able to estimate their true needs. Therefore he must know his men and be known by them: The «work of the chaplain must be among the men, not merely directed at them».13Ibid., p. 1. the handbook said.
It was the contention of J W J Steele, Assistant Chaplain General Second Army, that
one of the outstanding characteristics that troops looked for in their chaplains was helpfulness, and this characteristic insured confidence and indicates sympathy.14Ibid., p. 1-2.
Every chaplain was therefore to do all that he could to look after himself in dangerous, trying or uncomfortable times, for only then would he be looked upon as fully one of the family and not as a poor relation.
Any minister or priest know from experience that the better he knows the people the more he is able to assess their needs and to help them in times of crisis. Surely that must bear true when we look at military chaplains. It has certainly been my experience that I have been with a unit for some time or I know the men and the men know me and perhaps also when I have gained the confidence and the trust of the Senior NCOs and the Officer Corps that my work has increased and there is a greater willingness for people to come seeking spiritual or pastoral help and direction or even to send a man to see me or ask me to go to see someone who may be in need and no one else can address that need.
Middletown Bromwell argued that
modern war is so exactitude that the doctors, nurses or orderlies, and fighting men have little time for sentiment, and so it was those brave men [the chaplains] who formed a precious link between the wounded man and his loved ones far away.15Middleton Bromwell, p. 38.
Many important and precious links were made during the build-up to war and the approach to battle. The experience of chaplains in the Eight Army was that «in camp we transmit through small services a spirit far greater than the things we do».16The Chaplains of the Grand Assult, p. 8.
Experience taught chaplains not only that they had to get to know the men but also that they had to help them prepare for the fight, including helping them overcome isolation, boredom and fear. «The enemy», it was stressed,
is frustration, idle dreams,(….) boredom. The man to deal with him has non-stop purpose to set men steadily towards the goal of final victory.17Ibid., p. 8.
Through regular services, Padre’s Hours (Training sessions taught by the chaplains) and occasional conversations the chaplains could influence the men as they prepared for battle. Inevitably some chaplains became heavily involved in organising welfare and social activities, but they were warned that this was not their main function. They had to be ministers of the Gospel first and foremost.
When deploying on service overseas many British chaplains were to spend long weeks aboard a Troopship.
The Rev. Stuart Louden of the Church of Scotland spent nine weeks on a troopship, the Union Castle liner Arundel Castle, as it made its way from the Clyde on the West Coast of Scotland to Cairo in Egypt. They set sail on Saturday 4 January 1941 and arrived at Port Tewfik, on the Egyptian coast on Saturday 8 March 1941. There were at least thirteen chaplains of all denominations on board. Louden began the voyage sharing a cabin with three other chaplains, two belonging to the Church of England and one Roman Catholic priest.
The Arundel Castle was one of six Union Castle liners to be requisitioned as troopships. It was packed for this voyage and very soon the chaplains found themselves testing one another’s theology. While still anchored on the Clyde on 7 January 1941 Louden recorded in his diary:«An argument in the cabin on the different conceptions of the Church, Romanist, Anglican and Presbyterian.»18Stuart Louden: War Diary, 7 January 1941 (Copy held in the RAChD Museum). Ten days later he wrote: «What mountains of misunderstanding and prejudice separate us.»19Ibid., 17 January 1941.
Despite these theological discussions and debates the chaplains apparently lived happily together and every day took turns leading daily prayers as well as the more formal services. One of the concerns on board the troopship was the control of alcohol. On Monday 20 January Louden wrote in his diary that the
Chief Steward is distressed at the low consumption of beer on board (only 3000 bottles a week). While the Sea Transport Officer had thought the Arundel Castle’s stock too small: only 66 000 bottles! [Presumably it was the Chief Steward’s problem to store the beer while the Sea Transport Officer enjoyed his drink and was worried that the supply would run out.]
In October 1944 a British War Officer Committee addressed the question of beer consumption amongst the troops. In the section entitled, Conditions of Life and Service, the topic of Beer falls between Feeding and Mail, all of which were seen to be important for the good morale of the soldier. The report stated:
Beer has a morale value out of all proportion to its intrinsic worth and the lack of it is felt all the more by the troops because they see the Americans enjoying a comparative liberal supply.20War Office Document, Report of the Morale Inter-Service Committee, 11 Oct 1944, PRO, WO/32/1194.
During his nine week voyage Stuart Louden frequently made comments in his diary about the abuse of alcohol especially by the officers.
The approach to battle phase gave the chaplains opportunity to get to know their men and for the men to get the measure of the chaplain. The minister or priest who was prepared to mix with the men, to sit and chat with them and not be an aloof figure who lived with the officers, was usually welcomed. The rank and file liked to see the chaplain take part in their military training: to go through the exercises, forced marches and sleeping rough which the men had to endure prior to embarkation. Religious questions arose naturally. The Church meant little to some men but they still had doubts, fears and questions that they would put to the chaplain if given the opportunity. They were, in one chaplain’s words, asking things about God rather than about the Church.
Eve of Battle Services
Hold them always. Troops welcome and respond to them. Pitch them in a major, not a minor key; consecrate resolve, appeal to strength, pass on the attitude of Christ to duty: Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (….) and all its allurements. Do not treat these services as an insurance against death. Men wish to meet their God that they may better meet their foe. The spirit is: Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered. And the general theme: Praise for a just cause, pray to be worthy of it and commendation to God of all its issues for us and ours.21A summery of the experiences in the field of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains (Middle East 1944), p. 6.
In the British Army at the beginning of WW II it was the practice to hold formal Church Parades22The Church Parade was a form of organised religion. Soldiers were told where and when to go to church and often they had to dress in best uniform and were physically marched to the church door. each week. The question as to whether or not Church Parades should be voluntary was a matter of constant discussion long before the outbreak of the Second World War. The question of Compulsory Attendance at Church Parades was considered by the Army in April 1924. Here the Chaplain General expressed the view that «The Army went to Church in a corporate capacity and not as individuals».23War Office Document, Interdenominational Advisory Committee minutes 3, PRO.WO/32/4013. Dr McClymont, the Church of Scotland representative, agreed with the Chaplain General but the Roman Catholic bishop, Keatinge, said he personally would support the voluntary system. He thought that a man ought not to be forced into church. The debate was broadened by the Weslyan speaker, a Mr. Bateson, who thought that the services
contributed to the morale of the Army and that compulsory attendance of the men was an advantage to the forces as a fighting unit.24Ibid.
There was a general support from the remainder of the meeting for a continuation of compulsory Church Parades.
On 25 February 1930 the Army Council considered the subject of compulsory Church Parade. From 1605, King’s Regulations had provided for compulsory Church Parade. Again in 1941 the Army Council reaffirmed their conviction of the value of Church Parades as a source of spiritual and moral strength in the present conflict and decided that «as far as the exigencies of the military situation permit, every facility should be given for public and private worship».25War Office Document, Compulsory Church Parade, PRO WO/32/14687. As WW II progressed, however, opposition to the Church Parade mounted and by June 1943 a less formal system had to be adopted.
On the eve of the battle even the most irreligious would usually willingly pause and listen to what the Padre had to say. Complaints for or against compulsory Church Parades dwindled into insignificance. The Scots minister Neville Davidson, one-time Chaplain to the King’s Own Scottish Boarders and later minister of Glasgow Cathedral, knew only too well through experience of shared training how men felt on the eve of battle:
There are thousands, especially in our time, who are afraid of tomorrow. They have lost hope. They have no faith in the future. The future seems dark an uncertain. There is a tremendous sense of insecurity in the hearts of men at present.26A Neville Davidson essay on Hope in R Selby Wright (ed) Front Line Religion London 1941 p. 50.
The invasion of Normandy saw many soldiers and their chaplains going into action for the first time. The Rev. David Cairns (later professor at Aberdeen University) served as chaplain to 131 (City of Glasgow) Field Regiment Royal Artillery as part of the 15th Scottish Division. He wrote to his parents from Normandy on 9 July 1944: Now «all the services are voluntary and the men attend much more gladly».27D Cairns, War Diary. (The personal pares and War Diary of the rev. Prof. David Cairns are held in the National Library of Scotland, Accession numbers 5932, 6828 and 6835). They welcomed his services especially on the eve of battle. In another letter to his parents from near Ventlo dated 17 December 1944 Cairns wrote:
I don’t get a great deal of pastoral work in the narrow sense. I do a good deal of walking around the men in the gun positions. But don’t often get the chance of talking for long enough to get deep. There are, you see, a good much to cover.28Ibid., Letter 17 Dec 1944.
The disposition of the gun batteries on the field meant that the chaplain had frequently to take impromptu services and family prayers.
David Cairns’ Diary entry for Sunday 25 June 1944 illustrates the dangers that he faced taking services on the battle field:
We had a short service in the church [in the village of Bronay] (……) the enemy cannot have been more than 3000 yards away(…..) Later, when there was a lull in the firing, the men gathered into one gun pit about 20 at a time from each troop, and we had a short service without singing. The most advanced troop was about 1500 yards from the enemy.29Ibid., p. 13.
A week later on 2 July 1944 Cairns took family prayers with the officers and men of the Regimental Headquarters of C-troop. In his diary that evening he wrote:
This doubtless reads strangely naive to write of men cheering as enemy fighters fall in flames and then kneeling in prayer to the Heavenly Father of these same men. But we did it and without feeling the tension.30Ibid., p. 35.
Ministry on the battlefield carried with it a great burden. The violence of modern warfare, with its immense civilian casualties, seemed at times to be completely alien to the Christian message of love and peace. After one particularly heavy air raid on 7 July 1944 Cairns described in his diary an apologia for the exercise of a Christian Ministry in the front line:31Ibid., p. 42.
I wondered whether or not we were in the right frame of mind for the worship of God. But I said to myself, why not! At the start of the service I said, we have been seeing something very terrible in these last minutes. I have no doubt that many comparatively innocent and quite innocent people have been killed in that time, both among the French and the Germans. But when a nation does what Germany does its innocent soldiers suffer with the guilty. This doubtless was to take the sufferings of others too light heartedly but after all it was fact and not sentiment.
Cairns believed that what they were doing was a just cause and that God would honour them in the work. He was certain that the «more corporate feeling a unit had, the more sympathetic it was to worship and religion».32Ibid., p. 109. But he was equally aware what great privilege it was to talk of things eternal to men who daily faced danger and death. After one particular service he recalls «it had been a moving thing to talk to these soldiers, returning into battle, on the grace of God».33Ibid., p. 140. Prior to the battle for Alamein the Rev Tommy Nicol was chaplain with the 5th Battalion of the Black Watch. He recalled how he took a communion service on the eve of battle:34T J T Nocol: Taped interview, Comrie, 17 Dec 1993.
We were busy in the days before Alamein with both the Black Watch and a Gordon Battalion to look after. We were not allowed to have big groups of men together so we had dozens of small services. The Roman Catholic priest asked if his people could also come to the communion services, as he was busy elsewhere. I preached on the text: God is our refuge and our strength. The battalion then went into action hyped up spiritually but within minutes of crossing the start line some were dead.
The question of whether or not Church Parade should be compulsory was one, which could not be easily resolved. There is clear evidence that soldiers in particular resented the inevitable parade that preceded the church service. Some chaplains equally found this military procedure a barrier rather than conductive to worship. The parade service, however, brought people together and gave the willing though weaker brethren an excuse to share in public worship.
Conversely there is equally good evidence to show that on the eve of battle the men welcomed a visit from the Padre and would take Holy Communion. There are many accounts of Roman Catholic soldiers taking communion from Protestant chaplains and of men who were not confirmed asking for the bread and wine. There was a great responsibility upon the individual chaplain to find the right words for the right occasion. The eve of battle service or family prayers gave the faint-hearted courage and the unbeliever a ray of hope. A good chaplain instilled confidence in men gathered to do battle as they waited in the presence of God.
Voluntary Companionship at Zero Hour
Show, as a non-combatant, the will to share danger and death for truth and right, and so bring to men the authentic spirit of the Cross. It will do work as such. That is, repeat is, the spiritual work of the chaplain at zero hour, and his text: Yea, I am with you in trouble. In battle all are wanted for a supreme effort at full capacity, and amongst them the men charged with the message that God loves and is with them.35A summary of the Experience in the Field of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, p. 6.
Zero hour was that moment in the conflict when battle was joined. But where was the best place for the chaplain to locate himself and how far forward should he be in the order of the battle? There was no time now for casual visitation and religious services. But what use was the chaplain as a non-combatant on the battlefield? Was he a danger to himself and other people? Could he not serve the cause better by volunteering for a full-time post as a stretcher bearer or even offer to take up arms in his own defence and in the defence of others?
The Army Council Instruction of 22 July 1922 made the chaplain’s situation clear:
A chaplain is given a position which is meant to enable him to minister alike to officers and men; he has a fair field and no favour; he is free to make the best use he can of his opportunities.36H W Blackburne & F M Sykes, «The Status and Work of a Chaplain», In Royal Army Chaplains’ Department Journal, Vol. I, Jan 1922, p. 1.
They went on to argue that the chaplain cannot be a combatant or a full-time stretcher bearer because
his real status is to show the value of his faith in daily life (….) one of the great lessons learned by the chaplains of the Great War was that they were to be ready to help men by every means to do their present duty (…..) but the value of that help will depend entirely on the our own personal relationship to God.37Ibid., p. 3.
The role of the chaplain as a non-combatant in the midst of the battle, the morale of the troops and the ability of both chaplain and men to deal with danger and death are all intrinsically linked.
The Rev. John Birkbeck was a Church of Scotland chaplain attached to the Commando Forces during WW II. Here it was expected that the chaplain would accompany the assault troops going on raids. Not to go would have resulted in the chaplain forfeiting the men’s respect. When asked about this many years later, Birkbeck stated firmly:
I cannot reconcile in any way to a chaplain bearing arms. As an ambassador of peace it would be an anachronism and a perversion of his calling to do so (…..) a chaplain accepting the privilege of being with his men in battle has no mandate to go in armed.38Rev John Birkbeck, the Nicol Survey, Stirling, 24 Aug 1979.
The Rev J Oswald Welsh was the Scottish chaplain attached to the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry as part of the 11th Armoured Division. His good friend Steel Brownlie recalls how Oswald conducted his ministry in all phases of war as a non-combatant. On one occasion their armoured squadron came under enemy mortar fire when the padre was visiting:
A trooper who had dived under his tank with the rest of the crew stuck his head out and shouted, with a rich mixture of expletives, to the chaplain to take cover. Welsh replied: Now McKinnon, you watch your language and anyway, pointing to his dog collar, I’m a non-combatant.39W Steel Brownlie, in reply to an advertisment in Life and Work, Dec 1994.
Zero hour, in particular, was a crucial moment for the chaplain. According to the Brotherhood:
There is little more a chaplain can do at zero hour except be there; but in no other time or way will he win from a unit so much acceptance of himself and his ministry. By suffering with the men we bring them to God. No chaplain who has been with his unit in action regrets it. Some who were detached to dressing stations and B Echelons regret it bitterly.40Ibid., p. 6.
The presence of the chaplain in the midst of the battle had a great effect on the morale of many of the men.In a recent publication by the Commander in Chief of the US Army in Europe, he spoke of the chaplain as being a Combat Multiplier. Today modern military thinkers recognise the need to support not only the physical and conceptual but also the moral component of fighting power. There is increased recognition for the need to nurture the spiritual and well as the pastoral and the welfare of those who fight and the chaplain today has a very real and important role to play in that but as I said earlier, we need to articulate our case and to offer workable solutions to the moral component question.
It was the chaplain’s job to stand beside those who did the fighting and to support them in their mission. A good chaplain could have crucial impact upon the morale of the unit. The Army Training Memorandum of May 1940/41 laid down in principle that
the ultimate value of a weapon is inherent less in the weapon itself than in the fighting spirit of the man behind it. The qualities of heart, mind and age make the weapon go. Without them, it could provide no more than a temporary defence against the enemy.41Middelton Brumwell, p. 61.
The chaplain had an important operational role to play here. Major D S Macdonald from Edinburgh notes that in his war experience
most soldiers on the surface at least are pretty irreligious but when faced with danger they tended to look for Padre for that extra comfort and belief to keep going which is quite different to that given by the normal regimental officer.42D S Macdonald, The Nicol Survey.
On active service the padre is the visible and trusted link between the soldier and God and as such his presence at moments of greatest stress must be of much comfort. Of course it made a difference having the padre there (….) his continued survival was important to everyone in the battalion.43G Pilcher, The Nicol Survey.
The experience of chaplains with troops in action during the 1939-45 War would confirm that while fear of injury and death was an over riding principle, many men had a fairly fatalistic approach to life. It is true, wrote D S Coey,
that when danger is present there is marked fatalism in the attitude of the fighting men, which contributes in no small degree to maintaining morale under stress and strain (…) This fatalism at least implies that we are killed if we are meant to be killed, and live if we are meant to live.44D S Coey: «Eternal Life», in Royal Army Chaplains’ Department Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 58, Sep 1954.
It was the belief of the Scot General Wimberley, that the brand of Christianity which the Padre professed became even less important in war-time:
The average man when dying cares little or nothing for the denomination of the Padre who is there with him, but much for having with him a man that he knows to be true and good, to help him die bravely.45D Wimberley, The Nicol Survey.
Practical Service in Battle
Once the battle is on, go all out to rally the shaken and to give wounded men a chance of life. The text is: Take care of him. Get him to the Inn, the Medical Officer, Advanced Dressing Station, Main Dressing Station, where he can be looked after, for evil and not God is trying to take away his life. Let the Chaplain stand for life; he comes not to bury, but to save.46A Summary of the Experience in the Field of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, p. 6.
Apart from providing a physical and spiritual presence on the battlefield many chaplains found a worthwhile role helping the Regimental medical Officer care for the wounded, the scared and the dying. The Rev George Reid was chaplain to the Scot Guards from November 1940 to the end of the war:47G T H Reid: «With the Scots Guards 1940-45» in Royal Army Chaplains’ Department Journal Vol. XXII, No. 113, May 1970, p. 26.
In battle I was usually with the RAP48Rear Area Position. helping to give first aid, as well as dispensing hot sweet tea, sweets and cigarettes. At other times I would be in command of a half-track (part wheeled, part tracked armoured vehicle) with two medical orderlies, and accompany the leading squadron as far as possible into battle, being ready at hand to bring back casualties to the RAP.
Reid believed that by getting involved with casualty evacuation he was identifying himself as closely as possible with the men who had to do the fighting. Years later when he analysed his wartime experience he realised that caring for the men was all important: Looking «back I believe I used to spend too long on sermon preparation. Preaching does not cut much ice under any conditions. Caring matters most.»49Ibid., p. 26.
Wherever possible chaplains moved with their units or ministered to successive intakes of wounded at dressing stations. A number of Scottish chaplains were attached to the 1st Infantry Division in January 1944 prior to the battle for Anzio. The Rev A H Gibson recalls the tension prior to the invasion:50A H Gibson, «Chaplains with the 1st Infantry Division, 1942-45»; in Royal Army Chaplains’; Department Jounal Vol. XVIII, No. 95, Dec 1963, p. 5.
For the next few months it was to be a war of nerves, with infiltration, frequent shelling and air raids. More ingenuity with a spade was needed than in Africa, and chaplains quickly developed new techniques for getting around and living hard. Men were looking for strength, and finding it in prayer.
The Rev Roy Liddel, a minister of the Church of Scotland, landed with a Scottish battalion on the Anzio beachhead. Years later he recalled the scene:51R Liddel, «Some Memories of Anzio» in Royal Army Chaplains’ Department Jounal, Vol. XXII, No. 111, May 1969, p. 31.
The long drawn-out eerie whine of shells that passed down the length of the wadies, was a sound with which we soon became familiar. Along with the rattle of machine-guns, the rush of missiles directly overhead as they came from opposite directions, the heavy thuds and the buzz of flying metal fragments, it combined to make up a sinister orchestra.
Liddel based himself at the RAP where he spent part of each day and slept during most nights. During battle he would help with the wounded but even the RAP was not always the safest of places to be; inside the RAP, which would often be little more than a tent, a barn or a derelict building, casualties might occur:
One night when the Medical Officer and seven of his staff were in it, it was struck by a mortar-bomb. Four were killed, and the doctor and the other three badly wounded.52Ibid., p. 33.
Doctor Hector MacDonald of Strathaven landed on Sword Beach on the afternoon of D-day. He vividly remembered the Scottish chaplain attached to the 41 Commando Royal Marines with whom he worked from D+1 (7 June 1944):53Dr H MacDonald, reply to an advertisement in Sunday Express. 8 Nov 1994. Unfortunately MacDonald could not remember the name of the padre he served with on Sword Beach.
For five days and nights we worked constantly together, never sleeping. He was a tower of strength and brought great deal of comfort to the wounded and the dying. And to me. On D+6 there was a meeting held to nominate men for immediate awards. I recommended my padre. I saw him six weeks later wearing the ribbon of the Distinguished Service Cross. After all these years I’ve forgotten the name of the padre. But I’ll never forget his bravery on Sword Beach.
Another veteran of World war Two, John Copland, a soldier with the Argyll and Sutherlands Highlanders, recalled a padre he met in a field dressing station where he was brought after being wounded:
I was badly shot up and had a lot of patching up to be done. After it I had a very bad night. I’d seen a padre about but what mattered to me was that he came to me about 3 am, said a prayer and calmed me down.54Ibid., reply by John R Copland, 7 Nov 1994.
There was a great deal that the chaplain could do in practical way to aid the wounded: the friendly face and warm smile; the comforting word, a prayer or a blessing; the physical touch of a handshake or a cup of tea or a light cigarette – all were welcomed by the men. The chaplain used the RAP as a home base but many ventured forward and worked tirelessly to bring in the wounded and bury the dead. They could be a great help to the doctor, as together they ministered to body and soul.
Minds as well as bodies cried out for help, as illustrated by the experience of the chaplains in the Eight Army. The remorse of sin, the need for forgiveness, the dread of loneliness and the need for divine presence were all real fears amongst the fighting troops. Men were anxious about home and loved ones left behind. They were frightened of letting the side down and failing to do their duty. They knew their friends and colleagues depended upon them. The padres often brought comfort and reassurance.
Reconstructive Companionship in Thought After Action.
Further back in the Main Dressing Station and Casualty Clearing Section, and later on in the forward units, men begin to recover from stimulus and shock and suffer from reaction. Then our text is: Whilst he was yet a great way off the Father saw him. Start at once to reconstruct men’s outlook, purpose, balance and equanimity, and release into their hearts the calm of God. He set my feet upon a rock and ordered my goings.55A Summary of the Experience in the Field of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, p. 7.
All Commanding Officers in peace or war carry an enormous responsibility for the well being of their soldiers. The chaplain and the medical officer were amongst the few who could get alongside the CO and support him in his work. All wars test men’s personal values and raise questions about religion and the existence of God. The pre-deployment training phase and the Padre’s Hour gave the chaplains opportunities to discuss eternal things. The lull in the battle or the cessation of hostilities caused soldiers to take stock of what had happened and what was yet to come. The chaplain in the wartime situation had a vitally important role to play in supporting the fighting men in this particular phase of war. It was generally the chaplain who quietly and diligently went about doing his business, often apparently unnoticed, who was the most successful and the most appreciated. By their deeds they were known.
Field Marshall Sir James Cassels and many senior Scottish officers of the Second World War had high expectations of the Chaplains’ Department and were quick to get rid of any man who did not come up to their standards. Cassels remarked.56Field Marshall The Lord Carver, the Nicol Survey.
Whenever I command anything I always tried to make friends with and see regularly my «head priest». If he was good I got a splendid insight into what was happening and what was good and what was bad and where the shoe pinched. If he was bad, it was a waste of time and I tried to get rid of him, after I had told him what I thought and given him a chance to improve.
The same point was made by Field Marshall The Lord Carver: «When I was supported in war or peace by a good chaplain, whatever his denomination I welcomed it, was grateful and gave him my support. But when he was weak and tiresome character I did my best to get rid of him»57Field Marshall The Lord Carver, the Nicol Survey. Previously in a letter, Lord Carver admitted that he was not a religious man but realised the full worth of a good chaplain.58Ibid.
Although as a young man I was religious (….) I am not a godly or God fearing man and have very ambivalent views about the value of religion. However, from the commander’s point of view, the chaplain’s contribution is not a religious one. The advantage of the battalion chaplain, as of the doctor, was that he was not in the chain of command. He was able to move among the soldiers in an uncommitted way and was somebody who could give one an independent view of how they were feeling. He was a sort of psychiatric counsellor.
After a major battle or a lull in the fighting there were plenty for the chaplain to do supporting the men and the officers and keeping the commander fully briefed as to their state of mind. This period of reconstructive companionship was vitally important for both chaplain and men.
Not all Commanding Officers however established a good working relationship with the padre. Some were too busy, too caught up with operational demands to be bothered with a chaplain. Others had little time for chaplains in general and certainly had no time for those who were not up to the job. Tommy Nicol remembers how vastly important the relationship was between the CO and the padre, but equally he recalled «a Gordon’s battalion where the CO had no time for chaplains and therefore decided to do without one». In his own experience Nicol was used as a confident of the CO:
At 6 o’clock each evening after the orders group I would go up to see the CO in his tent and we would talk about everything and anything.59T J T Nicol, Taped interview, Comrie, 17 Dec 1993.The chaplain was the only person who could meet the CO on his own ground, regardless of rank and be a companion to him.
When the battle slackened or ended the chaplain faced new conditions. The trauma, shock and burden of warfare left many men suffering physically, mentally and spiritually. Some were asking deep theological questions about the existence of God and how an all-loving God could allow such things to happen? Others had their faith shattered; some experienced God’s love for the first time in their lives. Values were put to the test and an indwelling sense of one’s mortality came sharply into focus. «The natural feeling of relief [the chaplain was told] must be coupled with the sense of the mercies of God».60Notes for Active Service Chaplains, p. 7.
It was the experience of a number of hospital chaplains during the war that
many patients asked for prayer, and nearly requested that men from the line and their own particular friends should specially be remembered. The comradeship amongst these men was striking (….) They were particularly sensitive to the sufferings of others (….) The death or mutilation of a friend was a source of the deepest distress to many.61bid., p. 344. Soldiers suffering from battle shock could be quiet by the reassurance of the presence of God and the utterance of a quick prayer. In the view of J A Sime, the more fact that they knew we were padres seemed to have a steadying effect upon them (….) battle exhaustion casualties, in the early stages. Do not worry about intellectual problems of religion. They have prayed to God in distress and do not doubt his existence.62Ibid., p. 345.
David Whiteford was chaplain to the 5th Battalion of the Black Watch and the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards during the 1939-45 war. His non-combatant experience proved to him that «war x-rays a man’s soul» leaving him with needs and questions that only the chaplain can address:63D H Whiteford, taped interview, Edinburgh, 29 Oct 1993.
In battle superficialities of life have been stripped away. You do not know whether you will survive the next day or not (….) it could have been me (….) there is an openness to that reality and the chaplain is the only person who can speak to that reality (….) the faces the men told of the reality of war (….) it is unforgettable and God touches men in these situations. The chaplain who has gone through the campaign is the only person a man can turn to, because whether you like it or not you are a part of the experience (….) Ministry in battle is beyond comprehension.
Professor J K S Reid, reflecting in 1994 on his wartime experience as a parachute chaplain, believed that war heightened the need for religion among many men.
It was not a universal phenomenon, but being abroad, with families at home, raised the need for a common link through an Almighty presence. This was something that gave men respect for religion and the church.64J K S Reid, taped interview, Edinburgh, 3 Mar 1994.
Reid was certain that the experience of war tested personal values. «It tested the values that you had and you learned new ones».65Ibid.
It was the Rev Murdo Ewen MacDonald’s (later professor at Glasgow University) belief that war and danger «made men more sensitive to religion». But he was certain that the experience of military chaplaincy in wartime changed him personally, for here his own values and standards were put to test:
I returned from the war less judgmental than I had been when I joined. The reason was that I had sorted out my values because I had seen men die magnificently and with great courage.66Murdo Ewen MacDonald, taped interview, Glasgow, 11 Mar 1994.
Perhaps one of the most eloquent comments about the work and worth of Scottish chaplains during the war was that many men, years later, could recall their efforts but not their names. For example, Charles Framp, a private soldier in 6 Black Watch, recalled:67Charles Framp, reply to an advertisement in the regimental magazines of Scottish Division, South Humberside, 16 June 1995.
I am not and never have been a religious believer (….) in the Black Watch during the war we had a very great respect for our padre of the time (….) I cannot remember his name (….) but I do remember him as a very brave man, always willing to spare time to comfort and help those amongst us who felt they had need of his help.
Another Scottish veteran, W Thomson, wrote that «I was to see and learn, among other things, the respect and admiration that was given to the battalion padre, whose name to my shame and sorrow, I have now forgotten, but whose presence and influence within the battalion was considerable».68W Thomson, reply to an advertisement in the Sunday Express, Irvine Nov 1994.
Away from the front line the chaplains continues to work ministering to the needs of others. The war weary, the wounded, the bereaved and the lost all needed the chaplain’s time. By being with the men in battle he had ready access after the battle to their hearts and minds. He brought to their violent world a message of peace and calm. He had an important role to play in helping men relax and to unburden themselves in preparation for the next encounter. After six weeks constant fighting in Normandy, Tommy Nicol was showing signs of battle shock and near exhaustion. He began to shake at every loud noise and had to be persuaded that his personality was beginning to change and that he too needed a rest. He was weary of war. In one battle in Normandy over 250 men from Nicol’s battalion of about 600 men were killed. Such was the loss that a bulldozer had to be found to dig a mass grave. The burial of old friends and comrades on the field of battle were sure to take its toll. As another former Church of Scotland chaplain, George Monro, recalled, «it was a bloody business and very wearying».69G Monro, taped interview, Edinburgh, 3 March 1994. The chaplain now had to face the aftermath of battle and the burial of the dead.
The Aftermath of Battle. The Burial of the Dead
This goes on all through the battle. Death takes second place to life; but at the end see that all the dead are buried. The men, still more their families, have a strong desire to be buried by a chaplain with a prayer and love as a child of God. To bury a man reverently, secure the future recognition of the grave, and preserve a true record of his passing is no small service to him and his family.70A Summary of The Experience in the Field of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, p. 7.
In the height of battle the dead would be gathered together and buried nearby at the most suitable opportunity. It was the chaplain’s responsibility to ensure that after the battle all burials were properly recorded, personal effects properly secured and letters written to each of the soldiers’next of kin. The funeral service was the final act of loyalty that any soldier could pay to a fallen comrade. Rarely did the chaplain struggle to find men to dig graves or to assist in a burial service even under the treats of enemy fire.
It was not only the friends of the dead who appreciated the service of the chaplains at these burials. Many families in Scotland were relieved to learn that their relatives were buried where they fell by a Scottish minister. There was comfort and reassurance in receiving a letter from a chaplain recording the death and knowing that things had been properly done. The initial shock of receiving the dreaded telegram saying that a loved one had been wounded, killed or was missing was addressed in some small way by the action and ministrations of the minister who stood alongside those who fought and died.
The chaplains of the Second Army were instructed that regardless of circumstance all dead soldiers deserved a proper field burial:
No chaplain should allow himself to forget that the men he buries on operations have made the supreme sacrifice for the cause in which our country is at war. If this is remembered, the care and reverence given to this service will always create the right atmosphere for the burial party.71Notes for Active Service Chaplains, p. 4.
When the bodies of allied or enemy dead were recovered, these too were to be given a decent Christian burial and particulars of the deceased properly recorded and sent to the Grave Registration and Enquiry Unit. For the enemy dead a shortened order of funeral service was approved which included: The Lord’s Prayer, Committal and the Grace.72Ibid., p. 13. Wherever possible the chaplain was to write to all next of kin as soon as possible. Some Scottish chaplains who were German-speakers, like the Rev J K S Reid, wrote to the relatives of German POWs who died in captivity.
On 17 November 1943 it was recorded in the minutes of the Church of Scotland Chaplains Committee that four more ministers of the Church had been wounded, were missing or had died. A War Office official document recording battle casualties for the Northern France in 1944 stated that as of 20 November 1944 the RAChD losses were twenty dead; forty-seven wounded, twelve missing and one taken as POW.73War Office Document Battle Casualties in Northern France 1944, PRO WO/32/11172. Finally in May 1946 the General Assembly heard the names of eighteen Church of Scotland ministers who lost their lives while on service as chaplains during the war.
The losses amongst some Scottish battalions were particularly high after D-day. Tommy Nicol, chaplain to the 5 Black watch, recorded the fact that
by June 14, the battalion had lost six officers and 92 other ranks killed and 11 officers and 198 other ranks wounded – 307 casualties out of a landing strength of less than 500.74T J T Nicol, «D-Day Remembered» in Life and Work, June 1994, p. 15.
The recovery of the dead and the accurate recording of the grave site was the task of the Adjutant and the chaplain. Often bodies could only be extracted from the burnt-out hulls under cover of darkness. The difficulty and gruesomness of this task in the dark was appalling. Of one particular occasion George Reid, chaplain to the Scots Guard, wrote:75Ibid., p. 26.
With a sergeant and six guardsmen, I toiled through the night on two successive days. The dead were collected and buried in a mass grave. At last the work was completed, or so I thought. The next morning (….) the adjutant horrified me by telling me that in the daylight it was obvious that several bodies were still in the tanks reported to me as having been cleared.
Reid recalled this incident with degree of shame (as he had failed to find these men) whilst at the same time saying that burials were the most trying part of his duties as a wartime chaplain.
The efforts of many Scottish chaplains to recover and bury the dead were appreciated by many officers and men. Steel Brownlie was a Squadron Officer in the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, where Oswald Welsh was the Church of Scotland chaplain. Brownlie wrote in the history of this regiment how one day in Normandy they came across the bodies of a number of dead Canadians killed in a minefield:76W Steel Brownlie, reply to an advertisement in the Sunday Express, West Kilbride, 18 Dec 1994.
They had lain in the heat for a week at least and were bloated and stinking. The Padre (Welsh) picked his way among them, at each reaching down between the brown shirt and the purple flesh to pull out a name tag. At a safe distance, a few tank crews stood horrified, waiting for a mine to explode and blow the padre’s leg off. None did. When he was finished, he explained: the relatives will have to know.
To preserve a true record of a soldier’s passing was no small service to him and his family.
Sometimes the bodies of the dead had to be re-interred from the temporary graves in which they were laid in the heat of the battle and moved to a permanent war cemetery. Colonel Robert Gurdon of the Black Watch wrote in the obituary to the Rev Joseph Grant, Church of Scotland chaplain to 6 Black Watch throughout the war, how he had been in invaluable help in this gruesome task:77Colonel R T T Gurdon, reply to an advertisement in the Red Hackle, the Regimental Magazine of the Black Watch, 4 Jan 1995.
After the great battle of Cassino in early 1943 the bodies in temporary graves had to be lifted and moved to a permanent war cemetery. I did not like the thought of our chaps being dug up without the padre being present and, unpleasant as the task was, I asked Joe (….) He agreed at once and I felt sure that everything would be done with due reverence and in a way that families would have approved.
For the Rev David Whiteford dealing with casualties and burying men that he had got to know well during his military service was very difficult. In the Scottish battalion in which he served the Pipe Major and the pipers were tasked to help the chaplain with burial details. On one occasion the 5th Battalion Black Watch Orders group where the CO and his officers were planning the next phase of the battle was shelled. Whiteford and the Pipe Major went to recover the bodies but when they got to the barn that had been hit and saw the carnage and devastation that lay before them, the Pipe Major said: «Padre, this is no job for young pipers, you and me will just have to do this ourselves».78D H Whiteford, Taped interview, Edinburgh, 29 Oct 1993. Whiteford realised that he would just have to get on with it but it was a strain burying the remains of men beside whom on the previous day he had sat at breakfast.
One final incident in the work Scottish chaplains undertook burying the dead comes from the war-diary of the Rev David Cairns. Serving as chaplain with an artillery regiment he normally found himself well back from the enemy front lines and was able to wear full clerical robes at field burials. In his war-diary for Thursday 12 October 1944 Cairns wrote:79Cairns, War Diary, National Library of Scotland, Accession no 5932.
After lunch a Lieutenant came to me, asking me to take a funeral of a man of his, who had been killed (….) I took my robes, service book and tin hat and drove with him to the burial site (….) I put on my robe because I felt that the more seemly a funeral could be made, the more fitting, just as it was right to make the graves as tidy as possible.
On two occasions Cairns records how other Scottish chaplains came to see him during the fighting to try to unburden themselves of the enormous strain that they carried from burying the dead. On 22 September 1944 the chaplain of the King’s Own Scottish Boarderers (KOSB) came to see Cairns and described the stress and strain on the officers and men of his battalion after they had sustained 110 casualties in the battle of the Gheel Bridgehead. The KOSB chaplain explained:
It’s all right for a time, but then it gets you down, and people tell you, Padre, there are bodies of some of our chaps there, will you go and see to them being brought back, and I’m afraid the moment might come when I say I’m not going.80Ibid., p. 122.
It was Cairns’ contention that the strain of the battle and dealing with the dead was compounded by the fact that the chaplain was unarmed and could not fight back.
The burial of the dead was not a pleasant task. Mutilated and decaying bodies had to be gathered together, wrapped in a blanket and placed in a shallow grave. The personal cost to the chaplains was profound. They were expected to cope. It was their job. Regardless of age or experience they had to muster the courage and face occasional danger to carry out this important function. The times to give thanks to God for safe deliverance and the bravery of those who died would be the chaplain’s next duty.
The Epilogue. Thanksgiving and Memorial Service
When a phase of the campaign is over, gather in its experience. Thanksgiving and memorial services meet a real and ready response. Men want to thank God that the cause is safe, that no man died in vain or suffered uncomforted; for the bravery whereby we stand, for grace received and many things personal. They wish to ask God to help the wounded, reward the dead, and solace the bereaved; and they will offer Him, if given the chance, a much purified resolution to carry on to Victory, and place it in His hands.81A Summary of the Experience of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, p. 7
When the fighting in the 1939-45 War was over, even the most irreligious attended the final thanksgiving services to mark their respect for the fallen and to pause and reflect on their own deliverance. But equally the irreligious as well as those faithful to the Church were at times highly critical of the chaplain’s performance. It was also the time when chaplains reflected on their own experience and to a man they began to think about demobilisation.
It was the considered opinion of the Rev J W J Steele, the Assistant Chaplain General of the Second Army, in his notes to chaplains (April 1944) that care had to be taken to make the service of thanksgiving meaningful:82Notes for Active Service Chaplains, p. 7.
The spirit of the thanksgiving service should not be confided to “deliverance” or of a “memorial” having in mind those who have fallen, but it should include the thought of having been weighed in the balance and not been found wanting. A chaplain shares equally with his men all the varying experiences of the battlefield, and this is link between him and them forever.
It was the service at the end of the war, which most men later remembered. The Second Army even published an order of service for use by chaplains to mark the end of the war. It was a service of hymns and prayers designed to remember fallen comrades, and to dedicate those who had survived to draw on the experience of war and to live better and more faithful lives in the future.
One Scottish soldier vividly recalled years later, one such service that he attended. W Thomson who had enlisted in the spring of 1943 wrote:83Cairns, War Diary, National Library of Scotland, Accession No 5932.
The end of the European War came in May 1945 and with it the enormous sense of joy and relief we felt as individuals that we had been spared. In his religious services in the immediate aftermath, the padre was able to express our feelings about comrades who had not survived and in doing so he said in a truly Christian way, what most of us would have found difficult.
Some men, however, were more critical about the failure of the chaplains. One Scot who served with a Territorial Army Armoured Regiment in North Africa and Italy wrote that «our padre, tried to be one of the boys and failed completely to gain any respect either with the men or the officers». Another veteran who saw service with the Scottish Division and who knew a number of Church of Scotland padres observed that
I met several padres in my six years and eight months war service. Some good and some bad. We all could relate to the «human» ones but failed to get a good relationship with those who thought more about the rites of the Church.84J R Copland, reply to an advertisement in the Sunday Express, Wigtownshire, 7 Nov 1994.
Despite these criticisms, many chaplains did their best in the most trying of situations. They worked hard to bring a message of love and peace to a situation that was surrounded by bloodshed and death. But however unpleasant war was, it was capable of bringing out the best in most people. This applied equally to padres, and many of those who served with the Scottish Battalions of the Second World War found the experience both broadening and enriching. Many later would confess that they were better men as a result of their wartime ministry.
At the end of his advice to chaplains on the seven phases of war, Freddie Hughes, the Assistant Chaplain General of the Eight Army and later Chaplain General, wrote:
A chaplain who follow these phases through will always know what he is trying to do, will have no vacant mind, no lack of work, no idle moments, but a fine, full task demanding all his energy and skill.85A Summary of the Experience of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, with hand written notes by Hughes and Montgomery
General Montgomery commented on Hughes’ advice to chaplains in the following terms:
I have read this with great interest and commend it to all chaplains. A chaplain who follows the above advice will have done well and will earn the love of his men – which is a pearl of very great price.86Ibid., Comment by General Montgomery
Fotnoter [ + ]
|2.||↑||Shaw, p. 26.|
|3.||↑||J K S Reid, Taped interview, Edinburgh 3 Mar 1993.|
|4.||↑||Ibid., p. Ii.|
|5, 9, 40.||↑||Ibid., p. 6.|
|6, 7.||↑||Ibid., p. 5.|
|8.||↑||I think what Huges meant by his catch phrase – Service before Services – was that on the battlefield conditions did not always make it easy for chaplains to hold formal religious services. Where there was an enemy artillery, mortar or air threat, it was unwise to have large groups of men gathered together even for a short church service. Hughes was therefore commending to his chaplains that they could serve the church well by simply being there and doing whatever they could to alleviate the fears of both officers and men.|
|10.||↑||Middleton Bromwell: The Army Chaplain, London 1943, p. 36.|
|11.||↑||Ibid., p. 36.|
|12.||↑||War Office Handbook, Notes for Active Service Chaplains, by The Assistant Chaplain General Second Army. April 1944.|
|13.||↑||Ibid., p. 1.|
|14.||↑||Ibid., p. 1-2.|
|15.||↑||Middleton Bromwell, p. 38.|
|16.||↑||The Chaplains of the Grand Assult, p. 8.|
|17.||↑||Ibid., p. 8.|
|18.||↑||Stuart Louden: War Diary, 7 January 1941 (Copy held in the RAChD Museum).|
|19.||↑||Ibid., 17 January 1941.|
|20.||↑||War Office Document, Report of the Morale Inter-Service Committee, 11 Oct 1944, PRO, WO/32/1194.|
|21.||↑||A summery of the experiences in the field of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains (Middle East 1944), p. 6.|
|22.||↑||The Church Parade was a form of organised religion. Soldiers were told where and when to go to church and often they had to dress in best uniform and were physically marched to the church door.|
|23.||↑||War Office Document, Interdenominational Advisory Committee minutes 3, PRO.WO/32/4013.|
|24, 58, 65.||↑||Ibid.|
|25.||↑||War Office Document, Compulsory Church Parade, PRO WO/32/14687.|
|26.||↑||A Neville Davidson essay on Hope in R Selby Wright (ed) Front Line Religion London 1941 p. 50.|
|27.||↑||D Cairns, War Diary. (The personal pares and War Diary of the rev. Prof. David Cairns are held in the National Library of Scotland, Accession numbers 5932, 6828 and 6835).|
|28.||↑||Ibid., Letter 17 Dec 1944.|
|29, 72.||↑||Ibid., p. 13.|
|30.||↑||Ibid., p. 35.|
|31.||↑||Ibid., p. 42.|
|32.||↑||Ibid., p. 109.|
|33.||↑||Ibid., p. 140.|
|34.||↑||T J T Nocol: Taped interview, Comrie, 17 Dec 1993.|
|35.||↑||A summary of the Experience in the Field of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, p. 6.|
|36.||↑||H W Blackburne & F M Sykes, «The Status and Work of a Chaplain», In Royal Army Chaplains’ Department Journal, Vol. I, Jan 1922, p. 1.|
|37.||↑||Ibid., p. 3.|
|38.||↑||Rev John Birkbeck, the Nicol Survey, Stirling, 24 Aug 1979.|
|39.||↑||W Steel Brownlie, in reply to an advertisment in Life and Work, Dec 1994.|
|41.||↑||Middelton Brumwell, p. 61.|
|42.||↑||D S Macdonald, The Nicol Survey.|
|43.||↑||G Pilcher, The Nicol Survey.|
|44.||↑||D S Coey: «Eternal Life», in Royal Army Chaplains’ Department Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 58, Sep 1954.|
|45.||↑||D Wimberley, The Nicol Survey.|
|46.||↑||A Summary of the Experience in the Field of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, p. 6.|
|47.||↑||G T H Reid: «With the Scots Guards 1940-45» in Royal Army Chaplains’ Department Journal Vol. XXII, No. 113, May 1970, p. 26.|
|48.||↑||Rear Area Position.|
|49, 75.||↑||Ibid., p. 26.|
|50.||↑||A H Gibson, «Chaplains with the 1st Infantry Division, 1942-45»; in Royal Army Chaplains’; Department Jounal Vol. XVIII, No. 95, Dec 1963, p. 5.|
|51.||↑||R Liddel, «Some Memories of Anzio» in Royal Army Chaplains’ Department Jounal, Vol. XXII, No. 111, May 1969, p. 31.|
|52.||↑||Ibid., p. 33.|
|53.||↑||Dr H MacDonald, reply to an advertisement in Sunday Express. 8 Nov 1994. Unfortunately MacDonald could not remember the name of the padre he served with on Sword Beach.|
|54.||↑||Ibid., reply by John R Copland, 7 Nov 1994.|
|55.||↑||A Summary of the Experience in the Field of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, p. 7.|
|56, 57.||↑||Field Marshall The Lord Carver, the Nicol Survey.|
|59.||↑||T J T Nicol, Taped interview, Comrie, 17 Dec 1993.|
|60, 82.||↑||Notes for Active Service Chaplains, p. 7.|
|61.||↑||bid., p. 344.|
|62.||↑||Ibid., p. 345.|
|63.||↑||D H Whiteford, taped interview, Edinburgh, 29 Oct 1993.|
|64.||↑||J K S Reid, taped interview, Edinburgh, 3 Mar 1994.|
|66.||↑||Murdo Ewen MacDonald, taped interview, Glasgow, 11 Mar 1994.|
|67.||↑||Charles Framp, reply to an advertisement in the regimental magazines of Scottish Division, South Humberside, 16 June 1995.|
|68.||↑||W Thomson, reply to an advertisement in the Sunday Express, Irvine Nov 1994.|
|69.||↑||G Monro, taped interview, Edinburgh, 3 March 1994.|
|70.||↑||A Summary of The Experience in the Field of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, p. 7.|
|71.||↑||Notes for Active Service Chaplains, p. 4.|
|73.||↑||War Office Document Battle Casualties in Northern France 1944, PRO WO/32/11172.|
|74.||↑||T J T Nicol, «D-Day Remembered» in Life and Work, June 1994, p. 15.|
|76.||↑||W Steel Brownlie, reply to an advertisement in the Sunday Express, West Kilbride, 18 Dec 1994.|
|77.||↑||Colonel R T T Gurdon, reply to an advertisement in the Red Hackle, the Regimental Magazine of the Black Watch, 4 Jan 1995.|
|78.||↑||D H Whiteford, Taped interview, Edinburgh, 29 Oct 1993.|
|79.||↑||Cairns, War Diary, National Library of Scotland, Accession no 5932.|
|80.||↑||Ibid., p. 122.|
|81.||↑||A Summary of the Experience of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, p. 7|
|83.||↑||Cairns, War Diary, National Library of Scotland, Accession No 5932.|
|84.||↑||J R Copland, reply to an advertisement in the Sunday Express, Wigtownshire, 7 Nov 1994.|
|85.||↑||A Summary of the Experience of the Eight Army Brotherhood of Chaplains, with hand written notes by Hughes and Montgomery|
|86.||↑||Ibid., Comment by General Montgomery|