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Rank of Chaplains

Rank of Chaplains

In the 2nd NZEF the chaplains had the same system of rank as the Royal Army Chaplains' Department. There were four classes, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, corresponding to colonel, lieutenant-colonel, major, and captain with the pay and badges of those ranks. At first there was some uncertainty about the chaplain's official title, but Headquarters 2nd NZEF laid down in July 1941 that the use of military titles was to cease: official documents were to be signed with the signature and the initials CF (Chaplain to the Forces) plus the class, e.g., John Smith, CF, 4th Class. In writing to chaplains the title would be ‘The Reverend’, ‘The Reverend Father’, or ‘Mr.’, but in conversation the chaplains were called ‘Padre’ by everyone from colonels to privates.

There have been frequent discussions on the wisdom of chaplains wearing badges of rank. Naval chaplains do not, and in the Australian Army rank badges for chaplains were removed from 1918 to 1942, when they were restored. In the Canadian Army chaplains wear badges of rank and also use the military titles with the prefix ‘Honorary’. In the American Army chaplains use the military page 29 titles though they are commissioned as lieutenants and are familiarly known as ‘Chappie’.

In June 1941 Headquarters 2nd NZEF asked the chaplains to consider the subject of badges of rank, and the conclusions reached by the chaplains at this conference were never questioned for the rest of the war. The chaplains considered that they would like to keep their badges of rank. The only criticism of this system was the fear that rank badges would create an unnecessary gulf between the chaplain and the private soldier, but it was considered that the advantages far outweighed this danger. Distinctions of rank are an essential part of Army life and colour all Army thinking. With stars or crowns on his shoulder, a chaplain had a very definite standing. It was a public acknowledgment of the importance of his job, and it greatly facilitated contact with headquarters and senior officers.

Also, in the Army, as in every sphere of life, there is a type of petty officialdom which recognises no authority unless it is official, and so the chaplain, whose work lay in every part of the Army— from orderly room to military prison—often found that his military rank brought more co-operation than his professional position. However undemocratic it may sound, and however contrary it may seem to the concepts of true religion, it is still true that most New Zealand chaplains would agree that their rank was far more of a help than a hindrance in the peculiar personal relationships of Army life. It was the chaplain's personality and manner which decided how he would be received by other ranks. His uniform made little difference here. Finally, it may be argued that ordination to the Christian Ministry is akin to commissioned military status, and that therefore when the chaplain dons uniform it is logical for him to wear some corresponding mark of rank.