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Battles in Italy

Battles in Italy

At Cassino the Department suffered its first and only fatal casualty. Padre A. C. K. Harper,1 who had served continuously with the 4th Field Regiment since December 1941, was severely wounded by a shell-burst, dying shortly afterwards. His record was excellent and he was well known and respected, not only in his own unit but in all the Field Regiments. There were other casualties, too. Padre D. E. Duncan2 was badly wounded while serving with the 21st Battalion and was invalided back to New Zealand. Padre H. G. Norris3 was wounded while helping to put out a dangerous fire in a dump of mortar shells close to a Regimental Aid Post. Fortunately he recovered in hospital and saw further service. Padre H. S. Scott4 was also in hospital for some time after having been wounded while with the 26th Battalion.

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Five further awards for gallantry were won by infantry unit chaplains in Italy. The work of Padre Huata in the Maori Battalion— for which he was awarded the Military Cross—has already been mentioned. Padre Judson,5 24th Battalion, and the son of a winner of the Victoria Cross in the 1914–18 War, also won the Military Cross. An ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church, he had gone overseas as a private in a Field Ambulance and had risen to the rank of sergeant-major before being commissoned as a chaplain. During an attack on Orsogna early in December 1943, Padre Judson organised a forward Regimental Aid Post under heavy fire, he himself dressing wounds and on occasions acting as a stretcher-bearer. His citation for this award also mentions a similar exploit in Tunisia when he went forward behind the attacking troops to collect the wounded and evacuate them by jeep.

Padre A. K. Warren6 won the Military Cross for outstanding courage and leadership in organising the evacuation of wounded at the Gaiana River. It was not until 1944 that his Church authorities would release him from his position as Dean of Christchurch, and when he arrived in the Middle East he was above the normal age for service in the field. However, he was very fit and was given the difficult task of following that most popular chaplain, Padre Taylor, in the Divisional Cavalry Regiment, which had just become an infantry unit. At Padua he was extensively wounded by shrapnel, but as so often happens with tall men—he stood 6 feet 5 inches— his most serious wound was in a foot.

Padre P. C. S. Sergel7 of the ASC did temporary work with the 25th Battalion at Cassino and in that bloody battle his care for the wounded earned him the American Silver Star for gallantry.

An outstanding example of courage while with the infantry was the work of Padre Harding in the 23rd Battalion. This unit had a succession of most daring commanders who inspired it with a devotion to duty and a disregard of danger that was seldom excelled. Amongst such warriors Padre Harding served with distinction. He page 104 was a man who put his religious duties first on all occasions and allowed nothing to interfere with them. In action he spent his whole time with the most advanced sections and was constant in his visiting. He was the third New Zealand chaplain to receive the DSO, which is significant when it is realised that in the whole Royal Army Chaplains' Department, which at its peak numbered over three thousand chaplains, only four such awards were gained. As a comparison it is interesting to note that in the Canadian Chaplains' Service there was one VC and one DSO, while no DSOs were awarded in the Australian Chaplains' Department. Padre Harding's citation makes particular reference to an occasion when a number of men were wounded and buried by a direct hit on a house in the front line. As the rescuers advanced they came under heavy shellfire, and the successful completion of this task was largely due to his help and influence.

But it was not only the infantry chaplains who earned distinction in Italy. Here two other units, the Armoured Brigade and the Engineers, had chaplains with them for the first time as they went into action.