CHAPTER 1 — ORIGINS
FROM THE EARLIEST times armies have felt the need for spiritual advisers and Divine aid. In the Old Testament there are many descriptions of battles, and it was the rule rather than the exception for one man to combine the rôles of Commander-in-Chief and Senior Chaplain. Spiritual exercises were considered more important than military training, and a high standard of morals was demanded, with severe penalties for looting or misbehaviour on leave. The God of the Hebrews was at first considered as a God of War, and the title ‘Lord of Hosts’, meaning God of the Armies, was appropriate.
In modern terms, Jehovah was expected to supply advance intelligence and secret weapons. On occasions the sun would stand still or the sea be made dry, while at other times victory would be assured if the Senior Chaplain kept his arms raised, or if the Church parade marched round the walls of the besieged city.
In the same way the Greeks sought advance information from the oracles and the Romans depended upon their College of Augurs. In fact the tribal or national gods have always been expected to produce supernatural aid and make victories certain. The Red Indian medicine men, the African witch doctors, the Dervishes, and others have all enlisted Divine aid in their wars, and with strong religious propaganda instilled a splendid fighting spirit in their soldiers. In modern times this practice was evident among the Japanese in the Second World War, in which their soldiers, with total disregard for comfort or personal safety, were often worthy exponents of their strong but limited religion of Emperor-worship.
But the Hebrews were pioneers in religious research, and the history of their nation, especially in defeat, was woven into their theology until they believed that prosperity in peace or in war depended entirely on the religious integrity of their people.
In the Christian era the whole attitude towards war has changed until in these days it is considered as a thing essentially evil, only to be embarked upon when the causes of disagreements have been scrupulously examined, and when no alternative remains. The page 2 rôle of the clergy in wartime exemplifies this change of thought. In the early days they were expected to lead the attacks as well as the prayers, and there are many examples in history of Popes, Archbishops, and Bishops initiating wars, inspiring crusades, and taking a leading part in battles. Gradually the idea of combatant clergy became repugnant, but throughout Christian history the need for military chaplains has been recognised and met, although even today the only recognition of chaplains in the French Army is the granting of certain privileges to clergy who happen to be serving in the ranks.
In the British Army the word ‘chaplain’ first appears in the reign of Edward I, and from that period there is constant mention of chaplains—one of the accounts of the Battle of Agincourt was written by a chaplain. Gradually their position became more clearly defined in regard to duties, rank, and establishment. In the New Model Army of Cromwell there were Regimental Chaplains, led by a Presbyterian, Master Bowles.
Royal Army Chaplains' Department
The Royal Army Chaplains' Department (usually referred to as the RAChD) dates its official origin from the year 1796 when a system of brigade chaplains was introduced under the first Chaplain- General. At first the Church of England held a complete monopoly, but provision was made for Presbyterians in 1827, Roman Catholics in 1836, and ‘Other Protestants’ in 1862. In 1859 the rank of chaplain was made official and has since remained the same. Uniform was prescribed in 1860 and became compulsory.
In New Zealand the first chaplain was probably Bishop Selwyn who during the Maori Wars went into camp and travelled with the troops. His habit of ministering to his Church members in both the warring forces may have been logical on Christian grounds but it led to frequent misunderstandings. Eventually the War Office authorised him to appoint three additional chaplains.
At an early date chaplains were appointed to Territorial regiments. Seven New Zealand chaplains served in the Boer War, and many played an honourable part in the First World War. Unfortunately few records were kept of their organisation as a department and their work received little mention in the official histories.page 3
In the thirties came the Disarmament Treaties and a very strong wave of Pacifism. Pacifist books and societies appeared all over the Empire; huge public meetings were held in Britain and popular pacifist manifestos were widely signed. Well-known politicians and clergymen were frequent speakers on pacifist platforms. Widely read pacifist books were published. These facts should be remembered when considering the Church in New Zealand before the Second World War. The clergy were influenced by this pacifist teaching, and many felt uncertain of their own positions. The result was that the Territorial Army was looked upon with suspicion by a large section of the community, and many denominations took little trouble in the appointment of Territorial chaplains.
New Zealand Army Chaplains' Department
Officially there was in the New Zealand Army a Chaplains' Department on a Territorial basis, but there were no full-time chaplains. The Army Chaplaincy was administered by the Adjutant- General's office, assisted by three District Chaplains' Advisory Committees corresponding to the three Army districts. These District Committees consisted of civilian clergy, representing the different denominations, who did the work in their own time and at their own expense.
Their duty had been to nominate Territorial chaplains, but the system was not designed for war conditions and so it is not surprising that in 1939 most of the Territorial chaplains were either over age or else physically unfit for active service. These three District Committees continued to function for the first three years of the war, with the addition of one full-time administrative chaplain who was mobilised as a member of the New Zealand Forces. This was Archdeacon Hawkins,1 who had been the Senior Chaplain to the 1st New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
Although the District Committees were superseded in 1942 by the Chaplains' Dominion Advisory Council, it should be remembered that they faced great difficulties, and that the members acted only in a spare-time capacity. Indeed, they achieved much under difficult conditions, and official files and minute-books bear testimony to the page 4 many problems they had to face, some trivial, but many of primary importance. They had to work out denominational ratios; they were responsible for the selection and recruiting of chaplains; and they had to understand the chaplains' needs and supply necessary equipment. As there was little tradition and few printed regulations, they had to fight administrative battles in regard to proper recognition of chaplains, and define their privileges and the scope of their work. The Army authorities did their best, but they were busy with other matters and had little precedent to guide them.
There were numerous misunderstandings and mistakes. For example, there was a popular legend in the Department that at the beginning of the war two civilian clergymen approached the Army direct and were commissioned and on an embarkation roll before any Chaplains' Committee had heard of them. In all, there were many difficulties and problems, and the aim of this book is to record how they were met and nearly always solved.
1 Ven. Archdeacon H. A. Hawkins (C of E); born Christchurch, 20 Aug 1873; served in First World War 1915-17; in Second World War was Senior Chaplain to the Forces in New Zealand, 1940-43; died Auckland, 4 Dec 1948.