WHEN the Royal New Zealand Air Force was established in 1937 as a separate branch of the Armed Services it was recognised that provision would have to be made for chaplains to look after the spiritual welfare of the men. The Royal Air Force, on which the RNZAF was modelled, maintained a Chaplains' Branch in which regular chaplains served, wearing uniform and having the status of officers. In addition, officiating chaplains were appointed from among the local clergy to minister to members of their denominations in units where the station chaplain was of a different Church. In New Zealand it was felt that the projected size of the RNZAF did not warrant the establishment of a Chaplains' Branch, and it was proposed to appoint officiating chaplains to the various stations.
Nothing was done, however, in the pre-war years to put the scheme into operation, mainly because of difficulties in arriving at a decision on its financial basis. In the meantime, the initiative came from the Churches themselves. From time to time a member of the local clergy would ask permission to hold a service on one of the two stations then in existence—Hobsonville and Wigram. This permission was nearly always forthcoming, but, as the Commanding Officer at Wigram pointed out early in 1938, such unofficial arrangements were not entirely satisfactory, and it was desirable in view of the actual and projected expansion of the Air Force that officiating chaplains should be appointed as soon as possible. The matter was raised several times at Air Department before the war, but apparently had always to give way to more pressing aspects of the RNZAF's expansion programme.
The outbreak of war in September 1939 and the immediate and rapid expansion of the Air Force made the appointment of chaplains a matter of some urgency. After a number of meetings between the Air Force Member for Personnel and the Chaplains' Advisory Committee, the Air Board finally approved, in October, regulations covering religious observance in the Service and the payment of officiating chaplains. Some months later, in February page 162 1940, twenty-five chaplains were appointed. They had been nominated by their respective Churches from among the clergy living in the vicinity of the nine stations then in existence, and included representatives of six denominations. Their duties comprised the conducting of periodical Church parades and the visiting of stations under their charge as frequently as possible to give religious instruction, as well as the other special tasks which fall to padres, such as visiting sick members of their Churches and notifying relatives when casualties occurred.
The conditions of their appointment made it difficult for them to gain satisfactory results from their work. A clergyman's chief asset is his personal relationship with his parishioners. On Air Force training stations even more than in Army camps, a great proportion of the men at that time were there for short periods only, and the chaplain had little opportunity to come to know them. As he did not live on the station himself, his contacts with individuals were practically negligible. He had his own parish to attend to, and with the best will in the world the most he could do for the Air Force was to conduct periodical services and spend possibly a few hours a week on the station. As he might live some miles away, even this made heavy demands on his time. Furthermore, the officiating chaplains were appointed because they happened to live within a reasonable distance from the stations. Consequently, it was not always possible to select men who were physically and temperamentally the best suited for the specialised work involved in looking after the spiritual welfare of young men, many of whom were living away from their own homes for the first time.