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Appointment of full-time Chaplains

Appointment of full-time Chaplains

Realising this, the Chaplains' Advisory Committee strongly recommended that resident chaplains should be appointed, at least on the major stations. It was proposed that, as was the practice in the RAF, they should have the status of officers and be permitted to wear uniform. This was approved by the Minister of Defence in August 1940. In October the first eight full-time chaplains were appointed and commissioned in the relative rank of Flight Lieutenant.

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Where it was possible, owing to the proximity of stations, chaplains of different denominations exchanged duties frequently. When this was not possible, and on stations where there was no resident chaplain, visiting chaplains continued to look after men of their own denominations.

With their appointment as regular members of the Air Force, the chaplains were able to carry out their work more fully. In the main, they were men who had had considerable experience in the Ministry but who were young enough to take an active part in the sporting and other activities of their stations. Some of them had been Rugby footballers of note, and one or two were still active referees. Such accomplishments did more to secure them a place in the community life of their stations than perhaps any other.

There was, in most instances, a fairly close liaison between the chaplains and the YMCA secretaries. The YMCA had as its function the promotion of the welfare of the men—chiefly by the provision of reading and recreation rooms and of canteens serving afternoon leas and suppers. The chaplain had his study or padre's room in the YMCA building, and the reading room was converted for use as a chapel for Church parades.

Besides holding regular Church parades, most chaplains had informal services on Sunday evenings and weekly Bible Classes. On some stations they had a definite place in the training syllabus, giving lectures to recruits on the spiritual, moral, and psychological aspects of service life. In addition to religious and general welfare work, they did much in helping individual men who had domestic and personal worries. Their problems were investigated by the chaplains who, where necessary, made recommendations to higher authority on compassionate postings and leave.

In 1941 the question of providing chapels was raised by the Church of England Military Affairs Committee. The YMCA reading rooms hitherto used were not entirely suitable for Church services. That at Ohakea was particularly unsatisfactory as it was located under a dormitory, and services consequently suffered from the noise of people walking about and talking overhead. It was proposed that the chapels should be provided by the Chaplains' Board and paid for by the National Patriotic Fund. The Air Board rejected the suggestion on the grounds that the existing premises page 164 were satisfactory, contending that if one denomination was given authority to build chapels the others would want to follow suit, and that the resulting buildings would require manpower for their maintenance.

After it had been pointed out that a single chapel on each station would serve all denominations, and it had been reiterated that the cost would be borne by the National Patriotic Fund, the Air Board reversed its decision and authorised the building of chapels on the major stations. In the next two years chapels were built at Hobsonville, Whenuapai, Harewood, Ohakea, Levin, Wigram, Rongotai, and Woodbourne. They were known as Air Force Chapels and were under the control of the station chaplain, although available for the use of visiting chaplains of all denominations. In mid-1943 the RNZAF undertook to build chapels, where necessary, through its own works organisation, but owing to the low priority given to the work by the Commissioner of Works, it was well into 1944 before any construction was carried out under this policy.

For two years, the number of chaplains in the Air Force remained at eight. By September 1942, however, the size of the RNZAF in New Zealand had more than trebled; new stations were being built; over a thousand men were overseas in Fiji and New Caledonia; and others were preparing to go to the New Hebrides and the combat area farther north. It was obvious that there was work for many more chaplains than the original eight.

Early in 1943 the Air Board adopted a proposal that the chaplains' establishment of the RNZAF should be increased to bring it in line with that of the Army, which provided for one chaplain to every thousand men. Once this principle was recognised, it was possible to appoint new chaplains as they became necessary, although in fact the number never reached the maximum allowed. The greatest number serving at any time was thirty-one; this was early in 1945. Throughout 1943 and 1944 appointments were made to a number of stations which had not hitherto had a chaplain and to new stations as they were formed. In addition, as the strength of the Air Force in the Pacific expanded, serving chaplains were posted overseas and their places in New Zealand taken by new men.