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Civilian to Soldier

Civilian to Soldier

Although he did not, while in camp in New Zealand, learn as many names as he wished, the chaplain certainly learned much about the New Zealand soldier. Alongside the soldier he was medically examined, inoculated, issued with equipment, lectured, marched about, and criticised until he began to fit into Army life. He went on route marches and night manoeuvres, and in the daytime toured the training grounds, often becoming an extra member page 8 of an instruction class. He found many opportunities for friendly conversation and was delighted with the friendship he met.

His modest entry into the everyday life of the camp, whether it was joining in a march or a football match, won for the chaplain most undeserved praise. At first sight it would have appeared that the ordinary New Zealander thought so little of the clergy that when he came across one reasonably human and friendly he thought he had discovered a phenomenon. This was due, perhaps, to the fact that many men had never met a clergyman on a normal social basis, and had come to think of the clergy as a race apart, as ‘wowsers’, puritans, spoil-sports, saints, or professors who were not to be understood by ordinary men.

The chaplains were greatly encouraged by this friendship. It was the one encouraging fact in a life full of uncertainties and frustration. The men were good; they were decent; they were friendly and touchingly grateful for the smallest kindness. The chaplain needed encouragement at this time. He belonged to a unit, the Chaplains' Department, which existed only in name. Few of his military seniors could give him advice that was at once authoritative and accurate. From old soldiers, majors and above, he received suggestions that were as varied as they were conflicting. His own Church authorities and the Chaplains' Committees had as little knowledge of military matters as they had authority. There were all the problems of denominational relationships, of equip ment, of daily routine, and often of unsympathetic commanders. The chaplain did not know whether the meagre results of his work were due to his own deficiencies or to an unreasonable attitude of his military superiors, or whether perhaps the results were perfectly natural under the circumstances.

When a man's position and job is well established and well understood, he can meet the occasional setback with calmness, but when there is no established practice he is tempted to attribute every difficulty to official apathy or hostility. There can be no true picture of the chaplain's life in the first two years of the war unless these fears and misgivings are realised. The days in camp were difficult but they were of great value. He began to feel at home in the Army and to know his way about amongst the mass of initials and page 9 abbreviations used for appointments and military terms; he made the first of a long series of friendly contacts with the staffs of the welfare organisations, and above all, he discovered what a fine man the New Zealand soldier can be—a judgment that he never had cause to change.