CHAPTER 2 — THE CHAPLAIN GOES INTO CAMP
THE CHAPLAIN GOES INTO CAMP
IT is difficult in the days of peace to recapture or realise the general atmosphere of a mobilisation camp at the beginning of a war. In those early days the camp authorities were overwhelmed by administrative work and the development of the camp. They had to look after billets, general amenities, supplies, staff, instructors, and training materials as well as make arrangements for the arrival and departure of troops. All these subjects had to be considered in an atmosphere of speed and urgency. The brand-new chaplain was just one more problem for these hard-working and harassed officers.
In 1942 an excellent short course was instituted at Trentham for chaplains immediately prior to their entry into camp, and here they learned much of Army procedure and routine. But at the beginning of the war the chaplain knew very little about his own official position. There was no handbook of chaplains' work and King's Regulations were not very informative. The Army authorities were unable to supply much further information, and in any case were far too busy to answer many questions.
The chaplain went into camp dressed as a captain. His equipment was a box of hymn books, his Bible and Communion vessels, and a Union Jack. He knew that he was expected to take services on Sundays, but for the rest he had to work out his own destiny and evolve his own daily programme.
To some his task may have seemed easy—the continuation of his normal civilian duties with the trifling difference that both he and his parishioners would be wearing uniform. But this conception of his work was far from the truth. The ordinary civilian clergyman is a specialist, trained to work in what might be called the ‘parochial machine’, with a church as the central headquarters and the work shared by committees and divided into several organisations. In addition, the civilian clergyman lives in a routine which has been established through the centuries. His day is spent in prayer and study, in sermon preparation and the writing of letters, in visiting the sick and the whole, in private interviews, in meetings page 6 and classes of instruction. He has to spend much of his time in specialised and general reading, and this presumes that he has a large library of his own and access to books of reference. It also presumes that he has privacy and quiet.
But when the clergyman becomes an Army chaplain he finds that he has no church, no organisations or committee-men, and his library consists of the two or three books he can carry in his pack. The Army doctor, on the other hand, was more happily placed. He was supplied with trained assistants, with instruments and equipment, and it was considered quite natural for him to interrupl training periods with medical parades. The chaplain often envied the doctor: his position seemed so much more secure and his ‘union’ so much more powerful. The chaplain was sometimes made to feel that he represented just one more annoying complication in Army life. By the end of the war the position of the New Zealand chaplain and his Department was clearly defined, and probably no body of chaplains received better co-operation or more sympathy from Authority; but this progress took place during the war years, and it is important to remember how different the position was at the beginning.
In the first three Echelons there were eight chaplains who had seen service in the First World War, but only one of these, Padre F. H. Buck,1 had previous experience as a chaplain. In addition some of the others had served with Territorial regiments. These men had a working knowledge of Army routine and phraseology and their experience was of value in establishing the tradition of the Department. But consider the position of the brand-new chaplain who came into camp with no previous military experience. First of all he would probably look around for his church. He would he shown a canteen, a welfare hut, a cinema, or a parade ground. The idea of garrison churches which was common in other Empire forces found little or no expression in the 2nd NZEF. Here was a problem right away. How was the chaplain to get the right devotional atmosphere in a canteen or a cinema? Of course it was impossible, but he had to learn how to make the most of these page 7 facilities. On active service he would consider himself lucky to have any building at all; even in New Zealand camps he would often have to conduct his Sunday services in the open air.
After examining his ‘church’ the chaplain might set out to find his parishioners. He might consider that his work lay solely with the members of his own denomination, or that he should concentrate on that block or area of the camp to which he had been posted. The Sunday Church services in New Zealand camps were usually arranged on a denominational basis, and here for a brief moment the chaplain had an opportunity of meeting his own Church members. But it was difficult to discover their names and impossible to remember them. He learned the names of many among whom he lived, but here again was a difficulty. The biggest hardship of chaplaincy work was the lack of permanence. There was no security in time. It was impossible to plan ahead. The Bible Class planned for the following week would have to give place to a route march or one of the many other probable contingencies. The men he wanted to see might be on leave, on guard duty, or on some fatigue.
The civilian clergyman is accustomed to work on a progressive plan which bears fruit as he gets to know his people better. But the Army gave little time for progressive work as the military parishioners were constantly changing. The chaplain had to increase the tempo of his work as much of his time was spent amongst strangers, and he had to achieve what he could at the first meeting. When eventually he was posted to a unit with the Division overseas he did have an opportunity of becoming part of the family and of getting to know a large number of men, and yet perhaps half his life in the Army would be spent in training or transit camps, in troopships or hospitals, where an unending stream of new faces and new names would be his daily portion.
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.
When the chaplain left New Zealand on a troopship he discovered for the first time one of the most difficult aspects of Army life— enforced idleness. Not the idleness of doing nothing, but that of having little or no opportunity of doing his own work. Later on he learned to accept this philosophically, and could spend hours and days with a clear conscience, jogging across the desert in a truck, sitting in a train or crouching in a slit-trench, cut off from all pastoral work. At this stage the chaplain was on fire to justify his existence, but there was little scope for his work on a troopship. with five or six men in every cabin, no privacy, every inch of the deck occupied, and seldom any public place for an evening meeting. The ships were crowded to capacity and resembled anthills with swarms of men on the move from morning till night. The chaplain searched in vain for a full-time occupation in days that were filled with boat-drill, periods of exercise, and training. It is a pity that some authoritative statement was not sent back to New Zealand warning chaplains that they would have few opportunities for work at sea, and advising them to concentrate on their Sunday and weekday services, visiting the ship's hospital, and the pursuit of casual conversations. On the other hand, several chaplains found a most fruitful field for work on troopships.
At the different ports of call where troops had shore leave, problems of behaviour began to appear and the chaplains found opportunities in their services for talks on'Wine, women, and song although in the early days this subject was dealt with too frequently, or at least without sufficient finesse. The discomforts of the voyage, the tropical climate, and the constant danger of submarine attack had their inevitable effect on the men. New Zealand began to seem a distant country, and the most light-hearted soldier found himself thinking more seriously of family ties and discovering a new comfort in Church services and the rather unofficial outlook of the chaplain. It was pleasant to lean over the rails of the ship and talk to the padre about home, to pull out the paybook, show him photographs, and discuss plans for the distant, post-war days.page 10
Many things of interest happened on these voyages, but, taken by and large, life on a troopship was nothing like a pleasure cruise and every soldier and chaplain was delighted when he stepped ashore in Egypt.
* First World War.