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Transport for Chaplains

Transport for Chaplains

Every chaplain in the Division was entitled to a vehicle in accordance with War Establishments, but in the first two years of the war transport was so scarce that the chaplain often went without. In Greece there were a number of the little two-seater cars specially designed for chaplains in the British Army, but these proved to be too small and when it came to desert travel, were quite inadequate. At different periods in the war chaplains were supplied with station waggons, staff cars, and trucks. On some occasions they had the page 22 use of jeeps, which were ideal for battle conditions, but perhaps the most useful vehicle of all was the 8-cwt., four-wheel-drive truck, known as a ‘pick-up’.

This type of truck had a comfortable cab with a tray and canopy on the back, and at first sight might have appeared too large for one man, but in practice was usually filled to capacity. Four large tins of petrol and one of water would take up much of the space, and room would have to be found for a ration box and a primus stove fitted into a benzine tin. In its load would be the blankets and personal gear of the chaplain and his batman-driver, boxes of hymn books, stationery, and the mixture of welfare supplies and library books which accumulated round the chaplain. Hanging from the roof and from various hooks outside would be all the other paraphernalia needed for life in the field—billies and kettles, hurricane lamps and respirators—and, when every bit of space was used, room would have to be made for the driver's rifle, a spade and a pick, a camouflage net, and sometimes, most bulky of all, a spare wheel. The back of the truck, when all the gaps in the canopy had been blacked-out, made an ideal little cabin for private interviews and correspondence.

In a mechanised age, with campaigns fought over great distances, it was natural that the soldier should become a nomad, and that his vehicle should resemble a gipsy caravan. But the chaplain without a motor vehicle was placed in a difficult position. Before each move he would have to seek help from the Adjutant or from some other busy officer. ‘Let me see,’ the Adjutant would say, ‘I think there is some room in the RQMS's1 truck, or you might try one of the Signals three-tonners.’ In the early days every truck was filled to capacity, and after some experience the maximum of comfort was obtained by carefully placing each piece of luggage and each passenger so that no one welcomed an extra man, let alone a chaplain. His timid request for space would be met with a kindly reply: ‘Right-oh Padre, I think we can find a bit of room for you.’ But this kindliness grew less marked when it was realised that carrying the chaplain also meant carrying his kit and his official luggage, not to mention the batman and his kit. This was always embarrassing for the chaplain, but it was much worse for his bat- page 23 man. It was not very easy to be rude to the chaplain, but there was nothing to prevent the plain unvarnished truth being handed privately to the batman, often in the most un-ecclesiastical language, to the effect that the truck had already been uncomfortably full before he came. In Greece the chaplains used their own vehicles or begged lifts, but inevitably when visiting troops they had to do much of their travelling on foot, carrying their own gear with them. Heavy articles, not strictly essential, were jettisoned and soon a certain uniformity might have been observed in the chaplains' packs, with space found for personal gear, official equipment, and some welfare supplies.