The Welfare Workers
The Welfare Workers
Service Before BattleMen of the 25th BattalionBaggush
After a Confirmation—Rev. K. Harawira and the Rt. Rev. G. F.Graham-Brown, Bishop of JerusalemBeirut
The bulk of the Patriotic Fund was expended by the YMCA and the Church Army who organised the recreational huts in the camps, and in addition supplied a welfare officer and truck for nearly every unit in the Division. These welfare men were recruited partly from the home establishments of these two societies, and partly from men serving in the Army.
The Church Army is a Church of England society, and in the 2nd NZEF it consisted of a small team which ran a recreation hut in Maadi and worked with Artillery units in the field. The YMCA was a much bigger organisation and strictly undenominational. It ran excellent recreation huts, hostels, and canteens, and its Mobile Cinema Unit was an outstanding success. Both these societies were considered to be civilian organisations with civilian staffs, though they wore uniform and received Army allowances. On one or two occasions an exceptional act of courage by welfare workers could not be rewarded with a military decoration for gallantry because of this civilian status, and the award made was membership in one or other of the degrees of the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire.
The YMCA and the Church Army are essentially Christian organisations whose members are expected to be professing Christians. As such they were of inestimable benefit to the chaplains. Every recreational hut and canteen became a centre for the chaplain's work, but in them he received not only a welcome but active cooperation also. Special places were set aside in their huts and canteens for religious services, and the staffs, besides always being present themselves, were prepared to lead the prayers in the absence of a chaplain. They kept supplies of New Testaments, religious books, and hymn books, and generally lived up to the high aims of their organisations. Their work was well controlled and inspired page 32 by the wise leadership of Mr. Shove2 and Mr. Steptoe,3 and the service they gave in the field was splendid.
By dint of their brilliant and courageous efforts the New Zealand soldier was supplied with comforts in every campaign. Before action they gave chaplains supplies of comforts to distribute, and then themselves went into the line to give the soldier the things he needed. On these occasions their cheerful and zealous demeanour was much appreciated. Probably no more amazing sight was seen in the war than the Maori Battalion YMCA truck lumbering over the desert to its battalion in the middle of the Alamein battle. The chaplains were deeply indebted to these men and the organisations for which they worked, and all chaplains are concerned by the suggestion that the soldiers could have been better served by an official Army welfare unit, recruited, inspired, and directed by the Army itself. The chaplains have their doubts about this proposal and consider it unlikely that such an organisation could triumph over the problems of ‘officialdom’.
Certainly the civilian status and methods of these two organisations were often the cause of ‘administrative headaches’, and no doubt one or two of the men were failures, but could an official welfare unit ever have produced a ‘Snowie’ Watson4—surely one of the best-loved men in the Division—or others like him such as Riga Blair5 and Geoff Gray?6 Moreover, would an official Army welfare unit ever supply that strong Christian influence which was so apparent in the whole outlook of the welfare men?