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Problems of 2 NZEF



The work of the Chaplains has already been covered in a separate volume. From the point of view of Headquarters their work went smoothly, and we had no form of crisis or major trouble. The first Senior Chaplain came from the Anglican church, the largest church body in New Zealand. When a replacement was called for, however, we turned to the next senior Protestant chaplain, who was in any case the next senior among the totality of chaplains. He happened to be a Presbyterian. This might have caused some trouble from the Anglican church, so we thought it advisable to ask Army Headquarters to sound out that church before making the appointment. There was, however, no objection from the Anglican church, and the appointment was made. When next a replacement was due, it happened again that the most suitable chaplain was a Presbyterian; but this time we went ahead and did not consult New Zealand.

Headquarters 2 NZEF was, of course, not concerned with the spiritual functions of the chaplains, but only with their administration. The earliest problem was the proportion to be maintained among the various churches and denominations. The basis for our calculations was the proportions as shown in the individual records held by Second Echelon, for which purpose a special count was taken in early 1941 and at one or two intervals thereafter. The percentages varied very slightly from count to count. In the beginning of 1943, for instance, they were:

Church of England 44
Presbyterian 29·4
Roman Catholic 14·5
Methodist 7
Other denominations 5·1

The total number of chaplains in the force varied also, in the direction of a steady increase as the war went on. At the period under consideration the total had been set at 50, of which 26 were with the Division and 24 with hospitals, depots, and scattered units. Applying the percentages to this figure of 50, we arrived at the following number of chaplains:

Church of England 22
Presbyterian 14·7
Roman Catholic 7·25
Methodist 3·5
Other denominations 2·55

Taking the figures to the nearest whole number they became:

Church of England 22
Presbyterian 15
Roman Catholic 7
Methodist 3
Other denominations 3
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In view of certain difficulties in the work of the smaller denominations, in particular the Roman Catholics, it was agreed by the senior chaplains of the churches affected that the Church of England and the Presbyterian figures should each be reduced by one. In this case the Roman Catholics and the Methodists were each increased by one, the final figures being:

Church of England 21
Presbyterian 14
Roman Catholic 8
Methodist 4
Other denominations 31

Similar calculations took place at other intervals. At a later stage, while the figures of chaplains in the Division and outside it remained the same, we carried three chaplains extra for emergencies – reinforcements in other words.

It was agreed from the first that Roman Catholic chaplains should serve the needs of their communion throughout the force, and that they should not be considered as unit chaplains in the usual sense. There were some difficulties with the units to which they were attached, and to clear up the position the following instruction was issued by Headquarters in November 1942:


Roman Catholic chaplains in 2 NZEF number seven. For various reasons it has been found advisable at the present stage to place them with medical units; at later stages they may be located elsewhere.


It must be made clear that in any circumstances they are placed in order to serve the needs of RC members of 2 NZEF as a whole. The RC community is scattered throughout the force. The unit to which an RC chaplain is attached is thus his base, from which he operates over an area of country.


He is not allocated to the unit as a unit chaplain; but on the other hand all RC chaplains have been instructed to take part in unit activities subject to their duties under para 2 above. Chaplains will also comply with the ordinary rules of reporting ‘marchings in and out’.


The vehicles with which RC chaplains are provided are authorised army vehicles and are entitled to normal servicing in every way, including supplies of petrol.

Thereafter there was no trouble.

Originally chaplains fourth class, ranking as captains, were promoted to third class, ranking as majors, after three years' service overseas, i.e., from date of embarkation. There was nothing sacred in this period, which had been the one used in the first war. In the middle of 1942, i.e., about two and a half years after the sailing of the First Echelon, we reviewed the position, and found that there page 123 was only one combatant or medical officer left who had sailed with the First Echelon as a captain, was fit for promotion, and had not yet received it. In other words, with this one exception, all captains had been promoted, a great number of the vacancies being due to casualties. Taking it all in all, we thought that chaplains should be promoted on the same scale, and so altered the qualifying period to two years and six months.

Towards the end of 1942 we had to take up with New Zealand the question of the medical standards to be applied to chaplains destined for service overseas. In the few months preceding our representations there had been a lamentable record of sickness among recently arrived chaplains, several having to be sent back without any service with the force. It seemed to us that there was an idea in New Zealand that because chaplains were non-combatants lower medical standards than the best would suffice, especially as many chaplains served with hospitals. This was a false argument. Hospital vacancies were reserved for chaplains who needed a spell from field service, or who had served an adequate period in the field; and field service was strenuous for anyone, chaplains and all. Their medical standards must be the same as for combatant officers. We asked that this should be watched in the future, and Army Headquarters agreed to take action accordingly. The position thereafter did show an improvement.

Early in 1940, one chaplain, speaking on behalf of a number, suggested to Headquarters that chaplains should be allowed to visit Palestine as a definite part of their military training, the implication being that all their expenses should be paid by the Government. Speaking with all reverence, it did appear to Headquarters to be slightly bizarre that a visit to the Holy Land should be equated with the training that was then going on all over Maadi Camp. At that time there was no military transport to Palestine, but only civilian trains, indiscriminate travel was frowned on, we thought that everyone should stick to his last in Maadi, and, so it must be said, were not sympathetic. As it happened, leave to Palestine became possible later on in 1940 at small cost; still later, there was such a mass of military transport passing between Egypt and Palestine that no one had any difficulty in getting a lift, and later still in 1942 the Division was in Syria and our line of communication ran through Palestine. Doubtless all chaplains, at least until we went to Italy, did manage to pay a visit there.

Our field chaplains were ultimately all self-contained with transport. It is an impossible position to ask a chaplain to carry on his work in modern, fast-moving war if he is to be dependent upon chance lifts in miscellaneous vehicles.

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