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With the Field Regiments

With the Field Regiments

The job of the Artillery chaplain was completely different from that of his colleague in the infantry. In action a much larger part page 66 of his parish could be visited. It was not possible in daylight to visit certain guns or the observation posts, but other guns were well within his reach. The members of a gun crew were tied to their gun, and only occasionally could one man get away to attend a religious service; even then men hesitated to go as they felt they were throwing extra work on their friends.

There was only one solution: the chaplain had to visit each gun. He would talk with the men, say a few prayers, or perhaps conduct a short service. His visit might be interrupted by the gun being ordered to fire or by enemy air attack, but his work was seldom delayed for long as there were always other guns he could call on. In fact there seemed to be too many, and the chaplain spent days on end going from one gun to the next. This made great demands on his stamina; physically it was very tiring; mentally and spiritually it was harder still.

The first few visits of a day would be easy. The chaplain would get into the gunpit, and after some general conversation and exchange of news and rumours, would say prayers or administer Holy Communion. Then perhaps he would take orders for the canteen or receive messages to pass on. As the chaplain climbed out of this gunpit he would feel that he had made a useful contribution. Then he would find his way to the next pit and start all over again.

The chaplain, like all gunners, had to endure the noise of his own guns, which, in addition, were one of the chief targets of the enemy artillery. Gunners often said that they could not hear enemy shells in action and were kept so busy that they had little time to think of them, but the chaplain must have had many a nervous walk from gun to gun. Fear and noise are both extremely tiring, and the Artillery chaplain was often a weary man by the end of his round of visits. After visiting the guns he would still have calls to make at the Aid Post and B Echelon, and perhaps make time to look in at a dressing station. And of course there were often burials, too, and letters to write.

Conditions in each campaign varied greatly. In Libya in 1941 Padre Buck, with the 4th Field Regiment, had to contend with the constant movement, the attacks and counter-attacks from every direction which marked this campaign. At other times—the static period in Alamein and the days before the break-through—the page 67 chaplain had a long and exhausting round of duties, looking after men who were taxing their physical strength to the utmost. Perhaps there were a few more comforts in serving with the Artillery but there was never any shortage of hard work or danger.