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What did the Soldier think?

What did the Soldier think?

The keen soldier-churchman felt the need for services and enjoyed them; most of the other men enjoyed them once they were there. page 97 Hymns were seldom sung with quality or enthusiasm, save on special occasions when the men were deeply moved or when the conditions were unusually favourable. An exception was the Maori Battalion, where the singing was always good. The presence of a brass band at a service did not help the singing as the men were inclined to listen. It was often better to suggest some subjects for private devotion and let the men sit while the band played sacred music. It was easier to sing at night, and of course there was quite a different atmosphere in the song services.

The men appreciated the prayers, especially those for relations at home and for spiritual strength in meeting the demands of battle or the everyday problems of Army life. They would listen to sermons with attention, specially enjoying those which gave the Biblical history of well-known places in the Middle East, and they would take moral warnings in good part if given simply and sincerely.

The behaviour of men in compulsory Church parades was exemplary and this suggests that these parades were not unpopular. Several hundred men crammed into a cinema, with the officers sitting in the front seats, would have been difficult to control had they wished to make trouble. The officers would have been badly placed to keep order, and they would not have liked to interrupt the service by giving audible rebukes. It would have been easy for troops to ‘play up’ during a Church parade but there is practically no instance of anything like this ever having happened. On the contrary, chaplains would be pleased if their civilian congregations were as well behaved and attentive.

There were many evidences that the services were enjoyed and followed with close attention. On one occasion when two or three thousand troops attended a big open-air service in Maadi, a special form of service had been distributed with the Scripture reading printed in full. The lesson was read beautifully by a Maori chaplain, and when he reached the bottom of a page there was noise like the wind in a forest as the whole congregation turned over the leaf.

No, the critics were definitely wrong when they suggested that there was any strong disapproval of Church parades in the 2nd NZEF. Many a man unconsciously appreciated the fact that they page 98 were compulsory. The war made a man think deeply, and often a self-styled agnostic found himself taking a new interest in doctrinal teaching. Such a man would have hesitated to set out publicly for a voluntary Church service, thereby demonstrating to his friends that he had ‘got religion’, but in the anonymous attendance at a compulsory parade he could receive the teaching and the faith quietly, until the time came when he could accept it in its entirety.