CHAPTER 16 — CONCLUSIONS
AN attempt has been made in this history to give a picture of the life of a man serving in the New Zealand Army Chaplains' Department in the Second World War. Much space has been given to the everyday routine of different parts of the Army as this materially influenced the programme the chaplain set for himself. Perhaps too little has been said of the message the chaplain tried to give and its importance for the troops and indeed for the whole world, but this book was intended to be history, a recitation of facts with some conclusions, not an apologetic. The choice and arrangement of the facts, and the conclusions, were made by the author alone and express his own opinion, though he was enormously helped by the research, the criticism, and friendly help of many other chaplains. In this last chapter an attempt is made to lay down a few general principles.
What are Chaplains for?
The chaplain's duty is to see that men in uniform receive the same opportunities for the practice of their religion as they do in civilian life. The fact that Army life in wartime is vastly different from civilian life does not change the essential Christian message. The need for the teaching of the Church, the administration of the sacraments, and the spread of the Gospel remains the same. New spiritual dangers have to be faced, new methods of pastoral practice devised, while the emphasis on certain virtues and sins has to be changed.
The New Zealand chaplains went further than this. They were satisfied, as far as men can be amid the welter of modern propaganda and conflicting ideologies, that the war was being fought for moral causes and not for national aggrandisement, and so in their preaching and teaching they were prepared to lay great stress on the moral truths at stake. They tried to increase the general efficiency of the Army by attending to the physical welfare of the troops, by supporting on all occasions the Army tradition of good discipline and order, and in battle they endeavoured to play some small part by setting a good example of cheerfulness and courage.page 128
The value of a chaplain in this respect has been acknowledged on many occasions, and one General in the First World War is reported as saying that a really good chaplain was worth an extra battalion in a division. But such praise is liable to obscure the real duty of a chaplain. He was not put into the Army to be a welfare officer, a political commissar, or professional brave man. but to preach and present the Christian faith. War aims, the success of battles, and welfare work were of secondary importance. Just as Bishop Selwyn ministered to soldiers on both sides during the Maori Wars, many New Zealand chaplains in the Second World War welcomed the opportunity of ministering to the enemy when they were prisoners, or even when the chaplains themselves were prisoners. War aims and nationality make no difference to a man in his need for religion, nor should they ever obscure the first duty of a Christian minister. But where an army has a strong body of practising Christians its efficiency and morale is bound to benefit by the Christian emphasis on personal discipline, on kindliness and cheerfulness, and by the Christian's faith in prayer and belief in immortality, for these things will steel a man's will and carry him forward confidently through danger to death itself.
But it is only fair to add that some Christians did not make good soldiers. Men who had come from conventional homes and who had perhaps been regular though unthinking members of a Church but had never worked out a real, conscious faith for themselves, sometimes compared very badly with the pagan who often set a magnificent example in courage, devotion to duty, and real friendlyness.
It would seem that a chaplain's first duty in the Army is to learn the special conditions of military life and then use every opportunity for satisfying the religious needs of the soldier, and secondly, to do his best to improve the mental and physical welfare of the unit to which he is attached
What makes a good Chaplain?
Chaplains were selected by the leaders of the different denominations in New Zealand, and then, provided that they passed the medical examination, were sent into camp. It should be remembered what a large number of chaplains was needed to staff the page 129 three Services in their home and overseas establishments and that this made great demands on the Churches, for the supply of recruits to the Christian Ministry was almost entirely stopped by the war. and every chaplain had to be taken from a civilian post. In spite of these difficulties the Churches were prepared to send their best men to serve with the armed forces; to make this possible older men came out of retirement and the civilian clergy often had their work doubled, besides acting as honorary chaplains to troops stationed in their districts.
The Churches were prepared to send their best men, but how were they to decide who were most suitable for chaplaincy work? Obviously a chaplain had to be of the right age, enjoy good health. and generally give the impression of having those qualities that would appeal to men. This is a very vague description. The right age? A chaplain should not be too young. It was desirable, almost essential, that he should have had several years' experience in the Christian Ministry.
But what was the maximum age to be? In the days of peace the prime of life is often thought to come at the age of 40, but that is old for the Army. General Freyberg once said that he would like to have all his battalion commanders under 30 and his company commanders under 25. By the end of the war his hope had largely been fulfilled and these young officers were very successful. The rigours of campaigning severely tested any man over the age of 35. From this it would be easy to infer that the ideal chaplain should enter the Army in his thirties, but in the 2nd Division there were several chaplains who had served in the First World War and yet were fit enough to serve with combatant units in the 1939–45 War. These men included Bishop Gerard. Padres McKenzie, Buck. Moore, McDowall. and Harawira, and mention has already been made of Padre Rangi serving alongside his three sons in the Maori Battalion and Padre McKenzie giving good service until the age of 56. It would seem fairly easy to suggest a minimum age, but the maximum would depend upon the individual concerned. Provided he had health and strength and a youthful outlook he was young enough.
Some chaplains and many soldiers were so anxious to serve overseas that in their medical examinations they withheld important information, and much trouble was caused by the arrival of recruits page 130 in the Middle East who proved quite unfit to face the rigours of desert life and battle conditions. Under these circumstances Padre McKenzie was fond of saying that a chaplain was no use unless he could march twenty miles with ease. With due respect to a great leader that statement is only a half-truth. Except on a few occasions, notably in Crete, soldiers were seldom called upon to march long distances during a campaign. Certainly they had to face physical hardship such as artillery bombardment, irregular meals, nights without sleep, and the rigours of the weather, but experience has shown that a strong will is more important than a strong body when such conditions have to be experienced. It was the strongest man physically who first succumbed on Scott's journey from the South Pole, and in modern polar expeditions men are selected as much for their mental as for their bodily strength, while in warfare there has been little to suggest that great athletes have any monopoly of endurance.
So much for age and health. What about the more general characteristics which fit a man for chaplaincy work? The answer must be equally vague. In the First World War there were many surprises. For example, in the British Army competent authorities were surprised by the immediate success of clerical dons dragged from the universities and their world of libraries and abstract thought. They often proved more adaptable and did better work than men with much practical experience in industrial parishes.
No doubt certain gifts and talents were of great value. The gift of preaching has always been one of the strongest arms of the Christian Church, and chaplains so endowed were able to give forthright sermons couched either in soldiers' language or in faultless English which commanded immediate attention and provided their congregations with new inspiration and a better grasp of the eternal truth. A knowledge of history was a great asset in the chaplain's work, while the gift of tongues was invaluable. It came in handy when dealing with prisoners of war. it enabled many chaplains to run foreign language classes in the soldiers' leisure time, and some Roman Catholic chaplains did great service to the Division in Italy by their knowledge of Italian. Some had the gift of writing, notably Father Walsh, and contributed to the military journals and the excellent pamphlets of the AEWS.page 131
A chaplain found his work made easier when he could show proficiency in some sport for by refereeing and playing games he came to know his men very well. Perhaps the greatest gift of all was to be a ‘good mixer’, to have the ability of making friends easily and quickly, for so much of Army life was spent amongst strangers. An imposing and terrifying list could be composed of the qualities needed by the ideal chaplain but such a list would give a false picture. A man did not have to have unusual gifts to be a good chaplain. It was sufficient if he had average health, was between the ages of 30 and 50, and was a sincere and hard-working Christian clergyman. Provided this type of man was used in the right way he was bound to succeed.
Imagine such a man arriving in the Middle East. He would have a few weeks in Base Camp to get his bearings in a foreign country and then would be posted to a combatant unit with the Division. Here he would get to know one body of men well. He would find and make his own opportunities for work, and after some experience in action, the soldiers would discover his sincerity, faith, and friendliness, and by the very warmth of their acceptance of him supply an atmosphere in which he could give of his best. Under these circumstances a chaplain did not have to have any great ability in preaching or possess any outstanding ‘parlour tricks’. It did not matter much if he was a poor preacher, no good at sport and rather shy, for if he was game in action, industrious in his visiting, and sincere in his life he was bound to succeed. However, if such a man was left too long in a Base job, where he could never experience the warmth of unit corporate life or have much chance of showing his own innate quality, he might begin to lose his self-confidence and become less and less useful to the Department.
There were failures, and occasionally a man broke down at a critical time. Sometimes a man was definitely not suitable for chaplaincy work and there was only one solution to this problem: to send him straight home, for there is no place in the Army for a bad chaplain. This solution caused difficulties, for the Senior Chaplain had the delicate and unpleasant job of deciding that the man was no good and of acquainting him with the fact, and then he page 132 had to convince the Army authorities that the chaplain must be replaced at once by a new man from New Zealand.
Some men broke down in spite of being good chaplains. A chaplain can give of his best only for a limited time and then inevitably he has to pay for his separation from opportunities for quiet study and regular prayer. His useful life can be prolonged, and was prolonged, by the many excellent courses and special amenities arranged for chaplains. But even then there is a limit, and the following times might have been set as the maximum service of a chaplain in the Second World War: two years with a combatant unit, one year with a non-combatant Divisional unit, one year at Base, and then back to civilian life. Probably three years' total service would have been better than four.
There is ample evidence in the two wars to support this thesis, but if it was put into practice it would demand in the first place that the Senior Chaplains were in the closest touch with their men and ready at the first sign to order their transfer, and secondly, that the Army authorities were prepared to co-operate in this endeavour to keep the chaplains' team full of fresh and energetic men. In a war there are always occasions when soldiers have to be pushed and worked beyond the limits of sound economy. The winning of a certain battle may be more important in the long run than the continued efficiency of one division or of one body of men. but under this head it should be realised that the normal useful working life of a chaplain is of limited duration. General Slim has said: ‘Courage is an expendable quality. If there are continued calls on our courage we begin to overdraw. If we go on overdrawing we go bankrupt—we break down.’ This statement might still be true if ‘chaplaincy work’ was substituted for the word ‘courage’.
The preceding paragraphs have suggested that no very special qualifications were needed for an Army chaplain. It was enough if a man had sufficient experience as a clergyman, average health, and was what might be called a good Christian. But it would be a poor Chaplains' Department composed entirely of this rather colourless type, and certainly the New Zealand Chaplains' Department abounded in and was enhanced by its many ‘personalities’, who together made a strong team when their different ages, ex- page 133 periences, and talents were blended. It was certainly a good team. Did it achieve its purpose?
The quality of a doctor or a clergyman is an extremely difficult thing to assess. A doctor may have a huge practice, be able to command extremely high fees, and yet not be a good doctor. The same thing can happen in religion: a clergyman may be extremely popular and draw large congregations and yet fail lamentably in his duty, for it is possible for a man with certain gifts of personality to treat the truth with an unscrupulous or unconscious disregard and proclaim a gospel which is at once attractive and shallow to the point of barrenness. There has always been this danger, and the New Testament gives an uncompromising warning: ‘Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.’
When assessing the value and quality of the New Zealand chaplains there are four different opinions to be heard: firstly, that of the Army authorities, and secondly, that of the Church leaders at home. But perhaps the most important opinion is that of the soldiers for whom the Department primarily existed; and lastly, of course, there are the thoughts of the chaplains themselves.
When senior officers are asked to express an opinion on the work of chaplains they must always face the temptation of taking a sub-Christian view. It is so easy for them to be blinded by the more material things. For example, if a chaplain was brave in battle, popular on Church parade, zealous in his care for the welfare of the men, and likely to help promote good discipline and morale, then he might be termed a good chaplain, and no one would complain very much if he were disloyal to his own Church and some essential Christian principles. Besides able chaplains, the Army authorities wanted to have an efficient Chaplains' Department with its purpose, privileges, and duties clearly defined so that it could fit easily into the Army framework. Thanks to wise Senior Chaplains this hope was largely fulfilled in the latter years of the war. Many of the senior officers were sincere practising Christians. well qualified to pass judgment on the work of the chaplains, and their many generous tributes to the Department gave great pleasure page 134 to the chaplains and may be taken as evidence of warm official approval. If more proof is needed the number of awards and decorations can be mentioned. Roughly 150 chaplains served in the Pacific and in the Middle East, and of that number twenty-four received decorations and eighteen were mentioned in despatches.
The civilian Churches were pleased by these marks of appreciation and the many tributes paid to their men. but they did not fail to remark that though many returned soldiers were loud in their praise of chaplains, this praise was not accompanied by a very marked increase in Church attendance in civilian life. This is fair criticism and points to the lack of sufficient doctrinal teaching by the chaplains, but on the other hand the first requirement in the Army was to satisfy the immediate spiritual needs of the soldier, no small task in itself, and in the hard conditions of war the needs of the post-war Church had to take second place. Certainly the chaplains were disappointed when many of their good churchmen in the Army failed to rehabilitate themselves into the civilian Church, but with the failures there were notable successes. At the end of the war a number of men came forward to offer their services in the Christian Ministry, while many others discovered and accepted Christianity through their experience in the Army.
If anyone should want to know what the soldiers thought of their chaplains he could find the answer more satisfactorily by asking returned men than by reading a chaplains' history. The inquirer will receive many different answers which will come from conflicting memories. There is bound to be mention of one or two bad compulsory Church parades, and perhaps of some silly action or saying of a chaplain, probably offset by the more powerful memories of a good chaplain. The happy informality of Church services in the field will be remembered, and perhaps the soldier will speak of some special occasions when he was deeply aware of spiritual forces.
Chaplains remember how often they failed in their high calling: those occasions of physical and moral cowardice, those opportunities missed and those failures caused by too feeble a faith and inadequate prayer. But they have happier memories: the amazing comfort of the Psalms when things looked desperate, and the times when they were conscious of being filled with a power that was not their own. supported by the invisible Communion of Saints and the prayers of the faithful. Above all, the chaplains remember the friendship of the Army, for the comradeship of arms is no empty phrase, representing as it does the most beautiful and enduring fruit of war. It is a harvest that should not be neglected for it is the possession of every returned serviceman, and it will be a tragedy if the cares of civilian life separate the chaplains from active par ticipation in those organisations which bind ‘old comrades’ to gether. The life of the nation could benefit much from this friendship, which transcends age and class and has a certain endur ing quality due to the circumstances of its birth, when hardship and danger were faced together and heartbreak and grief bravely shared.
Whatever failures there were in the life and work of New Zealand chaplains it must be recorded that they were constantly with their men and took their full share of suffering and hardship. Indeed it was by suffering that their work was ennobled, and it is by their suffering, perhaps, that they can claim fellowship with that great Apostolic band of Christian missionaries throughout the ages whose glory and purpose have been described for ever by St. Paul:
In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, inmuch patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; page 136by pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by theHoly Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the powerof God; by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and onthe left; by honour and dishonour, by evil report and goodreport; as deceivers and yet true; as unknown and yet wellknown; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened and notkilled; as sorrowful and yet always rejoicing; as poor, and yetmaking many rich; as having nothing and yet posseessing allthings.