CHAPTER 5 — BASE CAMPS, 1941
BASE CAMPS, 1941
WHEN the Division returned to Egypt after Crete it found that the 5th Reinforcements had arrived from New Zealand. The 2nd NZEF was accommodated in two camps, Helwan and Maadi, but usually the chaplains held one combined weekly conference in which a full muster would number thirty-six. Experiences in the two campaigns were discussed and improvements to equipment and procedure suggested. On many occasions in battle chaplains had found themselves in positions where they had to act as medical orderlies, and it was suggested that some instruction in first aid would be valuable. Arrangements were made accordingly and an Army doctor gave a number of lectures. It was also considered desirable that a chaplain should carry a small medical kit, but this was never put into practice.
Rank of Chaplains
In the 2nd NZEF the chaplains had the same system of rank as the Royal Army Chaplains' Department. There were four classes, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, corresponding to colonel, lieutenant-colonel, major, and captain with the pay and badges of those ranks. At first there was some uncertainty about the chaplain's official title, but Headquarters 2nd NZEF laid down in July 1941 that the use of military titles was to cease: official documents were to be signed with the signature and the initials CF (Chaplain to the Forces) plus the class, e.g., John Smith, CF, 4th Class. In writing to chaplains the title would be ‘The Reverend’, ‘The Reverend Father’, or ‘Mr.’, but in conversation the chaplains were called ‘Padre’ by everyone from colonels to privates.
There have been frequent discussions on the wisdom of chaplains wearing badges of rank. Naval chaplains do not, and in the Australian Army rank badges for chaplains were removed from 1918 to 1942, when they were restored. In the Canadian Army chaplains wear badges of rank and also use the military titles with the prefix ‘Honorary’. In the American Army chaplains use the military page 29 titles though they are commissioned as lieutenants and are familiarly known as ‘Chappie’.
In June 1941 Headquarters 2nd NZEF asked the chaplains to consider the subject of badges of rank, and the conclusions reached by the chaplains at this conference were never questioned for the rest of the war. The chaplains considered that they would like to keep their badges of rank. The only criticism of this system was the fear that rank badges would create an unnecessary gulf between the chaplain and the private soldier, but it was considered that the advantages far outweighed this danger. Distinctions of rank are an essential part of Army life and colour all Army thinking. With stars or crowns on his shoulder, a chaplain had a very definite standing. It was a public acknowledgment of the importance of his job, and it greatly facilitated contact with headquarters and senior officers.
Also, in the Army, as in every sphere of life, there is a type of petty officialdom which recognises no authority unless it is official, and so the chaplain, whose work lay in every part of the Army— from orderly room to military prison—often found that his military rank brought more co-operation than his professional position. However undemocratic it may sound, and however contrary it may seem to the concepts of true religion, it is still true that most New Zealand chaplains would agree that their rank was far more of a help than a hindrance in the peculiar personal relationships of Army life. It was the chaplain's personality and manner which decided how he would be received by other ranks. His uniform made little difference here. Finally, it may be argued that ordination to the Christian Ministry is akin to commissioned military status, and that therefore when the chaplain dons uniform it is logical for him to wear some corresponding mark of rank.
It was desirable that the chaplain should be easily recognised. In peacetime in New Zealand, and at all other times in Empire forces, the chaplain wears a distinctive cap and lapel badge, but during the war the universal 2nd NZEF badge was compulsory. There is much to be said for the wearing of the clerical collar. It may not look well in uniform but no one can mistake it. One or page 30 two New Zealand chaplains wore this collar right through the war whenever possible, but for the most part it was worn only by Church of England and Roman Catholic chaplains when taking services. In the Royal Army Chaplains' Department the clerical collar was normal dress though it could be replaced by a soft collar and a black tie. But some confusion was caused when the Navy began wearing khaki battle dress and dark ties. Some sailors on land were surprised by the treatment they received from soldiers, while in Army circles strange and apocryphal tales were told of the nautical language and behaviour of certain clerical gentlemen. As in the Royal Army Chaplains' Department, 2nd NZEF chaplains wore black buttons and black badges of rank.
However, when the universal uniform in the desert was shorts and shirts, something more distinctive was necessary to mark the chaplain. In 1941 New Zealand chaplains began to wear a purple loop which slid over the shoulder strap of shirt or tunic. The Royal Army Chaplains' Department carried this idea to its logical conclusion and produced a purple loop with the word ‘chaplain’ clearly marked in white.
In the 2nd NZEF the Church of England and Roman Catholic chaplains always carried robes, and used them when possible. But they were alone in this respect, although in the Royal Army Chaplains' Department most other denominations wore robes at their Church services. The argument in favour of wearing robes was that they were the normal procedure for Church services, and that in the barrack-room or in the open air they helped to make the service seem more authentic.
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?
The chaplains were often distressed by the tone of British official concert parties, and in spite of many protests the standard remained low throughout the war. Some of the artists had little talent and page 33 tried to succeed by substituting smut for humour, but this evil went further for many leading lights in the theatrical profession who visited the troops seemed to imagine that there was a general demand for filthy jokes and suggestions. Certainly the troops wanted humour, but again and again they told the chaplains they did not want bawdiness.
In this respect the chaplains were delighted by the excellent example set by the Kiwi Concert Party, which abounded in real talent, gave bright entertainment, and was warmly appreciated by troops serving all over the Middle East.
The chaplains were also grateful for the presence of the military bands who often played at Church parades, and at other times softened the rigours of Army life.
1 Col the Hon. F. Waite, CMG, DSO, OBE, VD; Member of the Legislative Council; farmer; Balclutha; born Duncdin, 20 Aug 1885.
5 Mr. R. W. Blair, MBE; Church Army 2nd NZEF; retail trader; Christchurch; born Takapau, Hawke's Bay, 1 Sep 1915.