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Shining a light on the padres

08 November 2013

Here is fresh research into war chaplaincy, says Robert Beaken


The Clergy in Khaki: New perspectives on British army chaplaincy in the First World War
Michael Snape and Edward Madigan, editors
Ashgate £65
Church Times Bookshop £58.50 (Use code CT611 )

A HISTORICAL conference was held in 2009 at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre to re-examine chaplains in the First World War. The papers delivered at that conference have been turned into the chapters in The Clergy in Khaki, with an excellent introduction by the editors, Edward Madigan and Michael Snape.

The subjects covered include Nonconformist chaplains, Free Church Revivalism, a Welsh perspective on Army chaplaincy, Scottish Presbyterian chaplaincy, "Woodbine Willy's" theology, chaplains in the context of military paternalism, Roman Catholic chaplaincy, the chaplains of British India, discourse on the post-war world by chaplains at the Front, chaplains and post-war reform of the Church of England, and the Royal Army Chaplains' Department after 1918.

Given that these chapters are based on conference papers - and because their average length is about 20 pages - they are in the nature of a series of snapshots or vignettes. Different readers will find different chapters more or less engaging. Because so much emphasis has been placed by historians on the Western Front, I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the chaplains of British India, and hope that this might lead to further research.

Inevitably, there are considerable gaps. In a book partly about Anglican priests, I should have enjoyed something about the part played by the eucharist in their lives and ministry, but there are only a few references in passing to the sacraments. Apart from the last two chapters, the treatment of the Church of England is fairly un- nuanced (and, in fairness, there was not room for much more). I was a little surprised that no one mentioned the 1916 English Church Union report Religious Ministrations in the Army.

I should have preferred the footnotes to be endnotes, and I would have enjoyed a few photographs of some of the people mentioned in the text. These, however, are quibbles. This is a very readable book, which I greatly enjoyed. As we approach the centenary of the First World War, we need to relearn much of our history, cutting through later layers of misrepresentation and prejudice. The Clergy in Khakiis an excellent resource, and I very much hope that its authors will publish further research on this fascinating and much misunderstood subject.

The Revd Dr Robert Beaken is Priest-in-Charge of St Mary's, Great Bardfield, and St Katharine's, Little Bardfield.




 Scouts' artist: Royal Academy-trained Ernest Stafford Carlos - seen (right, below his headstone) with a version of his famous painting of Christ with a Boy Scout,The Pathfinder, widely copied in stained glass - was killed in action in 1917, aged 34. In this letter (below) to his brother, a priest, he writes that, "should anything happen to me", his paintings can be sold. He was active in church "slum work" and Scouting in Kennington and Camberwell. Steven Harris's lavishly illustrated studyPainting in Earnest: The story of Ernest Stafford Carloshas contributions by Bear Grylls and an art historian, Paul Lewis (Lewarne Publishing, lewarnepublishing.co.uk, £12 plus £3 p&p)

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