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Tony Benn was a chip off the old block

21 March 2014


From Mrs Angela Robinson

Sir, - It is good to share stories about Tony Benn, and ponder his mindset. Here is one that illustrates the Congregationalist "rock" from which he was hewn.

When the father of Tony Benn, William Wedgewood Benn, who had been given the title of Lord Stansgate, was Secretary of State for Air, he appointed the late, great Revd Elsie Chamberlain, a Congregational minister (engaged and later married to an Anglican priest) as a chaplain to the RAF.

The King and Queen approved. There was stiff opposition, however, from the Church, and, in particular, Archbishop Fisher, who pointed out that the Army had women as "chaplain's assistants" - which he found acceptable.

At the time, Fisher was touchy on this subject, because Bishop Ronald Hall, of Hong Kong, had ordained and licensed a Chinese woman, already in a trusted position in a congregation that was cut off because of the war - the first ordained Anglican woman.

Even though he knew the pressure Fisher was under at the time, Lord Stansgate pressed on. When he read the new Royal Airforce manual, and saw that it listed Elsie as a "welfare worker", he ordered the whole issue pulped and reprinted, with Elsie in the list of chaplains.

She was much praised for her service, and later worked for the BBC and was active in pastoral and other ministries.

46a Rawlinson Road, Southport
Merseyside PR9 9NE

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