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Chaplains in the Armed Forces are dedicated to service, self-sacrifice and God

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, War, World War 1, World War 2 on Thursday, 27 June 2013

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This edited article about Christianity and the armed forces originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Army Chaplain, picture, image, illustration

A British Army chaplain writing a letter home for a wounded soldier during World War One

Sometimes you may see a man in the uniform of one of the three Armed Services who is wearing what we call a ‘clerical collar’ instead of the regulation collar and tie. You may also notice a purple ‘flash’ and the letters ‘R.A.Ch.D.’, which stand for ‘Royal Army Chaplains’ Department’ on the khaki uniform of the Army, and similar identification badges on Naval and Air Force uniforms.

Wherever the Forces of the Crown go, a chaplain goes with them. Normally one chaplain is appointed for every 1,000 men. His job is to provide religious services every Sunday, and also to be available to men in trouble, to visit them in hospital, and to help with any other personal problems they may have.

In the Army and Air Force, chaplains hold an honorary rank, not below that of captain or squadron-leader; in the Navy, they have a special position, with no fixed rank. Chaplains do not carry weapons and, though they may be in the heaviest part of a battle, they take no part in the fighting, but give all their attention to the wounded.

Chaplains have accompanied troops into battle for many centuries. The earliest of them were the private chaplains of kings and nobles. Their title ‘chaplain’ is from a Latin word ‘capellari’ meaning ‘cloak-bearer’. From the 4th century onwards, it was the custom for them to wear a half-cloak, in memory of St. Martin, who, on seeing a shivering beggar, cut his cloak, or ‘capella’ in two, and gave him half. He thus became an example of sacrifice and service for chaplains to follow.

It is in times of war that chaplains are most needed, because the armed forces are greatly increased then, and many thousands of men may be engaged in fighting far from home. Among them will be found clergymen who have enlisted as chaplains, leaving their churches in the care of others in order to be with their fellow-countrymen in every kind of danger. They are true pioneers on land, sea, and in the air.

In the Second World War, many chaplains spent long years as prisoners of war in Germany and Japan; others were wounded, while many a country clergyman today wears the ribbon of the Military Cross or Distinguished Service Order, earned on the battlefield during his days as a temporary Chaplain to the Forces.

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