THE ROLE OF THE ARMY CHAPLAIN IN
HER MAJESTY'S FORCES
-From A Scottish Perspective
The Reverend David VF Kingston CF
" If it be the will of God in this voyage that I doe not returne, I am weel pleased to offer up my Life for the honour of my God, and the defence of my Countrie, which I apprehend to be in great hazard both of religion and liberties. I trust to die in the faith of Christ and heartie love of King Charles."
The Reverend Robert Baillie Minister of the Church - Writing in 1639
Robert Baillie's letter written in the 17th Century from a Scottish army camp could arguably be the "raison d'etre " of every minister of the Church who has served as a military chaplain However the concept of the man of God serving alongside the military forces of Crown and State goes back beyond the days of Robert Baillie to the pre-history of Old Testament times when the presence of the Priest on the battlefield was accepted before the walls of Jericho fell.
Historical texts tell us that throughout history, it has been customary for troops to be exhorted into battle by their Priests or Holy men. Indeed when Julilus Caesar invaded Anglesey he was met by an army of tribesmen who were led into battle by their religious leaders. Caesar's subsequent massacre of these Celtic Priests whom he saw as providing a the backbone of the resistance was meant not just as a show of strength but as a precautionary measure which would rob the people of their spiritual direction and ensure his permanent conquest of the island. It has however been argued that Military Chaplaincy in its more modem sense can be traced back to the year 312AD and Constantine the Great's defeat of Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, near Rome.
Constantine's victory led to his conquest of Italy and its final adoption of the Christian faith. Eusbius writing almost a quarter of a century later revealed that Constantine had been inspired by a vision in the sky of a radiant cross, and the words "In Hoc Signo Vinces," which became the official badge of the Royal Army Chaplains Department in 1930. It was a later suggestion of King George V that changed the latter to "In This Sign Conquer" which has remained the motto of the department time ever since. Although the Military Chaplain first appears in England under the reign of Edward I, it is not until after the Reformation in 1578 that the Reformed Church of Scotland accepted the necessity for the attendance of ministers to serve with the army and it established a precedent that such ministers should be appointed by the Courts of the Church.
It has been argued that the appointment by James Melville in 1584 of Elders to manage Kirk discipline over exiled Scots living in England began the practice of having a Kirk Session in every Scottish Regiment. The Scottish Chaplain therefore had a more established place, as he now became an integral and important functionary of his regiment.
On 30th March 1639 John Spalding writes that the Earl of Montrose, who had taken up arms in defence of Presbyterianism. " cam not to Abirdene as the toune expectit; but fra the Lynkis, about 4 efternone, marchit touardis Kintor, with his army in brave ordour, whair that nicht thay incampit, and Sonday all day also, having thair awin minister and heiring preiching."
And at the Battle of Edgehill in October 1642 it was written that "The Chaplains rode up and down the Army through the thickest dangers, and in much personal hazard, most faithfully and courageously exhorting and encouraging soldiers to fight valiantly and not to fly."
The practice of forming Kirk Sessions within the army began in earnest with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who in 1808 formed "The 93rd Highlanders' Church " Two sergeants, two corporals and two private soldiers were appointed as Regimental Kirk Elders and a stipend was paid to its newly chosen minister, the Rev. Dr George Thom who had been a Church of Scotland Missionary in Capetown. The Kirk Session was reconstituted in 1934 in Rawalpindi India with three officers and three other ranks being ordained to the eldership. Later the Kirk session fell into captivity in Singapore here much of its communion silver was lost. In 1954 whilst the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were based in Bury St. Edmonds its Regimental Kirk Session was once again reconstituted this time with the help of Elders who travelled from the Church of Scotland charge of Crown Court Church in London. As a previous chaplain to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders I can testify to the fact that the Regimental Kirk Session of that battalion continues to bear witness to God's Kingdom and is a credit to its calling.
The example set by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was copied by other Scottish battalions such as the lst and 2nd Battalions Seaforth Highlanders, lst Battalion Black Watch, 1st Battalion Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the 1st Battalion the Gordon Highlanders. It is hoped that with the recent amalgamation of the lst Battalion the Gordon Highlanders and the 1st Battalion Queens Own Highlanders that the Kirk Session of the Gordon Highlanders will be reconstituted as the Kirk Session of the newly formed 1st Battalion The Highlanders. The Church of Scotland has continued to provide Ministers of Word and Sacrament to serve alongside the forces of the crown. Indeed it was the only National Church to provide a full compliment of Army Chaplains (both Regular and Territorial) when war broke out in 1939 and continued to meet the call for additional men to the close of hostilities in 1945. In all 327 Church of Scotland Army Chaplains volunteered, of whom l7 were killed in action or died in active service, 30 were decorated for valour, and 40 were mentioned in despatches. This record is unequalled.
It is important to remember, that despite the uniform and the unique circumstances in which the chaplain operates, that he is a Minister of Word and Sacrament who works unarmed and who is called to work within the wider ministry of the Church of Scotland.
Essentially the task that they face is no different to that of the Parish Minister as they too are called to conduct regular public worship and administer the sacraments to the people of God. Organising marriage, conducting funerals, home visitation, visiting the sick, school chaplaincy and work with the various uniformed organisations are all tasks to which the military chaplain is called.
However it has been argued that the chaplain has one immense advantage over their parish brethren in that " He is intimately sharing the life of his flock from morning till night: eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, doing the same jobs, enduring the same discomforts and perils, experiencing the same joys and sorrows, sharing the same traditions, the esprit de corps, of the unit."
The chaplain exercises their ministry by almost operating outwith the military rank structure of the unit in which they serve, despite whatever rank they may carry on their shoulder. This allows the chaplain to have access to officers and soldiers alike, for it should never be forgotten that the chaplain is pastor and confident to the whole unit from the commanding officer down to the youngest serving private soldier. This is vital in any understanding of how the military chaplain exercises their ministry within the military context. The chaplain operates very much alongside those who he is called to serve, and by doing so becomes very much part of the unit. This occurs very naturally amongst Scottish battalions who expect to have their own chaplain, preferably, although not exclusively, from the National Church. It has been said that Scottish battalions place a tartan blanket around their Padres. There is some truth to this statement. This is partially due to the culture, which helped raise and sustain the respective Scottish regiments, and also it is felt that their chaplain should be able to more readily identify with the "Jocks" with whom they work.Like any Minister the forces chaplain ministers to the spiritual and moral needs of the unit, and as such is the Commanding Officer's adviser on the spiritual and moral welfare of the men. There are times when a quiet word in the ear of the Commanding Officer or Company Commander can ease the pain of a sticky welfare situation within the unit.
This does not mean however that the Chaplain is free to break a person's confidence. Any information, which is passed on by the chaplain, is given only with the express permission of those who seek their help. The chaplain therefore will work closely with the Unit Families Officer, the Army Welfare Service and SSAFA. From basic training, to working with a regiment, a brigade or a division the chaplain has a vital role to play. In commenting on the work of the Very Rev.J.Fraser McLuskey sometime Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland who served as chaplain to the SAS behind the German lines in Northern France in 1944, David Stirling D.S.O., M.B.E.writes "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." A Padre best commends that great truth to those in danger by being there and sharing the work.....For us his wartime contemporaries in the S.A.S Regiment, he has remained our, our very own padre and perhaps more importantly, he is regarded as an honorary, if unofficial, chaplain to the present S.A.S. He knew all about the wartime strains and stresses of the fighting man and the country at war, but he also understands the even worse strain on a peace time S.A.S. soldier whose job it is to confront today's terrorists."
The work of the forces chaplain is one, which has continued over the centuries, and one, which is as essential today as it ever was in any age. It is a ministry which has much to commend it for there are many in our armed forces who seek the friendship of those who will listen and those who continue to walk the narrow path of the Kingdom Of God. I would like to close with the words of T.B.Stewart Thomson M.C., T.D., D.D., and sometime minister at Govan Old Church Glasgow who writes " As I think of all the rich and manifold opportunities opening before Divinity students and young ministers who enter upon this sphere of work, whether with the regular or auxiliary forces of the Crown, I cannot but feel that there is no higher, no more fruitfully rewarding task to which any Presbyter of our Church could possibly be called. Had I had my own life to live over again, I think that it would be as an Army Chaplain that I should most desire to serve both God and man. " Amen to that.
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