A WW2 Chaplain’s Letter from War
In our modern wars, service members are more likely to send an e-mail, video chat or even have a cell phone to talk with family back home rather than send a letter, but back before today’s technology, families had to wait for handwritten letters to make it to the battlefield and home again before hearing from their loved ones.
Often, the time taken to compose these letters created interesting combinations of thoughts that people at war experienced. This particular letter was written on 3 February 1945 by Chaplain Clarence W. Baldwin to a friend named Grace Byers who was living in Pasadena, California during the war.
In this interesting letter, Chaplain Baldwin talks a bit about the assignments he had already had during the war and how his current assignment takes him all around England and into London many times. He wrote about some “food for thought” from a gentleman named Clifton, that Grace had included in one of her letters. He later develops that “food” into a sermon outline for future use with his soldiers. Chaplain Baldwin also describes to Grace how he enjoys receiving letters from home though he does not always have time to answer, but has a system to reply when he has time.
Disconcerting in this chaplain’s letter, however, is his confession that his work as a minister is “too hard” and that he is “thinking about giving it up when the war is over” questioning “who the chaplain is supposed to see when his morale is low.” Fortunately, though, things must have gotten better for Chaplain Baldwin as he continued in the ministry after the war, pastoring at least one church in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Here is a transcript of the letter, followed by a picture of the original v-mail Chaplain Baldwin mailed to Grace:
It was very nice of you to write to me. I enjoyed your Christmas card, the letter and the enclosure of ‘Clifton’s’. He does have a nice idea and the ‘food for thot’ [sic] is very appropriate.
So you like California? I do not blame you at all. After being over here I like everything about the USA. The weather is perpetually poor over on this side of the world and there is no place to go to find the kind of weather you like as we do back home. We can’t do as you have done [and] go to California or to Florida.
You notice that my address has changed again. I really get around. I have been in the Infantry, Medics, Ordinance and now I have a supervising job as District Chaplain. This work entails a great deal of traveling and I am seeing England at government expense. I get into London often and find myself better acquainted with that city than I am of most cities back home.
I hear regularly from home. Sis writes to me very often and I do not always find time to answer her. You will excuse my tardy reply to your letter. I always relish the idea of getting letters and most always answer them even though I may not do so very soon. I keep a file of unanswered letters and when I have a day off as I do today I get busy and answer many of them. There is no use for me to go anyplace on my day off. It would be too much like the proverbial Busman’s Holiday.
I just now stopped writing this letter to read again the ‘Food for Thot’ [sic] and I find at least one good sermon in the material. I think I shall call it ‘This is the Time and the Place.’ The material suggests that yesterday was mine, tomorrow will be mine but today is mine. The other two belong to God. Also, another bit in this paper suggests that we should not look at the grass in other person’s yard to our own opportunities wherever you are. [sic] Time and place, today and here. It should work out don’t you think? I could use the text ‘Do not be anxious about tomorrow’ which should be appropriate.
Some of these times I will let you know how the men like it. Already I have an illustration to pop into my mind. Always the preacher. Walking around the streets building sermons – day dreaming and what not. Seriously though, I am thinking about giving it up when the war is over. Believe me it is too hard, I know. A ministers life is very difficult. Always thinking about sermon material, programs, attendance, sick calls, problems, problems, problems. The other person never realizes that you may have a problem of your own. So they continue to pile them up on your shoulders. I have often wondered who the chaplain is supposed to see when his morale is low. It is, in a way a lonely life. Well, now you know, the chaplain comes to you.