Curate Becomes an Army Chaplain

Curate Becomes an Army Chaplain

“When he changes his black cloth for khaki, the parson goes for a fortnight’s course to prepare himself spiritually for his mission, learn the customs of the army and the elements of drill.

“If Mr. Jones feels hot under his clerical collar as he steps out of the shelter of the vicarage and faces the world for the first time in an officer’s uniform, who can blame him? The transformation from civilian into soldier is hard enough for any of us. But, for Mr. Jones, the change is swifter, the experience more startling, the revolution extreme.

“Only yesterday, Mr. Jones was a village curate, a cog in the ordered routine of a rural parish. His days were neatly parcelled; his weeks were as peaceful as his centuries-old church; and the passing years were as changeless as the faces of the faithful few in the congregation on Sunday.

“To-morrow, all those things that seemed so permanent will have gone out of Mr. Jones’ life. Instead of a vicarage, he will have an officers’ mess; instead of a church, a parade ground; instead of an altar, a communion set in a suitcase; instead of the faithful few, the non-churchgoing majority.

“No wonder that Mr. Jones feels nervous. To-day, as he starts out from the vicarage in his too-new khaki uniform–bearing himself with as military an air as he can muster, picking the side streets in the fervent hope that he won’t be called upon to return a salute–Mr. Jones is out of his element; suspended, like a fish on a hook, between two worlds.

“In the last war, it was the practice for army chaplains to report immediately to their units. Without instruction, they were tossed–floundering–into the strange new world of army life. Somehow, they had to acclimatise themselves to their surroundings.

“In this war, the change of setting is being affected more gently. Instead of going straight from the church to the camp, army chaplains are posted to a special school where, during a fortnight’s course, they are able to prepare themselves, spiritually and technically, for their new work.

“The chaplains arrive from their parishes in batches of fifteen to twenty. For a short time, anyhow, they are able to enjoy the comfort of their fellow chaplains’ company and, for a short time, they are able to settle down in a half-world–part army, part ecclesiastical–before, one by one, they are posted to their wartime ministries. the school–run by the army chaplains department in the shadow of Chester Cathedral–has two aims. First, it helps the recruit chaplains to bridge the gulf between civil and army life. Second, it teaches them the bare principles of military custom and elementary drill. Instruction in both subjects is given by chaplains who were combatant officers in the last war.

“When he arrives at the school, the commandant helps Mr. Jones to fill up the complicated army form which registers him as having been granted an Emergency Commission as Chaplain to the Forces (Fourth class) in the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department. Mr. Jones’ rank is automatically captain (although he gets less than captain’s pay and, whatever his rank, should always be addressed as ‘Mister Jones’).

“Next, he issued with a service gas mask and a field communion set (sacred vessels and altar cloth). Then his training begins. He learns gas mask drill, how to salute, map-reading, the conditions under which he will work as a chaplain, his functions in connection with welfare work, the history of the Chaplains’ department, and the elementary principles of military law. This last is important. It is a part of the army chaplain’s work to advise and assist men who get themselves into trouble. He also gives specimen sermons, joins in informal discussions on church matters, and gets used to his Sam Browne and the idea of army life.

“Parsons of all denominations (including Jews, but excluding Roman Catholic priests, who have a completely separate Chaplains’ branch) attend the school. Each of them takes a service for the others in turn.

“Finally, towards the end of the course, each man is notified which unit he is to be posted to. Theoretically, one chaplain is allocated to every 1,100 men. In practice, there are not enough chaplains yet to go round. Mr. Jones says goodbye to his colleagues and, feeling very lonely, goes on his wartime mission.

“He represents the only branch of our military life which has no equivalent in the German army. He stands for the thing which, in the final reckoning, is the reason why we are at war.”

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Text and photos from Picture Post magazine, 14 March 1942, pages 17-19 (TCK archives).

Captions from photos:

Photo #1: “The Curate Becomes an Army Chaplain: He is interviewed by the Assistant Chaplain General (Western Command). Mr. Norman Jones, of Horsham Parish Church, is granted an Emergency Commission as Chaplain to the Forces (4th Class). He attends a preliminary interview with Asst. Chaplain General, the Rev. L. Gethin Hughes, M.B.E., before taking his fortnight’s course at the Chaplains’ School in Chester.”

Photo #2: “RELIGION IN BATTLEDRESS: Canon Sinclair Gives Daily Talks to the Chaplain Recruits on the Problems of Their Wartime Mission. Parsons of all denominations–excluding Roman priests but including Jewish rabbis–attend the school. Each of them, in turn, takes a service. Each of them is invited to deliver a specimen sermon. All of them attend Canon Sinclair’s daily addresses in the school chapel, on the spiritual side of their work in the army.”

Photo #3: “The Canon of Chester Cathedral. The Rev. R.S.B. Sinclair, M.C., shows Mr. Jones how to find his way round the school.

Photo #4: “The Army Chaplain Learns How to Salute. Saluting is the only drill the army chaplain need learn, but the Chaplains’ School sees to it that he does that properly. The Commandant studies Mr. Norman Jones’ technique.”

Photo #5: “The Are Taught How to Fix a Respirator. The chaplains are given respirator drill by the Rev. J.J. Arthur, M.C., who was a combatant flying officer in the last war. Mr. Jones proves himself an apt pupil.”

Photo #6: “The Commandant of the Chaplains’ School Gives a Talk on Army Traditions and Customs. The Commandant, the Rev. Stanley Astbury, M.C., explains army forms, the etiquette of the officers’ mess, the padre’s responsibilities and standing in an army unit. Now the Rev. Norman Jones and his colleagues are ready to be posted to one of the commands. Mr. Jones is the 649th chaplain to pass through the school.”

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Below are the photos and text in context:

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