Chaplains show courage with troops on front line

The latest in Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project’s talks was given by Dr Dan Jackson of the project group on Tuesday evening on the chaplaincy services in the war.

A packed Low Lights Tavern on the Fish Quay heard a comprehensive review of the many issues surrounding the role and function of the military chaplains as they strove to bring comfort to the men at the front.

Sometimes under the critical eyes of the commanders who wished to see the men infused with a fighting spirit, chaplains often trod a difficult path between their vocation and their patriotic sentiments; which on occasions saw them abandon their strictly non-combatant role and lead men in action when all their immediate officers had fallen.

Dr Jackson noted comparisons between the chaplains of the Church of England and those of the Roman Catholic Church.

Drawing on a wide range of sources he quoted the observations of Robert Graves in his famous autobiographical memoir – Goodbye to all that –where criticism of the Anglicans (certainly up to late 1915) was contrasted with admiration for the Catholic priests who went forward in action and strove at all times to ensure that their co-religionists had the rites and comfort of their faith in the hours of extreme danger and often near certain death.

The importance placed by the high command on the role of the chaplains, as they saw it, was reflected in the courage and willingness of most to endure the hardships of the men and place themselves in danger alongside the fighting troops.

Many of the characters of the war still remembered today were chaplains.

‘Woodbine Willie’ was the nickname of the Rev Studdert-Kennedy (he was always armed with a packet of the troops’ favourite cigarette); and the Rev ‘Tubby’ Clayton, founder of the refuge and place for quiet reflection he established a few miles behind the lines at Ypres – Talbot House in Poperinghe – where men of all ranks could mix freely and try to forget, for a brief time, the horrors to which they would have to return.

However, the amazing coincidence of the evening came after the speaker had noted the heroism of a double VC winner – Captain Noel Chavasse, of the Medical Corps, and son of the then Anglican Bishop of Liverpool.

Later, during questions, a member of the audience noted that she was the great niece of Chavasse and that her grandfather was Chavasse’s twin brother, who had served as a chaplain and subsequently appointed as Bishop of Rochester.

The public response to the forthcoming lectures at Northumbria University has been significant and has led to the project seeking a larger lecture theatre.

Notice of the new venues will be given in this column when the likely attendances have been determined.

To register an interest to attend any of the lectures from November 13 onwards, visit the website at www.tynemouthworldwarone.org