Our Warriors Camp Comforts in the Role of the Good Samaritan
The Chaplain-General's Department at the War OfficeHarmonious Co-operation of the Churches at the FrontThe Rev. Lionel Studd Army Chaplains at MonsThe Rev. O. S. Watkins Accompanies the Retreat to TournanHeroic Chaplain Wins the D.S.O. Work of the Chaplains on GallipoliThe Rev. J. A. Luxford at Anzac Burial of the DeadDeath of the Rev. William Grant Prayers at Walker's Ridge GullyArmistice DayThe New Zealanders and their PadreSuvla Bay-Mr. Luxford Loses a Leg The Dean of Sydney holds Communion Service under Shell FireService in a " Jack Johnson " Shell HoleColonel McKenzie, of the Salvation Army, Wins the Military MedalTwenty Weeks in the TrenchesThe Rev. A. G. Parham Wins the Military Cross Canadian Chaplain Buries Comrades in No Man's Land Single-handedThe Rev. Edward Noel Mellish Wins the V.C.The Battle of LoosChaplains of the Highland BrigadeService in a Cellar at YpresFather William Finn at Seddul-Bahr.
a French priest in the front lines
Early in the Great War even the newest and youngest British soldier learned to call the chaplains by a special name, padre father. It was a significant title, sure proof that the chaplains had won the affection and confidence of the men. What the chaplains how worthily they carried out their high task, can be judged to some extent from the official honours' lists. One chaplain-a South London curatewon the Victoria Cross, while many were given the Military Cross and other decorations for gallantry in the field. The long list of clergy killed and wounded in the war tells its own talethe naval chaplains who sank with their ships; the workers with the Army wounded in the trenches of Flanders, torn asunder by shells in the advance on the Somme, or cut down while comforting the dying in the Dardanelles. But the crowning testimony to their work came from the men among whom they laboured. It is not-too much to say that thousands of our men had their whole purpose of life turned by the lessons learned from the simple services in the gullies of Gallipoli, in barns and dug- outs in Flanders, or in open-air gatherings, where the ceremonies of faith were ever liable to interruption from chance shell or gas attack.
The work of the Churches in the British Army is controlled by the Chaplain-General's Department at the War Office. At the beginning of the war one chaplain was allowed to each brigade; but this number was found inadequate, and was later on considerably increased. In addition to the regular chaplain of the brigade Anglican for English regiments, Presbyterian for Scottish, etc. other Churches could obtain the right of appointing chaplains under certain conditions. The British chaplains were drawn from the Anglicans,' Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Wesleyans, a Nonconformist Board, and Jews. With the Dominion forces the field of selection was even wider. Thus the Australian Government appointed thirteen Salvation Army officers as military chaplains The Chaplain-General to the Forces, Bishop Taylor Smith, had, before joining the Services, done distinguished service in West Africa, first as Canon Missioner in Sierra Leone, and subsequently as bishop of that diocese. He acted for a time as chaplain to the Ashanti Expedition, when his work brought him in touch with Prince Henry of Battenberg during his last illness. He brought back Prince Henry's last messages to his wife and to Queen Victoria. He was appointed one of the honorary chaplains to the Queen, and when the bishop retired from his see in Africa, he was appointed to control the religious work of the Army. Next to him were the Rev. Dr. Simms, a Presbyterian minister, principal chaplain on the western front, and Bishop Gwynne of Khartoum, appointed to control the Church of England clergy at the front. Both of these held the rank of major- general in the Army. At home there was at first some difficulty about selecting the chaplains so as to give proper representation to the different Churches and in adjusting their ranks. At the front there was little or none of this. Every Church worked together in almost complete harmony. Men sank for the time their differences. Catholic helped Congregationalist in works of mercy; Methodist and Jew cooperated; the Presbyterian assisted the Catholic priest in some of his duties, and the priest reciprocated by visiting and taking comforts to the Presbyterian's flock. A religious journal in England became alarmed over this, and complained that the distinct lines of denominational positions were being wiped out by the men in the trenches.
One chaplain admitted that this was true. "We have all seen a regiment come out from England, every man decked out like a Christmas-tree, with writing-cases, Thermos flasks, and all kinds of fallals pressed on them by friends at home," he said. "Meet that same regiment a week or two after, when it has been in action. All the Christmas decorations have gone. The boys have learned that they have quite enough to carry without them, and have got down to bare essentials. So it is with us chaplains. We find in the stress of war that all we carry are the essentials of our faith."
One of the warmest eulogies of the work of the Y.M.C.A. was passed by the head of the British Jewish Church; and the senior chaplain at the front, a Presbyterian, asked the Bishop of London for his blessing when the bishop was leaving after a service in the fighting-lines.
When war broke out, ministers of every Church volunteered to serve as chaplains. Comparatively few could be accepted. Others determined not to be denied. Scores of Presbyterian ministers enlisted in the ranks or obtained commissions, since there was no other way. One of these resigned his charge to take a commission, because he said that he could not look the lads of his congregation in the face if he did otherwise. He died soon afterwards, leading his men at Loos. Many Church of England curates were anxious to enlist as private soldiers. Here, however, their bishops intervened, and forbade them. It was not the work of a Christian minister, they declared, to fight. He must continue his work at home, or at the most, he must go as an ambulance worker with the Red Cross. Most of the clergy unwillingly submitted; some put on khaki and could be found in the months that followed driving motor-ambulances, organising ambulance squads, or serving in other ways behind the lines.
The Rev. R. J. Campbell told how, on one of his visits to the front, "one West of England vicar introduced himself to me and laughed at my bewilderment when I looked at his grey hairs and then at his private's uniform. 'Oh, yes,' he remarked, 'I am over age right enough, but not for my particular job. I drive an ambulance out here; at home I am a parish priest, but in both places I have the cure of souls.' "
A few Anglican clergymen, who deemed themselves fortunate indeed, enlisted at the very beginning, before the bishops' prohibition was known. One of these, the Rev. Lionel Studd, was the first English clergyman to be killed in the war.
The Studds are a famous English family of country gentlemen and cricketers. In the days when Moody and Sankey first visited England, Mr. Studd, the grandfather of Captain Studd, came under their influence. Up to this time he had been distinguished as a leader in every kind of sport; now he won fame of another kind. He joined with Quintin Hogg at the Polytechnic in Regent Street, London, the most successful religious institute for young men in Europe. Mr. Studd's sons followed in his footsteps. The Studd brothers were among the finest cricketers of their day. One of them went as a missionary to China; the other took the leadership of the Polytechnic when Quintin Hogg died. The grandson, young Lionel Studd, maintained the family tradition. He was keen on games; he was an active Territorial, and he was also strongly religious. On Trinity Sunday, 1914, he was ordained as a clergyman by the Bishop of London. That summer he worked as a curate in the parish of Holloway. Then came the call of war. He had not yet resigned his place in his old corps, the 12th Battalion of the London Regiment. For a moment he hesitated as to what was his duty. But not for long. His curacy was given up, and he joined his regiment.
Early in 1915 he and his battalion were in the trenches outside Ypres. Their position was being heavily bombarded, and he had some narrow escapes. " The thing that strikes me most is that it seems the most natural thing in the world to be here," he wrote. " It doesn't seem either heroic or terrifying. In fact, we were shelled last night again, and I slept peacefully through the whole shelling. After all, what is there to be afraid of? If one is killed it is merely the beginning of a life far fuller than the present one.
On the next day he was again in the. trenches, when he was hit on the head by a shrapnel bullet, and died a few hours later. He never recovered consciousness. He had given a fine example of the parson as the fighting man in the trenches. If he was the first English clergyman to die in this way, there were soon many to follow him, and his little grave outside Ypres, with a simple wooden cross over it, recalls a young life well spent and bravely ended.
The work of the Army chaplains in the early days around Mons is a romance of itself. One of the most vivid accounts of their experiences was given by the senior Wesleyan chaplain, the Rev. Owen Spencer Watkins. Mr. Watkins was first attached to the 14th Field Ambulance. He arrived at the front just as the retreat from Mons had begun. The ambulance, after forming a dressing-station, was ordered to retire, with the rest of the army. "In haste the Red Cross flag was hauled down, the waggons packed, and even as we moved out of the yard round the buildings we had occupied as a temporary hospital the shells began falling, and in half an hour the place was a smoking ruin."
For three days he retreated with his comrades to Le Cateau, three days in which they had only six hours' sleep and two real meals. During the day the heat was almost tropical; at night it was fiercely cold. Rain came on freezing rain. Men dozed as they stumbled along; some fell and had to be left where they lay; padre and private were happy when they could pause for a brief spell and rest on a pile of corn sheaves in the open field in the rain and cold. At Le Cateau our army turned on the enemy, and the immortal battle followed. After a time the approaching German batteries made it necessary for the ambulance to move still farther back. To the chaplain was given the work of shepherding the wounded who could walk, and seeing them safe to Busigny railway-station. "I never want such a task again," he wrote. "Up and down that road I galloped, urging one poor fellow to hop faster, expostulating with another who, seated by the roadside, declared he could go no farther, and that to fall into the hands of the Germans would be no worse than the agony he endured as he walked. At last I came across a farmer's cart, and taking the law into my own hands, commandeered it, and made the man come back with me and pick up all who could walk no more. Time and again there would be a burst of shrapnel in the road, but as far as I could see nobody was injured. Just off the road the cavalry were at work, doing their best to guard our flank as we retreated, for now I learned we were in full retreat. Amongst the cavalry the casualties were heavy. Such as we could reach we carried with us. At last, to my infinite relief, Busigny was reached, and I was relieved of my charge."
The retreat went on. At Roumont Mr. Watkins found not only the church but also a neighbouring school packed with wounded. "The scene presented was such that I will not harrow your feelings in attempting to describe it. I passed down the lines of broken men, saying such words as God gave to me, but not daring to tell them that we should have to leave them where they were." Still on! The dreadful night that followed left its mark on all who passed through it. Aching in every nerve and in every bone, thirsty beyond words, so long without food that they had forgotten to be hungry, they pressed on. At one point the padre paused and dismounted, feeling that he could go no farther.
In four days he had only had ten hours' sleep and three proper meals. He sat by the roadside holding his horse, and once went off to sleep. He reached soon after sunrise an ambulance-waggon, with a water-cart. The water was wanted for the wounded. Just then a battalion of exhausted infantry came up, saw the cart, and made a dash for it. Thirst had now reached a point where it was torture. Mr. Watkins spoke to the men and explained that there was very little water left in the cart, and that it was wanted for the wounded. "I'm thirsty myself," he said, "and I'm awfully sorry for you chaps, but you see how it is; the wounded must come first." "Quite right, sir," the men replied at once. "Didn't know it was a hospital water-cart." And parched as they were, they moved on.
The retreat continued until September 6th, when the troops paused at Touman, south of Paris. Then they turned on the enemy. "At dawn on Sunday, September 6th," wrote the chaplain, simply and nobly, "we turned our faces north once more, and thanked God that we were able to do so. It was another Sunday without public services, but it was rich in private communion on the march, in bivouac, and ambulance-waggon, and as at the close of the day I wrapped myself in my greatcoat to sleep in the long grass by the roadside, I thanked God that He had honoured me by calling me to such high service."
There were many chaplain heroes in the great retreat. Here is the story of another. A party of British wounded were hidden in a cave. Word was brought to a brigade, and a chaplain headed a rescue-party. The party found that the only road which approached the cave was being heavily shelled by the Germans. The chaplain ordered his companions to halt. He was on horseback, they were on foot. "You stay where you are," he said. "I will ride through. Wait ninety minutes, and if I don't return, report to headquarters." He started off before they could stop him, right through the death-laden zone. Time after time it seemed as though a shell had got him. Time after time he escaped as it were by a miracle. Then they lost sight of him.
The ninety minutes passed, and the padre had not returned. The stretcher-bearers went back and reported. They were ordered to return and wait for half an hour more, and then, if the chaplain had not arrived, to go into the cave. At the end of twenty-five minutes the chaplain appeared riding as coolly as though out for an afternoon trot, taking no notice of the shells whistling all round. He had found that the wounded there had already been attended to by a retreating company. He had remained on to minister to them. The chaplain was given the Distinguished Service Order; the soldiers who had witnessed his bravery declared that he ought to have had the Victoria Cross.
The Gallipoli campaign illustrated another side of the life of the chaplains.
Here was an army called upon to endure the worst that war can give. Day and night, in the trenches or behind the lines, the men were never out of reach of the enemy fire. Weakened by disease, working perpetually at the highest strain, crowded together in a small space for months amid fierce tropical heat, with little shelter and no comfort, they were constantly called upon to undertake the most desperate ventures. How they fought and how they died the world knows.
Attached to this army were a number of chaplains, Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and Salvation Army. If ever men were called upon to prove their faith by works, these were. Their parishes were the trenches; their church services had to be held Under the shrapnel fire of the enemy; their very Communion gatherings were frequently broken into by enemy snipers or spattered by enemy shells. It was their daily task to be among the reeking dead, to rescue the wounded under fire, to endure to the full the dangers and discomforts of the men. They more than rose to the occasion. Catholic priest and Salvation Army brigadier, Methodist padre and Presbyterian minister alike, showed as splendid examples of supreme courage as any recorded in the history of the Christian Church. The experiences of the Rev. J. A. Luxford, senior chaplain with the New Zealand contingent, were typical. He was at the great landing of the Australian and New Zealand troops at Anzac on the morning of April 25th, 1915, going ashore with a field-ambulance. There was already plenty to do. While the fighting was continuing a little way ahead, men were bringing the wounded in. The doctors had everything ready, and there on the beach, amid the crack of bullets and the din of shell fire, they hastily rendered first-aid. As the Anzacs pressed farther on, they brought their wounded back by every possible meanson donkeys, on the backs of their fellows, on improvised stretchers, bearing the mangled men through the gullies and down the cliffs as best they could. The sea around was literally red with the blood of the wounded men blood from the bandages, the stretchers, and the dressings rinsed in it.
Picture the chaplains busy at first-aid; busy, too, administering the last consolations of their faith to dying men. A few hours later another duty called them. There were many to be buried. Dead bodies cannot be kept for long in this climate. The ministers wanted to give them Christian burial, but how could it be done? Everywhere they were exposed to snipers from the hills around.
For a few men to gather together even for a funeral would mean that they would be picked off, one by one, by Turkish riflemen with telescopic sights, concealed in sheltered positions behind.
It was resolved to wait till midnight. Graves were dug, and the little party moved out quietly to perform the last rites. There were two chaplains, a Catholic priest and Mr. Luxford. Bodies were gently lifted in and the service had begun, when suddenly a Turkish machine-gun opened out on the position. There was no time to discuss what should be done. The burial-party took cover. The two clergymen jumped into the grave and, lying low, finished their service while the bullets swept overhead. Some of the soldiers had gone on to the hills that evening and had gathered a number of wild flowers, and when the Turkish machine-gun fire ceased they came back again and scattered flowers over their comrades' graves.
It was a grim introduction to a grimmer time. The little foothold won by the Anzacs at tremendous cost consisted in the main of one valley: Shrapnel Gully with lines of posts and ridges on either side of itSteele Post, Courtney Post, Quinn's Post, Pope's Hill with the direful Deadman's Land around, and Walker's Ridge. The Australians and New Zealanders here were never out of reach of the enemy's fire. In most campaigns the man who leaves the trenches can obtain some rest behind the lines. At Anzac there was no rest. "Snipers were a special plague. When the Turks retired they left behind them picked marksmen hidden among trees and behind rocks, covered with branches or bushes or in other ways, so as to be invisible, and provided with a stock of ammunition and some provisions. These marksmen would lie still and wait, and, unseen themselves, would pick out and shoot down man after man. The only way to locate themsave when someone saw the flash or the slight haze from the fire of their rifleswas to note the direction of the bullets and to follow them up, a. very difficult work. Death was always in the midst of the Anzacs. It was a pilgrimage of death and pain.
One of the most frequent tasks of the chaplains was to give Christian burial to the bodies of men who were killed. In the European field of war some endeavour was made to keep trace of the graves of the soldiers. In Gallipoli it was practically impossible, save in exceptional cases. The strain was so great, the work so tremendous, and the danger so constant that all that could be done was to try by some means and in some way to inter near where the brave had fallen, and to hold an abbreviated service over the remains of all that could be reached. Hundreds lay beyond the lines, whom even the boldest could not get at .
The British and the Turkish lines almost touched one another at some points. There were places where the British held the first part of a trench and the Turks held the end, a barricade separating them. It was here that one chaplain, the Rev. William Grant, a Presbyterian minister from New Zealand, died. He was up in the front trenches, and had reached a barricade across them when he heard moaning on the other side. He looked across the barricade; a wounded Turk was lying there in agony. By some oversight the chaplain had not been warned that the Turkish troops were on the other side. He walked round the barrier, raised the Turk and started tending his wounds. Two Turkish soldiers peeping round the corner saw a man in a British officer's uniform. They did not take time to observe what he was doing, but shot him dead on the spot.
Religious services were held wherever possible, now among a company just going out into battle, now under the shelter of a small hill, now with the aeroplanes buzzing aloft and the bombs dropping near by. On one occasion a battalion at Walker's Ridge Gully was going out on a desperate endeavour, and before it started Mr. Luxford came up to it The chaplain suggested that they should have a prayer together. The major in charge eagerly assented. Picture the scene! The men amid the fierce heat wore a very minimum of clothing. They were in their shirt-sleeves. Athletes' "shorts" left their legs bare. As. they stood up under the evening sun the chaplain started the hymn, "Abide with me," in which all joined, and then he read from the Prayer Book the beautiful prayer to be used before a fight at sea.
O most powerful and glorious Lord. God, the Lord of Hosts, that rulest and commandest all things; Thou sittest on the throne judging right, and therefore we make our address to Thy Divine Majesty in this our necessity, that Thou wouldest take the cause into Thine own hand, and judge between us and our enemies. Stir up Thy strength, O Lord, and come and help us; for Thou givest not alway the battle to the strong, but canst save by many or by few. O let not our sins now cry against us for vengeance; but hear us thy poor servants begging mercy, and imploring Thy help, and that thou wouldest be a defence unto us against the face of the enemy. Make it appear that Thou art our Saviour and Mighty Deliverer, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
Then they sang " Rock of Ages," and moved out to battle, fighting none the worse for their prayer. Out of a thousand men who went out, only one hundred and fifty answered the roll-call a few hours, later; most of the remainder lay wounded, dying, or dead on the rocky front. The major was one of those who did not return.
Then came armistice day, a day as dreadful as any. Large numbers of dead were lying between the lines of the Turks and the British. Their bodies in the tropical climate were decomposed, spreading disease around. Both sides agreed on a truce to bury the dead. A line was drawn along the centre. The Turks were not to go beyond this on one side or the British beyond it on the other. The Turks were-to hand all the British dead to their comrades and the-British to do the same with the Turkish fallen. The British parties came in their shirt-sleeves, stained and wearied with much fight ing. The Turks sent their companies up clad in fresh uniforms of clean khaki. The contrast between the two was very striking. The officers on either side talked together. The British had a very genuine respect for the Turks, who they felt fought bravely and fought cleanly, and the Turks reciprocated the feeling. It was soon seen that all hopes of sorting out the dead were impossible. They could not be moved, for often they fell to pieces when touched. Hour after hour during that long day the chaplains, amid the reek of indescribable corruption, performed the last rites over hundreds of graves. At times the decomposition was almost too much to be endured, and then it was the business of the chaplain with a word of encouragement to nerve the burial-parties to go through with their direful task.
One group of three dead figures was found, a major in the centre, a sergeant and a corporal supporting him. It was easy from the positions to reconstruct what had taken place. The major had fallen, shot in the leg; his sergeant and corporal had picked him up, and were bearing him back through the zone of fire when all three were shot down and died where they lay.
It was one work of the chaplains to take the identification discs from the dead soldiers and to preserve and gather up any little things, like letters or photos, likely to prove of interest to friends. In one man's pay-book, still clutched in his dead hand, they read the beginning of a letter which he had written as he lay dying. It was to his mother. "Dear Mother, I am hard hit. I shall never see you again. God------" And then the letter ceased.
Summer was coming on. The great heat was growing more and more unendurable, yet it had to be endured. The flies were an indescribable plague. Every man chaplain, officer, private alikehad to do everything he could for the wounded and the sick. Disease, due to the closely packed positions of the men and to the insanitary surroundings, eventually carried off even more than the enemy's bullets and shells. The New Zealanders showed in many a way their appreciation of their padre. He had a dugout on the hillside. Some of them, passing, noticed it. "That's not far enough in, padre," they said. "A fragment of shell might get you there." And so they set to work and dug it farther in, to be safe from shrapnel bullets. Then, while the padre was away on one of his tasks, they gathered sprigs, branches of trees, and green leaves to make it cool, soft, and attractive. At another time Mr. Luxford was carrying a wounded man on his back from the trenches. "I won't have that!" said one burly soldier, coming up and endeavouring to relieve him of his burden. But the chaplain who would not carry a wounded man on his back, go into the front lines with words of consolation, or advance if needs be with charging men, would have been little use at Gallipoli.
Then came the final crowning experience at Suvla Bay. A great blow was being struck that would, it was hoped, end the campaign and give Britain the Dardanelles. The Anzacs started from Suvla Bay, attacking with the utmost gallantry the Turks on Sari Bair and Chunuk Bair. The ground was one vast labyrinth of trenches, saps, and traverses. Barbed-wire entanglements were erected at every spot, shells were bursting, bombs exploding, and innumerable machine-guns were planted where they would do most damage to the attacking troops. How the Anzacs landed, how they cleared point after point, and then how victory was at the last moment taken from them by the failure of some other groups to advance from Suvla Bay, has already been told in this history. Their failure was one of the most glorious failures this world has known.
Three of the chaplains accompanied the New Zealand troops who took part in the first landing. Others came later. They all endured to the full the danger, the thirst, and the misery from heat and flies, of their comrades. They went out into the gullies, seeking their wounded and helping them when found. Mr. Luxford was one of the three. Hour after hour he kept on. After one specially trying experience he sat down for a moment on a stone, tired out. Ashe paused there a Turkish bullet struck his leg severing the femoral artery, deflected, and travelled around the leg, inflicting a terrible wounda wound which, in spite of every endeavour, made it necessary to amputate the limb.
The Dean of Sydney accompanied the Australian troops to Gallipoli. At the commencement, the soldiers were not quite sure whether they liked the Dean or not. He was a Talbot, a member of one of the great territorial families of England, and possibly they thought him a little stiff. What first won them to him was his absolute coolness during times of peril. For example, on one occasion he was holding a Communion Service on the side of a hill. For a Communion cloth he had a Red Cross flag. There was nothing else to be had. A little congregation gathered around him. The service had barely begun before the Turks opened out with their heavy guns on that part of the line. Shells were bursting all around. The soldiers, accustomed as they were to shell fire, looked nervously up, and would not altogether have objected to an announcement that the celebration was postponed. The Dean took no notice. He did not show by so much as the flicker of his eyes that he heard or saw the shells or was conscious of the danger. The ceremony proceeded steadily, solemnly, without abbreviation, to its close. And no one was injured.
"There's a man!" said the Australians. When, a little later, the Dean was caught by a bullet as he was carrying up surgical supplies for the wounded at the front and was nearly killed, the men's confidence in him was confirmed. In his dug-out on the torrid hill-sides of Gallipoli he organised his little church. By a hard squeeze half a dozen men could get in his bomb-proof apartment at once. It was vestry, choir room, oratory, and a spot where many an anxious soul found comfort. The soldiers organised a choir for him. They dug a trench near to his abode "Ambulance Trench," it was called. The choristers even ambitiously trained themselves in the intervals of fighting in anthems and part-singing. When at the end the Dean left them, no one held more firmly the affection and confidence of the men. The Dean's Communion Service under shell fire did not stand alone. The Army chaplain had to hold services wherever he could and however he could. In Flanders the chaplains sometimes gathered the men in shell-holes. "I had a very interesting service with the men of one battery," wrote a chaplain with the North Midland Division. "The only secluded spot we could find was a large 'Jack Johnson' shell-hole. Fourteen of us gathered in it, and we had a good time there, conversing of things concerning the Kingdom. Firing was going on all round us, but it only served to intensify our assurance of the promise, 'I am with youeven to the end.' '
Another noted Gallipoli chaplain of a very different type was Brigadierafterwards ColonelMcKenzie, of the Salvation Army, who won a high reputation among the Anzacs for absolute fearlessness. On more than one occasion he led the charges of the troops against the Turks, himself unarmed. He declared to the soldiers that he had prayed with them and preached to them, and he would be ashamed not to share their danger with them when they were in a tight corner. His distinguished bravery was recognised by the Government by the bestowal of the Military Medal.
McKenzie reached the front with the 1st Brigade of the Australians at the end of the first week of May. At the spot where he landed the Turkish trenches were within fifty yards. There had not been as yet any chaplains there, but there was abundant need for them. The troops had been paying very dearly for their boldness. Attacking the Turks without guns, armed only with rifles and bayonets, and facing a deadly hail of shrapnel and machine-gun fire, they had carried trench after trench, at a cost of over 5,000 casualties.
McKenzie's first work was to conduct the funeral service of the colonel of the 4th Battalion.
We found our colonel's body, he said, lying in an exposed position. We buried him at 9 p.m., and had to lie crouching to read the service, the bullets meanwhile whistling over my head by the hundred. I thought I was nearly "outed" on four separate occasions, twice with shells and twice with bullets. The first shell fell three feet behind me, and I threw myself flat on the road. I got covered with oil thrown up by the shell. The second shell fell the next day while I was conducting a funeral service. There were twenty of us, and the shrapnel fell all around and even into the grave, although by a miracle none of us were hit. One bullet grazed the top of my head and the other my right ear.
In ten days he had to read the Burial Service over one hundred and seventy men. Then came armistice day. Even he described it as "the most trying experience I have ever had. Many bodies had been robbed by the Turks and their identification discs taken off, and quite a number had to be buried 'unknown,' or 'unidentified'." Even here his faculty for making friends stood him to good purpose. He established cordial relations even with some of the Turks on that day. One Turkish doctor gave him his visiting-card and told him if ever he was taken a prisoner to show it and he would come to him. He invited him to afternoon tea in Constantinople when he was taken there. The Turks thought they were sure to get him and all the other British troops at Gallipoli. "What a pity," said the Turkish doctor, "that so many fine young men should come from Australia just to be killed!" The thing which the chaplain particularly missed was water water to drink and water to wash with. He and his comrades dreamed of a bath, and dreamed of the luxury of being able to take their verminous clothes off and change them, as other men dream of great bliss.
September found him with the rest of the Australians at Suvla Bay, and here he had some of his hottest experiences. In one of the biggest charges, where he advanced with the troops, his cap-cover was pierced in three places, his hand was hit, and a spent bullet penetrated his right side. But wounds in hand and spent bullet in side did not stop him. He reached the Turkish trenches with the rest of his brigade. Here he found a veritable shambles, with dead Turks piled up in places four and five deep. For twenty-four hours together he searched through these trenches, piled with dead and dying and badly wounded, to find his own Australian comrades. Some of them had lain wounded there amid the terrible heat and torturing thirst for twenty hours and more. Wounded men were weighted down with the bodies of the dead, and from among these tangled masses came the groans and cries of the smothering broken men.
For forty-eight hours he and his fellow-chaplains worked without any cessationthe most awful forty-eight hours they had ever lived. For five days he kept going with brief snatches of rest. Besides helping with the wounded, he had to conduct Burial Services over hundreds of men during these days, parties of men being buried in great groups While conducting a burial of fifteen, a bullet whizzed by within half an inch of his right ear while he was praying, and killed a man standing by his side.
He had been with his regiment for twenty weeks in the trenches without a break, and the great fight had come immediately on top of that. The regiment itself had been reduced to one hundred and eighty effective men. Even his iron frame almost broke down under the strain, the want of sleep, the want of foodstill worse, the want of water and the sight of the agony which he could do so little to alleviate.
Among the chaplains who did noted service at Gallipoli, the Rev. A. G. Parham, precentor of Christ Church, Oxford, received a Military Cross for heroism. He was attached to a brigade that was in the attack at Suvla Bay on August 21st. The shrubs on the Anafarta Plain caught fire. Helped by his servant, he carried a number of the wounded men to safety. On the following day he obtained a number of volunteers as stretcher-bearers and carried out the wounded from Chocolate Hill. After the battle he remained with the brigade in the trenches for ten weeks under shell fire.
When the rival armies settled down in the autumn of 1914 to the long trench warfare in France and in Flanders there was not for some time much opportunity for chaplains to distinguish themselves by special gallantry. One young clergyman, Mr. Guinness, the first to win a military decoration in the war, gained his reward by courage and initiative under very dangerous circumstances. But the ordinary life of the padres in Flanders during these months was full of danger. They had long lines to serve, and, in the course of duty they were constantly under shell fire. They had to make their homes mostly in broken-down houses, probably partly wrecked and torn by enemy fire. The noise of the aeroplanes overhead, the whistle of the approaching enemy shells, the sounds of battle, going on unintermittently, day and night, told of the reality of danger.
One young Canadian clergyman did a deed of courage in the No Man's Land between the British and the German lines which well deserves to be recalled. No Man's Land was blocked with dense masses of tangled, barbed-wire fronting either side. It was swept day and night, particularly at night-time, by the fire of machine- guns and by individual marksmen. Every night British and German scouting parties crept forth from the shelter of their parapets, repairing torn wires, seeking for enemy scouts, or raiding the opposite trenches. Frequently big attempts were made to rush the enemy's front, and although careful preparation before the advance was made many fell. Every effort was made to get the wounded back into shelter again, but it was not always possible to carry out the dead. In many points in this No Man's Land one could see black forms lying amid the wiresthe unburied bodies.
A Canadian battalion had fought fiercely over one section and had lost a number of men in No Man's Land. Every attempt to get in their bodies failed. A young chaplain often visited the front lines and often looked at these black figures. Some of them had been his old comrades. There was one group which specially affected him. Little but the skeletons were left now. These at least he determined should not be left to the sport of the winds.
Choosing a specially dark and wet night he crept out from under our own trenches towards the listening-post. Then lying low and going carefully he crawled from shelter. Every now and then the Germans sent up flares into the sky, flares which lit the whole heavens around. As soon as he heard the preliminary hiss of the flare he would drop and lie low, rigidly still. Every now and then there came the crack of a rifle overhead, or the clatter of a machine-gun opened out by the Germans at any point where they thought the British might be.
Crouching, making no sound, he stealthily dug into the damp earth. With infinite pains he scooped out a shallow grave. At any second the enemy might discover him. If they did so, that second would be his last. He knew it, but still he kept on. Then reverently he lifted up the remains of his old friends, placed them in their last resting- place, read the form of Christian burial over them, covered them up, and still in the utmost silence crept back to the shelter of the front-line trenches again.
It was on the western front that a clergyman gained the Victoria Cross, the second time since that great Order was instituted that it was bestowed upon an Army chaplain. The Rev. Edward Noel Mellish, curate of St. Paul's, Deptford, had the Cross bestowed upon him on April 20th, 1916, for most conspicuous bravery. The official account thus described his deed:
During heavy fighting on three consecutive days he repeatedly went backwards and forwards, under continuous and heavy shell and machine-gun fire, between our original trenches and those captured from the enemy, in order to tend and rescue wounded men. He brought in ten badly wounded men on the first day from ground swept by machine-gun fire, and three were actually killed while he was dressing their wounds. The battalion to which he was attached was relieved on the second day, but he went back and brought in twelve more wounded men. On the night of the third day he took charge of a party of volunteers and once more returned to the trenches to rescue the remaining wounded. This splendid work was voluntary on his part and outside the scope of his ordinary duties.
Mr. Mellish had already proved his courage. At the time the Boer War broke out he was only seventeen years old. Yet he went out with Baden-Powell's Police and did good work in the later guerilla stages of the war. He then settled at Jagersfontein, where his qualities as a leader of men were noted He was induced to enter the Church and became a curate at Deptford, where he remained until the call of the war took him away. His old friends at Deptford were the least surprised of any at his decoration. They knew him, and knowing him were prepared to expect the best from him. At the Battle of Loos he was able to help with the wounded under fire.
This battle gave many of the padres the opportunity to prove their qualities. The Gordon Highlanders, who took a prominent part in this fight, were given the order to charge with the Staffordshires straight at the German lines. As they dashed from their shelter the German artillery opened on them with high explosives and shrapnel, the German machine-guns blazed out, and the German infantry kept up a tremendous fire. The men fell almost in lines, but for every one who fell another dashed up behind, despite the fire. One company and part of another reached the German trenches. Unfortunately for them, the other half of their regiment and the Staffordshire Regiment accompanying them found, when they moved forward, that the heavy British artillery fire had not succeeded in destroying the German barbed- wire entanglements. They cut and hacked and fought to get through, but the thing could not be done.
The soldiers afterwards told how, in these heroic and desperate hours, when their regiment was largely wiped out, the chaplains showed their mettle. One chaplain, famous among the men for his cheerfulness and activity, crept out in the darkness beyond the trenches amid the heaps of dead. He was searching for the body of the colonel of the Staffordshires. Then, despite the fact that the machine-guns were firing constantly over him, he glided from spot to spot, securing identification discs of soldiers who were dead, and seeing if he could do anything to help those in whom a spark of life remained. One Gordon officer writing home at the time told how, "This young chaplain, an Anglican, had endeared himself to these Highlanders, how he crawled out into the danger zone collecting identification discs from the many gallant fellows who had been lying dead there, and how whatever was going on there (and there was usually something), he made a point of going round the firing-trench every day, doing much appreciated work among the men." "The padre," said another in writing of him, "is a jolly good fellow. We have just returned from a three days' trek. I saw no other chaplain marching with our brigade, but this one did the whole march with us; he walked every step of the way, carrying a pack like the rest of us, and also lending a hand with a rifle or two towards the end of the day. And he is entitled to a horse, too. He would not even take a turn on mine, which was otherwise most useful for the cripples."
Four Scottish chaplains attached to the Highland Brigade also had moving experiences. On the night before the attack they held special services both with the Royal Scots and the Gordon Highlanders. That night in their tents the chaplains waited while one by one officers and men came shyly in with letters and keepsakes to be sent home if they themselves fell. A little time later they listened while the colonel of the Gordons, in brief, stirring words, told his men what they had to do, and bade them "remember the name of the regiment." They cheered him to the echo. Then the chaplains waited at the advanced dressing-stationthe dressing-station for the wounded immediately behind the front line. It was here the wounded passed through their hands; here the dead that could be recovered were brought in; and here all the agony and torment that followed the great glory of the battle was witnessed. The scene was thus described by one of the chaplains:
All that day I was engaged in burying the dead. Through the following night the wounded came streaming in faster than they could be evacuated. Their condition was pitiable, for a cold, clammy rain had fallen persistently all day. Yet I never heard a murmur. Yes, I heard one. A young Aberdeen student, with a finely-chiselled face, lay on the table while the surgeon tried to give him unavailing relief, and as I held his hand he moaned out his sorrow over the failure of his battalion to hold the trenches they had won. I saw a Scot lying on the ground, plastered from head to foot with mud as with a trowel. I thought I recognised the yellow stripe in the tartan, and stepping gently over an unconscious form between, I touched him and said: "Are you a 1st Gordon, my lad!" His arm was crushed, his leg was twisted, but the white of his eye gleamed through the mud that caked his face as he answered with an unmistakable grin, "A wis this mornin', and A think A'm a half yin yet." And then in a moment he knew me, and reaching out his only hand he gripped me tight, and said, "Oh! minister, it's you. Ye might write to my wife, and dinna frighten her. A'll be a' richt yet." What a superb spirit! A jest for his own misery and the tenderest consideration for those at home. Such are the men who are bearing all for you on those grim fields in Flanders.
A cheerless dawn was breaking as I left that dreadful place. I noticed the stains upon my boots, and thought of Barbour's terrible phrase''reed wat shod." And I went to meet the Gordons returning. Grim and stern and silent they marched in, but still they held their heads high, as well became the " Gay Gordons." At the head of the column strode a young captain with the purple and white ribbon of the Military Cross gleaming on his breast (a year ago he was a divinity student of the Church of Scotland), and as I listened to him speaking a last word to the men as gently as a mother putting her children to bed, there was revealed to me something more of the nobility of the men with whom I had to do.
Private Ernest King, of the Northumberland Fusiliers, told in a letter home another story of an Army chaplain at Loos. King was a transport driver, and halted close to the range of rifle fire.
While standing there (he writes) I was patted on the shoulder by my chaplain, a big, fine, resolute man. After the exchange of a few words we parted, I to the left, where a heap of dead lay, and he to the right to the trenches. Early next morning we had run short of ammunition, and if it had not been for the tremendous energy put forth by the chaplain more men would have gone under.
With resolute courage he did the work of a dozen men, carrying close on fifty boxes of ammunition, one box in each hand, each box weighing six stone. In journeying to the trenches he had to go through a murderous rifle and shell fire. Then we saw him carrying the wounded and dead as fast as he could, and then burying the dead. For hours he worked at it incessantly, and was still hard at it when I was relieved. Afterwards I learned that he had worked incessantly all through that night, burying the dead and tending the wounded.
I have thought, in looking over the events of that horrible battle, it might have been a whole battalion wiped out had not our chaplain worked so nobly.
Many are the stories the chaplains told of the interesting conditions under which they held their services, sometimes in tunnels, sometimes in dugouts, sometimes in the open, sometimes amid the tottering walls of broken buildings in ruined cities such as Ypres.
What more impressive setting could there have been for a religious service than amidst the ruins of Ypres? Here was a city in ruins, a city where every house was a wreck, where every wreck bore witness to the prosperity of yesterday and the destruction of to-day. One chaplain, visiting Ypres, found his passage through the streets and through the great squares disturbed by the sustained ] shell fire of the enemy. A 42 cm. shell the biggest shell then known burst so near to him that it cast up the soil two yards from his feet. He joined a company in some cellars, and found they belonged to his old battalion. The dark, smoky cellar rang with song until midnight, when the soldiers moved out to their work. " Next morning," he Wrote at the time, "at 11.45 I had one of the finest services of my life with this company in a tunnel-shaped cellar, fifty feet by twenty feet, three lines of men sitting along each side, leaving a narrow aisle down the centre. As deeply reverent as any service ever held in a cathedral it was also hearty, homely, happy. I found it was easy to speak 'home to the heart.' We sang 'Lead, kindly Light,' 'Peace, perfect peace,' 'Through the night of doubt and sorrow,' in that order. Every word of each hymn had in it a living message, and was sung with solemn meaning in the very words:
Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale, Yet will I fear none ill, when I heard the whistle of a shell behind me. It grew louder and louder, rushing like a railway train overhead, and burst with a crashing roar half a mile away, near where the 4th Gordons were bivouacked. It was an occasional visitor from a naval gun which Tommy had christened with characteristic felicity the 'Ypres Express.' But I remember thinking at the moment that the most gifted organist could not have achieved with all the resources of his art such a solemnising accompaniment as it provided for the words we were singing. But not a man in the ranks before me moved a muscle, and I hope the padre kept his countenance, too."
The Roman Catholic priests earned the confidence and respect of the whole army by their great devotion and self-sacrifice. One in particular must be mentioned, Father William Finn, who met his death at Seddul Bahr, in Gallipoli, in the great landing there. When the ship in which he arrived with the troops approached the shore he was urged not to attempt to land with the men under the shell fire of the enemy. "A priest's place is beside the dying soldier," he replied. As he stepped on to the gangway he received a bullet through the chest. He kept on, notwithstanding, across the lighters, when two more bullets struck him, one in the thigh and another in the leg. To quote the description of a special correspondent who was present: "By the time he reached the beach he was literally riddled with bullets, but in spite of the great pain he must have been suffering he heroically went about his duties, giving consolation to the dying troops. It was while, he was in the act of attending to the spiritual requirements of one of his men that the priest's head was shattered by shrapnel."
Working under war conditions, the list of deaths of chaplains at the front was naturally a long one. In July, 1916, the Bishop of London said that sixteen chaplains had been killed, and that between five hundred and fifty and six hundred of the best of the younger clergy of the Church of England were then serving at the front. This list was soon augmented, one of the later victims being famous as a leader of the Y.M.C. A. movement in England, the Rev.. E. J. Kennedy; he endured such hardships during his year as chaplain that a few weeks after he returned home he passed away.
a soldier-priest in the French lines - illustration by Lucien Jonas
Back to Index