Saving Bodies and Souls: Army Chaplains and the RAMC in the First World War.

See: Army Chaplains and the RAMC 1914-18

Army Chaplains are a fascinating part of military history. From before 1066, many armies have included clergyman within their midst. Over the course of military history, the role of chaplain.


In memorian, the Very Rev. John Gamble Geddes, rector of Hamilton, and dean of Niagara [microform] : born March 29th, 1811, died November 16th, 1891, in the eighty-first year of his age and fifty-seventh year of his ministry cc – creative commons

  • In 1796 the Army Chaplains’ Department formed under the first Chaplain General, the Reverend John Gamble, however, there were very few actual applicants.
  • The first Roman Catholic clergy joined the Department in 1836, followed by the Presbyterians in 1858, Wesleyans in 1881 and representatives of the Jewish Faith in 1892.
  • During the Crimean War in 1854, there was one deployable chaplain to 26000 troops. Whilst the Reverend Henry Press Wright did much for sermon leading and burial, still more support was needed. Within the Times, William Russell’s reports encouraged the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to finance more Chaplains of which sixty were ultimately deployed, twelve of which died.
A bronze cross pattée bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription FOR VALOUR. A crimson ribbon is attached
A bronze cross pattée bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription FOR VALOUR. A crimson ribbon is attached CC – Creative Commons


  • In 1879, the Reverend James Williams Adams was the first clergyman to be awarded the Victoria Cross as he served with the 9th Lancers at Killa Kazi.

  • During the First World War, 179 Chaplains died between 1914-18. In recognition of their devoted work, King George V conferred the prefix ’Royal’ on the Army Chaplains’ Department, bringing the RACD into reality. Chaplains also took on a more public profile as names such as Woodbine Willy and Tubby Clayton gained a reputation for providing comfort, care, and compassion to the men on the Front Lines.  Chaplains such as Reverends Theodore Bayley DSO, MC, VC, Noel Mellish VC, MC, and WRF Addison VC, and Father O’Reilly proved that they would go above and beyond, often to the point of putting themselves in danger, to protect and provide for the serving soldiers.

Chaplains ww1


  • Over the course of the Second World War new formations such as Airborne Forces had Chaplains learning skills such as parachuting. Again chaplains such as The Reverends Happy Harry Thorpe and HLO Davies in the prison camps of the far East became famous for tireless working to improve the moral of the captives during the horrors of life and death on the Burma-Siam Railway and of the notorious Shamshuipo Camp. 96 British and 38 Commonwealth Army Chaplains die during the war.

  • For the last 70 years chaplains have continued to serve alongside British soldiers around the world in conflicts in Korea, Suez, Aden, Northern Ireland, The Falklands, Iraq, Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan. The modern army chaplain often expertly balance their religious and morale building responsibilities as they attempt to support serving men and women in an increasingly complicated world.

To learn more about the role of chaplains and the medical services in the First World War, See: Army Chaplains and the RAMC 1914-18 and my published article titled ‘Saving Bodies and Souls’.

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