Army Chaplains in the First World War remain one of the most under-considered aspects of the conflict within the current historiography. At the outset of the war, there were 97 full-time Anglican chaplains, by 1918 this had risen to 1,985. After the declaration of war in 1914, the British Military was entirely unprepared for the number of volunteers who sought to enlist. This was particularly true of Army chaplains who prior to the war were often regarded by military authorities as more of an unaffordable luxury.
Over time this view would be overtaken by recognition of the role chaplains played in maintaining soldier’s morale. However, at the start of the conflict, there was no direct drive to encourage chaplains to sign up. Regardless, many religious men heard the call to serve their country and quickly volunteered. Already overwhelmed the British Army granted the new recruits the rank of “captain” and began to disperse the men across the services.
Without any particular training or guidance, many newly minted military chaplains found themselves being assigned to base hospitals, aid stations, and Casualty Clearance Stations. This began the development of the supportive and diverse role of army chaplains during the war as many became to find themselves undertaking a variety of roles outside of their religious duties and often questioning the place and purpose of faith at the front.
Through the diaries of soldiers, officers, and chaplains themselves, it possible to perceive the war from a unique and fascinating perspective. To find out more read the following article: S. Walker, ‘Saving Bodies and Souls: Army Chaplains and Medical Care in the First World War’, Postgraduate Journal of Medical Humanities, 3 (2016): 24-38.
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