I have been collecting items (and looking for more ) related to Commonwealth Chaplains - especially the CCS. I realize that not everyone may know much about them so I am starting with a piece I wrote for a chaplain's group as a way of putting "the stuff" in context.
At the outbreak of hostilities between the British Commonwealth and Hitler’s Germany, the Canadian Military was scrambling to rebuild itself from the interwar era of complacency and neglect. There was no chaplain service and as reactivated units were being rushed to Europe, the chaplains of the First War were sent as experienced men. It soon became apparent that younger men would be needed to serve in the active regiments and by the time of the invasion of NW Europe many younger clergy had been recruited and placed into the field.
Canadian practice was to post one chaplain per battalion. Within a brigade, the denominational needs of the men were met by having chaplains of the member battalions share their services. Thus, a Roman Catholic could attend Mass with the Roman Priest of a neighboring battalion as a member of the Church of Canada (Anglican) could attend the Mass with another battalion. In Canada, members of the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian (some) and Congregationalist churches came together to form the Union Church of Canada and they supplied chaplains as well. In any case, the chaplain of a battalion served the needs of all members under his charge. It is of some import to note that the Government created two parallel chaplain departments, one Roman Catholic and one Protestant (Jewish faith needs were assigned to the Protestant branch).
Worship services were often part of the unit schedule appearing most commonly as a Church Parade. In some units, attendance was compulsory whereas in others it was voluntary. In Europe, it was not uncommon for the chaplain to negotiate the use of a local church. Services could (especially early on) follow denominational practices but the most common practice was to follow the prayer book based primarily on the Anglican (Anglican Church in Canada = Church of Canada) practice. In the field, the chaplain would conduct services in the field with small groups of men. Where time and circumstances would allow, larger services would be conducted often in larger churches and cathedrals.
As the war progressed, a series of small group meetings were instituted where men would come and share an “hour with the padre” discussing whatever topic came up. Unfettered by rank and protocol, the men were free to bring up any topic and often did . . . As the combat pressures began to lessen somewhat, a program was instituted were men could volunteer for a two week session in the rear (England) for spiritual training and reflection. In modern terms, we might describe this as a “retreat.” Two weeks away from the front, sleeping in plush beds and eating regular meals certainly would have been appealing to most all soldiers . . .
The long period of training up in Britain left men with little to do but grow home sick, bored and liable to get into trouble. CCS chaplains would often serve as the battalion “morale officer” organizing athletic events, shows, educational opportunities and tutors. As part of the battalion staff they were usually included in the organizational meetings and planning and frequently played a more prominent part in the life of the battalion than some would expect.
In combat, they would serve in the regimental aid post as well as accompanying the field ambulance (this refers to the corpsmen and stretcher bears rather than just a vehicle) to the forward areas frequently carrying the wounded back themselves and administering aid of both physical and spiritual natures. In the aftermath of combat, they would perform “last rites” and burial services, coordinate the recovery and temporary internment of the dead, record the area of burial for future reference, fingerprint or obtain dental impressions for otherwise unidentifiable bodies or parts, follow up with letters to families at home and console the survivor’s within the unit. Owing to the chaplain’s tendency to move fluidly around the front and given role, commanding officers could sometimes obtain a more timely assessment of his unit’s effective strength from the chaplain
Chaplains were assigned Honorary Rank. Thus, a typical battalion chaplain was carried on the rolls as Hon. Captain so and so. A parallel practice was the class system so that this same chaplain might also be known as CF 4th Class, or Chaplain-to-the-Forces, 4th class. Although this practice continues today, the abbreviation met with some interesting epithets. This nominal rank was carried on the uniform as the non-honorary equivalent. The Honorary Captain had three rank pips on each shoulder for example. The insignia of branch worn on cap and lapels was the same badge as worn by the Royal Chaplain’s Department of the British Army. This same insignia was worn on the black scarf worn during some worship services.
Liturgical clothing would vary according to denomination and were supplied by the chaplain himself or a denominational organization. This was true also of liturgical goods as well. The Government did supply two standardized communion sets: a “catholic” (Roman and Anglican) set and “non-conforming” set (Union) as well. The sets were both contained in a leather attaché type case that, although useful, was often found to be overly large unless a vehicle was at hand. Accordingly, most chaplains had a smaller pocket sized set of their own procurement.
As most chaplains were authorized a jeep or tilly, their personal combat gear would have been much like most officers without the small arms. Besides the items of religious use, the chaplains would also have carried notebooks and maps for recording where internments had taken place along with making notes for use later on when writing letters to those back home. Depressingly in most chaplains’ eyes was the issuance of a finger printing kit for obtaining prints from unknown or unidentifiable remains. In the end, such information might help identify someone and provide the means to help settle some bereaved families back home of what happened to their loved one.
As a group, the CCS chaplains were well regarded by their wartime congregations and proved to be indispensable in maintaining unit morale and effectiveness. The post war associations, commitments to faith, and involvement, proved numerous examples of lifelong influence in church life and corresponding actions in secular life by men under their charge. As the Second War melded the Canadians into a nation, it also provided a Providential means for the CCS chaplains to influence the morals and faith of a far-flung and highly independent people.