Sunday, November 6, 2016

During Remembrance Week, Remembering Those Who Served Men and God During War

On Remembrance Day, we pause to remember those who fought and those who gave their lives in war. But one group we rarely think about are chaplains—those who ministered to the troops during time of war and peace. I wrote about them in the Free Press in November, 2014.

On August 19, 1942, Canadian soldiers participated in the disastrous raid on the French port city of Dieppe.

Many acts of bravery took place during the attack, which was a disaster for the Canadians.

This included the actions of John Weir Foote, a Presbyterian chaplain with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. 

For eight hours, Foote helped care for the wounded at the regimental aid post, frequently leaving the relative safety of the post to aid wounded men on the beach.

Near the end of the battle, Foote helped wounded survivors into landing craft to take them back to safety in England. 

Offered a chance to return home with them, he declined the chance to escape—the wounded men still ashore would need him, he said.

Along with 1,950 other Canadians, Foote was captured and imprisoned by the Germans. Over the next number of years in captivity, he served as pastor to his fellow prisoners, preaching, leading Bible studies and keeping up morale.

When the war was over, Foote was awarded the Victoria Cross—one of only five chaplains to receive that award, and the only Canadian chaplain to do so.  

Foote was one of 1,400 chaplains who served with Canadian forces during World War Two. During World War One, 524 clergy served. At least 16 died during the two conflicts.

Along with preaching sermons and providing pastoral services, military chaplains organized sporting events, attended to the wounded during battle, and wrote letters home to families of the dead.

Soldiers viewed chaplains who ventured close to the fighting with respect and admiration. They were less sympathetic to those who stayed far to the rear.

Another chaplain who served with distinction was George Anderson-Wells, an Anglican priest who was a chaplain to the Fort Garry Horse in World War I.

Known as the “fighting bishop,” Anderson-Wells also served as a senior chaplain in World War II. He was the most decorated chaplain in the British Commonwealth.

Another was Father Rosaire Crochetiere of the Royal 22e Regiment, who was killed near the frontline in 1918 while helping the wounded.

One of only two Canadian chaplains killed during that war, he was described by the men of his regiment as being like “a father, a brother, a confidant, and a friend.”

Another notable chaplain was Captain Walter Brown of Peterborough, Ont. The first Canadian chaplain to land in France on D-Day, during the battle he attended the wounded and helped bury the dead.

Brown was captured by an SS unit on June 7 and executed by his captors—the only Allied chaplain killed in such fashion during the entire war.

Brown was buried in France, but his communion kit was donated to the Huron College Chapel, in London, Ont. where it is still used today during worship services.

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was an Anglican priest who served as a chaplain with the British army during World War I. In his poem His Mate, he wrote about his work on the front line. It says, in part:  

I remember how I reached them.
Dripping wet and all forlorn,
In the dim and dreary twilight 
Of a weeping summer dawn.

All that week I’d buried brothers 
In one bitter battle slain;
In one grave I laid two hundred, 
God, what sorrow and what pain!

And that night I’d been in trenches,
Seeking out the sodden dead,
And just dropping them in shell holes,
With a service swiftly said.

For the bullets rattled ‘round me, 
But I couldn’t leave them there,
Water-soaked in flooded shell holes.
Rift of common Christian prayer.

On Remembrance Day, it is appropriate to remember all who served and died in war—including those who served their country, and their God.

Photo above: Anglican chaplain Robert Seaborn of the Canadian Scottish Regiment praying over a soldier in France on July 15, 1944.

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