As we approach Remembrance Day it is an appropriate time to reflect upon the value of Defence Force Chaplaincy.
Churches of Christ have a long and illustrious history in this sphere of ministry. When war led to the formation of the First Division of the Australian Imperial Force, there were in the Commonwealth Military Forces (CMF) a number of chaplains of the Baptist Church, several belonging to the Congregational Churches and a few representing the Churches of Christ. Under new Chaplaincy Regulations these three had been grouped for administrative purposes under the title of “O.P.D.”, i.e., “Other Protestant Denominations” than Church of England, Presbyterian or Methodist.
The original Churches of Christ Chaplains with the First A.I.F. were George T. Walden MA who served on Gallipoli, in Egypt and the Western front; George P. Cuttriss who had fought in the South African war and was posted to France; Henry A. Proctor who left with Reinforcements and was posted to France; Arthur E. Forbes DCM who had previous experience in the South African war left with Reinforcements and was posted to France; Hebert R. Taylor who was posted to Egypt and Palestine; and Joseph C.F. Pittman who served in camps and depots in the UK and as a transport chaplain. They were all local church ministers, but all had chaplaincy experience with the CMF.
These five all gave distinguished service. Walden, for example, went into Germany with the occupying forces and oversaw the demobilisation of Australian forces. He did not return to Australia until 1920. Cuttriss served as burials officer for the 3rd Division under Monash and was the one who decided on the location of the Villers–Bretonneux cemetery. Proctor, an engineer before becoming a minister, invented medical instruments and a device to remove tent pegs quickly to enable rapid redeployment. The writer owes a personal debt to George Walden who led his grandfather, a ship’s cook, to the Lord on a troopship off the coast of Gallipoli. At home many of our ministers served as part-time chaplains in the various camps across the Commonwealth.
A number of our ministers, unable to become chaplains, enlisted in the Field Ambulance and became anaesthetists or stretcher-bearers. Two such were William J. Crossman and Dan Wakeley MM. Both became chaplains 4th Class at the close of the war and functioned as transport chaplains. There was dedication in these men. All seven mentioned above served as part-time chaplains between the wars, with Forbes and Crossman serving again during the Second World War.
Thus began the Churches of Christ involvement in Military Chaplaincy. It is not boastful to say that our small faith communion has played a significant role over the more than one hundred years of the defence force chaplaincy service.
Churches of Christ chaplains have served and still serve in all three services: army, navy, air force. They have served with distinction in many theatres of war in the last 70 years, beginning with the Korean War to current conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. A number of them have reached the position of Senior OPD Chaplain in their respective service. It is probably unique that the Crossmans, father and son, reached Senior Chaplain status in the army and air force respectively.
Currently there are 25 full-time and part-time Churches of Christ Chaplains ministering across the three services. And there are now ministers within our movement who were led to the Lord by a defence force chaplain. A number of the writer’s students have gone on to become chaplains.
What a marvellous ministry they have. As members of Churches of Christ we are obligated to pray for them and care for them. A couple of years ago it was a pleasure to share with them in their annual retreated. They are a group of men and women of whom we can be proud.