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The Services 1930 - 1956:

Royal Army Chaplains' Department

The Royal Army Chaplains’ Department (R.A.Ch.D) provided the religious support to the British Army. On its website, the department states: ‘We are proud to provide spiritual leadership, moral guidance and pastoral support to all soldiers and their families, irrespective of religion or belief.’

The Army Chaplains’ Department was formed on 23 September 1796 by Royal Warrant. It was, therefore, the oldest and most senior of all the services of the British Army, and ranked thirteenth in the Order of Precedence in the British Army. When it was formed, only chaplains from the established church of the state, the Church of England, were provided. In 1816, military ranks were introduced, although chaplains were usually referred to as ‘Padre’, rather than by their rank.

The spread of the department in terms of religion commenced in 1827 when Presbyterian padres were admitted. In 1836, the first Roman Catholics were appointed; with Wesleyans admitted in 1881. In 1892, the first Jewish chaplain was appointed to the department. The Church of Scotland, Free Church of Scotland and the Methodists had also been admitted by the turn of the century. In recognition of the service of the department during the First World War, it was granted the title ‘Royal’ on 22 February 1919.

The head of the department was the Chaplain-General to the Forces, ranking as a Major General. On 4 September 1939, The Reverend C. D. SYMONS, M.C., M.A., D.D., K.H.C. was appointed as the Chaplain-General. On 6 November 1944, SYMONS was replaced The Reverend Canon F. HUGHES, C.B., C.B.E., M.C., T.D.; who remained in post until 1951. On 6 November in that year, The Reverend Canon V. J. PIKE, C.B., C.B.E. was appointed.

Ranks within the R.A.Ch.D. were abolished by Army Council Instruction 500 of 1920, so Chaplains were referred to by their Class. Each Class had a rank equivalent, with entries in the Army List showing them ranking as. The Class and their ranking equivalent during the Second World War were:

Chaplain to the Force First Class – ranking as Colonel;
Chaplain to the Forces Second Class – ranking as Lieutenant Colonel;
Chaplain to the Forces Third Class – ranking as Major;
Chaplain to the Forces Fourth Class – ranking as Captain.

At the beginning of the Second World War, there were twelve First Class, thirty-one Second Class, thirty-four Third Class and forty-three Fourth Class chaplains in the Regular British Army. In addition, there was about one-hundred chaplains in the Territorial Army. On 24 August 1939, no less than two-hundred and thirty-three chaplains were appointed as war loomed, and the army expanded. By the end of the war, the numbers of chaplains had risen to over three thousand, five-hundred.

Each infantry battalion, armoured regiment or artillery regiment had one chaplain attached, graded at Chaplain to the Forces Fourth Class (Captain). During a battle, they often worked with the medical officer in the Regimental Aid Post, offering pastoral and practical support to the wounded. It is believed that ninety-six chaplains lost their lives during the Second World War.

Of interest, the first woman padre was appointed only in 2002, with Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh chaplains not appointed until December 2004.

For further information about the R.A.Ch.D., please contact the Royal Army Chaplains’ Museum at:

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