Discussion in 'British Army Units - Others' started by Verrieres, Jan 6, 2009.
BROOKES, DOM RUDESIND, r.a.cH.D., attd. 1bn
Father Brookes wrote his own memoires entitled ‘Father Dolly: The Guardsman Monk’ in which he describes his early life, his commission in the Irish Guards during WW1, his life as a monk and subsequent service as Chaplain with 1Bn Irish Guards in WW2.
From medal recommendation:
Father Brookes has been the chaplain attached to this Battalion ever since it came abroad. He has now served in both the Tunisian and Italian campaigns. In both these campaigns he has show almost unbelievable devotion to duty and bravery. No wounded or dying man wherever he may be has gone without Father Brookes’ attention.
He has been in places where the fire was impossibly heavy and yet he has given comfort to the dying without any thought for his own safety.
During the last few weeks, in probably the fiercest fighting the British Army has yet seen, this Priest moved through shot and shell never appearing too tired to go to the furthest points to help a wounded man. He acted as the Medical Officer’s assistant and on many occasions helped the stretcher bearers in their dangerous tasks of carrying men in.
There are not words strong enough to describe the wonderful and shining example Father Brookes gave to all ranks, and all the officers and men of this Battalion would give testimony to the tireless kindliness, inspiration, and help they all received from his hand. His personal bravery in addition to his priestly qualities gain him the admiration of all. The sight of Father Brookes pacing up and down reading his Breviary under heavy fire has restored the confidence of many a shaken man.
In recognition of this Chaplain’s extreme gallantry and unsparing devotion to duty, I recommend he be awarded the Military Cross.
Publications: Father Dolly: The Guardsman Monk
Very good post nice to see the photo of the open air service in the desert, my dad said the stopped for communion on the way forward, and both in Sicily and Italy, perhaps Ron could let us know what his unit did there.
The mention of Sherwood Rangers and especially the Book Tank into Normandy it tells
of how Sgt sleep met his end.
Sgt Sleep was a relative by marriage to my late mother, and his daughter is still in touch with the family.
Guys thanks and seasons Greetings to you all
From The Times, April 29, 1942:
ALBERT MEDAL (POSTHUMOUS)
The Rev. C.C. TANNER, Temp. Chaplain, R.N.V.R., H.M.S. Fiji
When H.M.S. Fiji was sunk in the Battle of Crete he stayed to save the wounded men from the sick bay, and was one of the last to leave the ship. While in the water he spend himself in helping men to rafts and floats, and, when the rescuing ship came up, in bringing over to her disabled men and such as could not swim. At length only one man remained to be brought across. In spite of his exhaustion, Mr Tanner brought him across and saw him safely on board. But when hauled up himself he died within a few minutes.
Chaplain The Rev. CHRISTOPHER CHAMPAIN TANNER, A.M., H.M.S. "Fiji", Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve who died age 32 on 23 May 1941
The Revd. Tanner was the only England Rugby player to win the Albert Medal during the second World War. B.A. (Cantab).
Remembered with honour PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL
Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 60, Column 3.
CWGC :: Casualty Details
BBC - WW2 People's War - Kit Tanner: A Hero of the Battle of Crete
Heroes of the Battle of Crete
Christopher Tanner | Rugby Union | Players and Officials | Scrum.com
From The Times, June 14, 1943:
NAVAL CHAPLAINS' GALLANTRY
Of the hundreds of Church of England naval chaplains serving in British ships and at naval shore establishments, 13 have gone down with their ships, two have been taken prisoner by the enemy, five have won decorations, and seven have been mentioned in despatches.
Four out of five chaplains who have won awards in this war were formerly incumbents or curates of churches in the London area.
The Rev. H.M. Lloyd, D.S.O., formerly curate of St. Mary's, Hendon, N.W.;
The Rev. H.P. Chappell, D.S.C., formerly curate of All-Hallows-by-the-Tower;
The Rev. J.E.I. Palmer, D.S.C., formerly vicar of St. Katherine's, Rotherhithe; and
The Rev. G.H.K. Sherlock, D.S.C., formerly vicar of All Saints', Hampton, Middlesex.
Mr. Lloyd won his D.S.O. when chaplain on board H.M.S. Illustrious. An official report states:-
"For gallantry and exemplary conduct. Worked incessantly on behalf of the wounded with complete disregard for his own safety throughout the action ... and he was conspicuous on the quarter deck, where many wounded men were isolated and a fierce fire was burning below, far into the night. During subsequent attacks on Malta he was constantly on the flight deck and between decks encouraging the ship's company by word and by his calm bearing."
Although no officially recorded, Mr. Lloyd did a running commentary over the ship's broadcasting system, describing for the men between decks how the fight was progressing. His commentary heartened and stimulated the men.
Of Mr. Chappell the official record states:-
"His Christian example was an inspiration to all." He won the D.S.C. as chaplain of H.M.S. Zulu when she was in fighting and bombing last December.
Mr. Sherlock, chaplain in H.M.S. Jervis, was awarded the D.S.C. for "outstanding zeal, patience, and cheerfulness and for setting an example of wholehearted devotion to duty." An officer who served with him wrote to the Chaplain of the Fleet:- "The good he has done is immeasurable. He is quiet tireless and utterly selfless in his work..."
The third D.S.C. winner, Mr. Palmer, received his award as chaplain in H.M.S. Penelope for "bravery, endurance and sustained devotion to duty."
The fifth chaplain to win an award was the Rev. C.C. Tanner, a former Cambridge and England Rugby player, and, until he joined the Navy in February, 1941, curate of Haslemere, Surrey. He was awarded the Albert Medal posthumously. Mr. Tanner was chaplain in H.M.S. Fiji when she was sunk. He concentrated on getting the wounded from the sick bay, and was one of the last to leave the ship. A survivor said: -
"In the water he was indefatigable in helping fellows to floats or wood, and swam about so tirelessly that when ultimately they got him on board he collapsed and died."
From The Times, December 9, 1943:
The Chaplain of the Fleet, the Ven. J.K. Wilson, said yesterday that out of about 400 Church of England chaplains now serving with the Navy, seven (including five of the R.N.V.R.) have been mentioned in despatches; one, of the R.N.V.R., has been awarded the D.S.O., three (also of the R.N.V.R.) the D.S.C., and five (two of whom are with the R.N.V.R.) the O.B.E. Fourteen chaplains have given their lives for their country, while one is missing and one is prisoner of war. In addition to the awards above, the heroism of the Rev. Christopher C. Tanner when the cruiser Fiji was sunk in 1941 during the evacuation of Crete, earned him the Albert Medal. More men are required as chaplains.
The Rev. H.M. Lloyd, D.S.O., formerly curate of St. Mary's, Hendon, N.W.
The Rev Henry Lloyd was a naval officer serving on the aircraft-carrier "HMS Illustrious" when she was severely damaged by German dive bombers in the Mediterranean in 1941. For his work with the wounded, he was awarded the DSO. After the war he became an Anglican priest. He was Dean of Gibraltar for ten years, and then Dean at the newly-built cathedral of Truro. He now lives in retirement in Sherborne, Dorset. He has assembled an collection of quotations from his favourite readings from all ages. Included are thoughts from St John the Evangelist to Jean Paul Sarte, St Teresa of Avila to Helen Keller, 1 Corinthians to J.F. Kennedy. Meditations on the theme of flowers gives the book its title, and inspires most of the pen-and-ink drawings taken from Christina Rossetti, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and several others.
Flowers of the Field: An Anthology of Encouragement: Amazon.co.uk: Henry Lloyd, Felicity Redman: Books
This officer has been Chaplain attached 1 KOYLI for the duration of the Sicilian and Italian Campaigns. Throughout these two campaigns he has distinguished himself by his continual devotion to duty at all times although he has been for the greater part under enemy small arms fire. On occassions too numerous to mention he has gone out under fire to the aid of wounded men never distinguishing between one unit and another, between friend or foe. Whenever conditions have been difficult this Officer has always been up at the front, cheerful and encouraging. He has had a great effect in maintaining the morale of our troops whilst his constant indifference to his personal safety has been an example to all.
Passed by 15th Inf. Bde. 25.5.44.
No LG Date.
Does the Lord move in mysterious ways?
We managed to secure a lift out towards the destroyers in what I'd call a whaler, manned by four soldiers of the Royal Engineers who were doing the rowing, and I got the platoon of 30 men into this boat with another 10, including an army padre I'd never seen before who sat in the middle of the boat.
We set off in the gathering dusk, and we were about 400 yards away from a destroyer when suddenly it up-anchored, swung round and started off towards England. The padre leapt to his feet and shouted, 'Lord, Lord, why hast thou forsaken us?'
We were so overloaded that with every stroke of the oars, water lapped gently over the sides, but when the padre leapt to his feet, the boat rocked, and water poured in. With one accord everyone yelled, 'Sit Down !' That great sound echoed across the water to the destroyer which turned round and came and picked us up.
Sound Archives IWM.
Obscure, maybe, but you never know, someone might be up for it:
Missionaries at War :: German Historical Institute London (GHIL)
Tweeted by the National Army Museum.
Cracking shot from the 'WW2 Humourous pics' friendface group:
Slightly larger version:
A service held for men of the US 29th Division in March 1945 at the Schloss Rheydt. Not sure what the previous occupant the home would have made of it all, he went by the name of Joseph Goebbels..
Mysterious and deliciously ironic ways indeed.
A good thread this and well worth a bump.
I see that earlier on I posted this small item about the Passover service that was held South of Cassino.
I remember that at the time there was something quite surreal about the whole situation.
in the company of about ten fellow Jews in my then unit (49th LAA) we were literally taken straight out of the line and ferried South to the Mignano area where we enjoyed what turned out to be an international service with fellow Jews of many nationalities present.
After the service we dispersed to our various lorries and within an hour or so were back in our trenches facing the Monastery
The ship is the Destroyer HMCS Algonquin.
Photos on this website
Crest Image from Ebay
direction sign, British, Church Army Hut. © IWM (FEQ 373)IWM Non Commercial Licence
A mixed bag of Chaplains etc.:
Chaplains at the unveiling of the Guards Memorial, 1927. Left to right: Rev. A.R, Yeoman, Chaplain General, Scottish Command, Rev. W. B. Hughes, Guards, Wellington Barracks. Rev. O. S. Watkin, Dept. Chaplain General. Rev. Guy Standing, Western Command, Chester., Rev. Fr.B. McGuinness, R. C. Chaplain, Aldershot.
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916. © IWM (Q 4060)IWM Non Commercial Licence
MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION. © IWM (Q 15711)IWM Non Commercial Licence
MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION. © IWM (Q 16833)IWM Non Commercial Licence
MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION. © IWM (Q 12108)IWM Non Commercial Licence
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916. © IWM (Q 4056)IWM Non Commercial Licence
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916. © IWM (Q 4505)IWM Non Commercial Licence
GALLIPOLI, 1915. © IWM (HU 57401)IWM Non Commercial Licence
THE LIBERATION OF BERGEN-BELSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP, APRIL 1945. © IWM (BU 4269)IWM Non Commercial Licence
THE LIBERATION OF BERGEN-BELSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP, MAY 1945. © IWM (BU 6591)IWM Non Commercial Licence
GENERAL MONTGOMERY DECORATES MEN OF THE 50TH DIVISION, NORMANDY, 17 JULY 1944. © IWM (TR 2015)IWM Non Commercial Licence
ALLIED FORCES CELEBRATE PASSOVER: JEWISH TRADITIONS IN WARTIME BRITAIN, APRIL 1944. © IWM (D 19335)IWM Non Commercial Licence
ROYAL AIR FORCE OPERATIONS IN THE FAR EAST, 1941-1945. © IWM (CF 394)IWM Non Commercial Licence
ROYAL AIR FORCE OPERATIONS IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA, 1939-1943.. © IWM (CM 4939)IWM Non Commercial Licence
THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR. © IWM (A 25473)IWM Non Commercial Licence
ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945.. © IWM (CL 236)IWM Non Commercial Licence
THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR. © IWM (A 11567)IWM Non Commercial Licence
ROYAL AIR FORCE OPERATIONS IN THE FAR EAST, 1941-1945. © IWM (CF 448)IWM Non Commercial Licence
ON BOARD THE BATTLESHIP HMS CUMBERLAND, NOVEMBER 1942. © IWM (TR 305)IWM Non Commercial Licence
THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR. © IWM (ABS 483)IWM Non Commercial Licence
Rather splendid Free French Dakota Church
An excerpt from The Scarlet Dawn (1949), by Rev. (Major) R. M, Hickey, MC
Roman Catholic Chaplain for the North Shore Regiment who landed on the shores of St. Aubin sur Mer on June 6, 1944.
The Scarlet Dawn
Into the night we sailed as silently as thieves bent on their journey under the cover of darkness. Not a light showed in all that vast expanse of boats, but here and there, by the reflection of the water, you could make out the indistinct form of a boat, like a giant whale sleeping. Only the dull throbbing of the engines broke the silence. We went down to our bunks, but it was hard to get sleep. We have been warned to keep our gas masks handy, for, in case of a German air attack, a smoke screen would be laid to blot out the fleet. It was warm and stuffy down there and, of course, the thought of stepping into battle at daybreak wasn't a thought to lull you to sleep; but we weren't jittery. The last I remember before dozing to sleep was Captains Gammon, McQuarrie and LeBlanc shooting a game of dice on the floor near my bunk. I found a shilling in my pocket and, as money had such little value there, I invested the whole of it in the game and dozed asleep.
I awoke with a start. Somebody was saying something about daybreak. The engines had stopped and the boat was still. We rushed up to the deck and there about ten miles away was the coast of France about to awaken to a tragic day. Overhead our planes droned past and in a few minutes the coast lit up with the well known flares of bombing; then, with a terrific crash, our heavy guns on the destroyers behind us opened up and the air was filled with the whistling of shells speeding on their way to destruction and death. Breathless we stood and watched - and there before us broke the scarlet dawn! No sun come up; the clouds hung low and dark; the waves rose cold and unfriendly like, and along the coast our bursting bombs and shells threw up a crimson curtain.
We lined up on the deck just as we had done on schemes. I took the pyx from my tunic pocket and received Holy Communion; then, as shells screamed and whistled and our planes droned above, I gave my men a general absolution. "To boats," came the command, and in perfect order, groups of thirty stepped into the little gasoline boats on the deck. Slowly they were swung out, then down, down, down, till they struck the water. It was seven o'clock. We pushed away from the "Brigadier" like life boats leaving a sinking ship. The sea was rough. Soon the area was dotted with our little boats bobbing up and down like sea gulls on a choppy sea. We lined up in position and started slowly over the ten miles to shore. The German guns had now opened up and their shells came screaming back to answer ours. In we moved. The last three miles were to be covered with a burst of speed. The German small arms fire was now reaching us. Suddenly our boat leaped forward with a burst of speed into the jaws of death! Not time was lost, the boats dumped as they turned, many were sunk; the water was covered with wreckage. Joel Murray from Cross Point and I landed together in the water but we could reach bottom and made shore. A young lad next to me fell, a bullet got him. I dragged him ashore, and there in that awful turmoil I knelt for a second that seemed an eternity and anointed him - the first of the long, long list I anointed in action. There was a long fifty yards of wide, open beach between the water's edge and the cement wall; if you could make the wall you were safe, for a time at least, from the enemy fire; but ah, so many of our fine young men didn't make it. There on the open beach they lay, dead or dying. It was our duty to get to them, so with our stretcher bearers and first aid men, Doctor Patterson and I crawled back again across that fifty yards of hell.
The beach was sprayed from all angles by the enemy machine guns and now their mortars and heavy guns began hitting us. Crawling along in the sand, I just reached a group of three badly wounded men when a shell landed among us killing the others outright. That is why the report got around that I had been killed in action. Someone saw the shell hit and figured I had got it too. The noise was deafening; you couldn't even hear our huge tanks that had already landed and were crunching their way through the sand; some men, unable to hear them, were run over and crushed to death. A blast shook the earth like an earthquake, it was the engineers blowing the wall. All the while enemy shells came screaming in faster and faster; as we crawled along, we could hear the bullets and shrapnel cutting into the sand around us; when a shell came screaming over, you dug into the sand and held your breath, waited for the blast and the shower of stones and debris that followed; then when it cleared a little, right next to you, perhaps someone you had been talking to half an hour before, lay dead. Others dying, might open their eyes as you reached them. By the little disc around their neck I knew their religion. If Catholic, I gave them Extreme Unction with one unction on the forehead, but whether Catholic or Protestant, I would tell the man he was dying and be sorry for his sins, and often I was rewarded by the dying man opening his eyes and nodding to me knowingly. It was a hard job to get the wounded on the stretchers and carry them to the shelter of the wall. I will never forget the courage of the stretcher bearers and first aid men that morning. If some men are living today, next to Almighty God they can thank men like Lieutenant Hisslip of Vancouver and his stretcher bearers, and I will always remember the bravery of these first aid from our own regiment, Edward Hachey, Buddy Daley and Bob Adair. They stayed with us on the open beach until we carried all the wounded we could to safety behind the wall and gave them what help we could.
Major Ralph Daughney crept along the wall to where I was. "Father," he said, "there's some of our men badly wounded up among the houses." I followed him. A ramp had been placed against the wall by now. Over it we went to what could have been sudden death, for the houses facing us about fifty yards away were still held by German snipers. I often wonder why we both weren't picked off as we came over the wall. I like to think a German sniper spared me; I like to think that a German sniper had me in his telescopic sight, but when he saw by my collar and red cross arm band that I was a chaplain, he stayed his finger - well, I like to think it. Ralph and I never reached those men. Two stretcher bearers ahead of us stepped on a mine just as they reached them and a terrific explosion killed the stretchers bearers and all the wounded. The awful concussion drove Ralph and me back; half dazed, we jumped down again behind the wall.
Like a hospital patient you lost all idea of time in action. Time meant nothing. We were told after that we had been on the beach for two hours. By now what was left of the regiment was up in the village clearing the German out of their strongholds. It was a hard slow struggle. Doc Patterson and I kept close to each other. We left the beach and, following a little path that led through an apple orchard, we reached the one cobble stone street of Saint Aubin.
The first French people I saw that day were some men, women and children crouching in a little cave near the beach. Up in the village the people had run to whatever protection they could find in cellars and out in the fields; some, unable to get away, were killed, others badly wounded. A man ran across the street, he wanted help; we followed him into his house and there on the floor lay his young wife badly wounded. Doc stopped the bleeding with a first aid dressing, and she tried to bless herself when I told her I was a priest and would give her absolution and extreme unction. Their children, three little girls of about four, six and eight, looked on terrified, maybe as much because of us as their mother. I spoke to them, but it only seemed to terrify them all the more. Then I remembered I had three chocolate bars in my pocket, part of my day's rations. I gave them to the little girls. Oh the power of a chocolate bar! The terror vanished from six brown eyes, and even there as terror reigned, three little girls attempted a smile as I patted their curly heads. "I think she'll live", said Doc. I told the husband what the Doctor had said. "Thank God, thank God and you," he answered and a new light was dancing in three sets of big brown eyes and Doc and I hurried away, feeling we had already made friends in France. I often wonder if the little woman lived. I'd like to go back to St. Aubin and visit that home again. Alexandre Constant, I think, was the family name.
As we came out we were caught in a barrage of German mortars. The handiest shelter was a cellar already packed with civilians. We huddled there for a while until Doc spoke his famous words: "We're no good here Father." How often we were to hear that from the Doc. When tempted to get under shelter and stay there, when we could be of help somewhere else, the Doc would remind us that "we were not good there." So, with that reminder, we started on again. We found B Company under Major Forbes and Capt. McCann in difficulty; they were trying to take a German pill box. A pill box looks just like a beaver's house, but you can't see what's underground. This one, as we learned later, had two underground shelters. They held on there till late in the afternoon; but when our flame throwers went into action over a hundred of them came out and surrendered.
Somehow, Doc and I lost one another, but our plans told us we were to meet at the church. Sure enough, I found him in the rectory which was already turned into a dressing station. It was filled with wounded civilians and soldiers. We made the rounds, then on we went to catch up to the regiment that was now moving up to attack the German headquarters at Tailleville. The place was an old chateau hidden in a clump of trees; it looked as silent as an abandoned farmhouse, but, when we got in range, every tree spoke with a tongue of fire. Quickly we dug in with the small shovels we carried on our backs. How you can dig when you're digging for your life! Foot by foot our men advanced through the network of trenches and barbed wire around the chateau. The Germans took their last stand inside the building and fought on till our tanks came up and blasted the side out of the place. Finally, about twenty Germans, with their hands in the air, ran out to surrender. The rest of their garrison lay around the yard or in the chateau, dead. They were the first German prisoners I had seen. They stood trembling with their hands up, you could see they thought we were going to shoot them. And now, when I recollect, I almost think shooting would have been more merciful than the awful barrage of words and tongue lashing they got from Captain McElwain.
The place was a maze of trenches and underground passages. One trench ran right to the beach. We knocked down the door of one underground passage and out trotted a dozen horses, three or four cows and a flock of hens, cackling their indignation. The Germans must have intended to make a stand there. What we were most afraid of now were booby traps. Bobby traps were simply tricky ways of blowing you up. You might innocently open a door and step right into the next world; you might press the starter of a newly acquired German car and go sailing through the air with it. One fellow picked an innocent looking beer bottle off a window sill and the whole side of the house fell on him with a terrific bang.
All was quiet now. Did some of us foolishly think it was all over"? Maybe we did, but we were to learn. Little did we realize then, as we learned afterwards, that only a few miles ahead, in the gathering dusk, the great German General, Kurt Meyer, now in Dorchester penitentiary, stood with his crack army anxiously awaiting orders from Hitler to strike. That hesitation right there in the gathering duck is what lost the war for Hitler. We learned, after the war, that Meyer wanted to meet us on the beach and fight us there. Had he been allowed to do it, I'd have little to write about and perhaps I wouldn't be here to write it. But every order had to come from Hitler, and his plan was to let us land and then hit us; but when, on the third night, Hitler gave orders to attack, Meyer's army found us too many and too strong.
Expecting the German artillery to open up, Colonel Buell and I jumped down into a German trench. "How is it going Colonel?" I asked him. "Well, Father, we're not near our objective yet; we should be in much farther than we are," he said, and I noticed a strained look on his face. "Let us thank God we're here at all," I answered, and by way of encouraging him more I added: "And look at all the nice hens and cows and horses we got out of it." Even in that tense moment that smile of his played on his lips. The Colonel doesn't know how much that smile encouraged me, it told me he was master of the situation. Then he was quiet, and I was quiet too, for I began asking myself how I would ever stand perhaps three or four years of this. Something answered and told me not to be foolish, that it could be all over for me very soon; that maybe in the matter of minutes or hours I would be lying with those already gone, for now bits of news were coming in; yes, so and so was killed; another was badly wounded; someone else was missing. Suddenly the booming of guns behind us and the whistling of shells overhead told us our artillery was in; but will you believe it, right there an old French woman made us and our artillery look ridiculous; for, with a pail in her hand, she sauntered cross the field, sat down on her milking stool and calmly milked her cow.
Night came on. All around you could her the clatter of picks and shovels as each man dug in for himself. I made the rounds of all the companies and returned about midnight and started digging in for myself. "Come in with us Father," someone sang out in the dark. I went over to find Fred Druet of Chatham and John Leet of Bathurst snuggled in a fine trench. There is always room for one more man in a trench you know, so in I crawled; but the part I'll never forget is the can of self-heating soup Fred Druet opened and handed to me. That was the first food I tasted that day. No sir, the Savoy in London never produced the like of it!
Leslie Walker, RAChD
War diaries revealed the horrors my father locked away forever
BY BRIAN M WALKER – 06 JUNE 2014
Today my brother Michael and I will stand on a beach on the Normandy coast. This beach is known as 'Gold' beach and it is where our father, Leslie Walker, landed on the morning of June 6, 1944 at the beginning of Operation Overlord, or D-Day as it is known.
Two points are of interest about his participation in the first day of the greatest amphibious invasion the world has ever experienced. The first is that he did not carry a weapon. He was a chaplain and so was unarmed.
The second is that he never talked afterwards about this day or his experiences in Europe over the next 10 months. Growing up, we knew he had been a chaplain because at church services he always wore proudly the scarf of the Royal Corps of Chaplains. But he refused to talk about these events, apart from sometimes remarking that war was hell.
In his effort to draw a veil over these events, however, there was something that our father forgot. One of his sons became an historian.
Recently I set out to find out what happened to him on D-Day.
I obtained a copy of his 'particulars of service' from central Army records in Glasgow. It recorded that on November 5, 1943 he was granted an emergency commission as "a chaplain to the forces, 4th class", with the rank of captain. In late November he was sent to the 6th Battalion of the Border Regiment, originally from the north of England but now based at Ayr in Scotland. Crucially, it was part of the 10th Beach Group, which meant it would have a key role in any invasion.
From a history of this battalion, we can read that the next three months were spent in intensive training, followed by a move to a base at Brockenhurst in Hampshire. Shortly afterwards the invasion began.
Last Saturday I went to the National Archives at Kew in London to look at the war diary of the 6th Border Battalion. This showed how the 6th Border Battalion formed the nucleus of the 10th Beach Group.
The task of a Beach Group was to land with the assault troops and then organise the base at the beach, which included a hospital, petrol and ammunition dumps, and port facilities, including one of the Mulberry Harbours at Arromanche.
The diary records that all personnel were moved to Southhampton and then divided into ships before sailing from the Solent on June 5 .
Their arrival at Gold beach on June 6 on the first tide is not described in detail, but it is likely that the worst of the fighting was over when they arrived. While his arrival on the beach may not have been especially challenging, the rest of the day must have been traumatic.
One of the roles of a chaplain was to give comfort to wounded and dying soldiers and to bury the dead. It is very likely that my father would have been fully occupied with these painful duties.
Over the following weeks this Beach Group played a very successful role in the arrival and movement of supplies. Between June 9 and July 8, 39,040 vehicles and 51,156 tons of supplies were brought ashore at Gold. Then in August, the 6th Border Battalion was disbanded and the soldiers were sent to reinforce other regiments.
By this stage, however, my father had already gone. His Army record shows how, on July 2, he was posted to HQ 30 Corps. What this meant was that he had now been moved to the front line. His record does not show if he remained with HQ or was sent to another battalion.
The war diary of 30 Corps reveals a very different scene from the settled and reasonably peaceful place of Gold beach. On July 1 the diary recorded "during the day a series of attacks by enemy infantry and tanks – probably 2 SS and 9 Panzer divisions". The enemy attacks were repelled but this remained an active front, on the edge of Caen. Over the next month the diary records tank battles, attacking enemy strongholds and frequent enemy mortaring, which was one of the main causes of British deaths and injuries.
At this point I ended my study of the 30 Corps diary. I know that it was involved in a number of heavily fought battles, but in August the enemy was eventually pushed back. By September, the Allies had taken Brussels and Paris.
I have not been able to find out what happened to my father in this second half of Operation Overlord. Last week, however, the Press reported on the personal war diaries of another chaplain from this campaign, Capt Leslie Skinner.
His account of the life of a front line chaplain casts an invaluable insight into what my father probably experienced.
The role of the chaplain included not just comforting soldiers, holding services and conducting burials. It also involved identifying dead soldiers and seeing to the removal of the remains of often badly destroyed bodies.
The report on Capt Skinner showed an extraordinary picture of a chaplain helping to wrap the body of a British soldier in sack cloth. He was smoking a cigarette to mask the smell of death.
Our father chose never to talk of these months, so we will never know exactly what he experienced. The records tell us a little of what happened but it is unlikely that we will be able to fill in the full picture.
To some extent, I believe he did not recount these events because he went on to have a fulfilled and happy life after the war. At the same time, I believe that he chose not to talk of these terrible days to protect us from the sheer horror of what he went through. Today we will honour his memory on Gold beach.
Brian M Walker is Emeritus Professor of Irish Studies at Queen's University, Belfast
From The Canadian Register, July 22, 1944:
Chaplains are Among the Heroes of the World War
By George Barnard, News Editor of English Catholic journal “The Universe”
Herewith is present what was probably the last article written by the late George Barnard, great English Catholic journalist, who for 20 years served in an editorial capacity on The Universe and as London Correspondent of the N.C.W.C. News Service.
“Quiet and unassuming” - an Englishman from a sleepy country village, a schoolmaster and a Jesuit priest, but above all “quiet and unassuming” that is the description of Father Bernard Mary EGAN, S.J., who suddenly finds himself the centre of a lively news story.
He was recently awarded the British Military Cross - one of Britain’s highest awards - for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” in battle. His gallantry is of a unique and modern kind - he is a priest paratrooper - chaplain to those daring men who take their lives in their hands when they leap from aircraft well behind enemy lines.
This quiet priest, who was a master at the well-known Jesuit College of Beaumont, which is under the shadow of King George’s ancestral castle at Windsor, not only volunteered for service as an Army Chaplain when nearly forty years old, but, having chosen the newest and most daring form of fighting, lost no time in qualifying for the coveted insignia (a blue parachute) which is the emblem of all those who have passed the exacting tests of jumping from an aircraft.
With Men in Tunisia
He did it so that wherever his men went he could go with them and share all their dangers, as is the habit of British chaplains. This in Tunisia in the spring of 1943, he was dropped with his men in the forefront of many battles and was able to give them the consolations of their religion under the heaviest enemy fire.
He was there, too, on the night of July 13-14 last year, when, having flown with his men to Sicily, he was dropped south of Catania, where the fighting was particularly fierce. By the fortune of war he and others found themselves cut off from the main body by many miles, and surrounded by enemy positions.
In this desperate situation, Father EGAN showed his quality. Collecting what he could of the scattered party from under the very noses of the enemy and in spite of the dark, he found them hiding places where they could lie safely until their opportunity came for slipping through the German lines, and, under his leadership, back to the British.
It was a cool and courageous piece of work, and symbolic of the reputation of Catholic chaplains have won for themselves in this war. There is, for instance, Father Cornelius O’CALLAGHAN, known to the tough Yorkshiremen of his own regiment, the GREEN HOWARDS, as “a grand bloke.” That tribute is especially worthwhile, because it comes from men who do not praise lightly for the regiment belongs to the famous 50th DIVISION, which has won in this war the name of “The Fearless Fiftieth.”
Father Cornelius is always well up in the battle-line, and is not easily stopped from going about his priestly work. At Akrit, in Tunisia, a mine blew up the ambulance in which he was riding. He promptly picked himself out of the debris and went on. Advancing in Sicily under heavy shelling, he was struck in the leg by a piece of shrapnel. He dis not bother about waiting for a stretcher party, but pulling the shrapnel from the wound, carried on with his men.
Sense of Comradeship
The sense of comradeship that has grown up between Britain’s Catholic chaplains and their men, is notable. Father Ian George FORBES, of the Benedictines, provides an instance. Father Forbes was before the war a monk of Ampleforth Abbey. He became chaplain of the COLDSTREAM GUARDS when war broke out. He went with the GUARDS through the North African campaigns, but when they joined the assault force in Sicily he was left behind. This, he found, was more than he could endure, so, having twelve days leave due to him, he spent it, not resting in Cairo or Tunis, but in Sicily, in the midst of the fighting.
Then there is Father Vincent GALLAGHER, S.J. He was taken prisoner in the early stages of the war and was interned in the Stalag of TORUN, Poland, with other Britishers. He was tactful and energetic and was able to do much for all the other prisoners in the camp, but especially, of course, the Catholics. He built up a happy congregation that celebrated Christmas, 1942, by singing the Missa de Angelis.
When arrangements were made for repatriating prisoners, Father GALLAGHER was one of those selected for return to England. But if he went home the camp would be without an English Catholic priest, and rather than that, Father GALLAGHER told the German authorities that unless they could guarantee that an English priest would be allowed to take his place he would not go. The Germans could not give this guarantee, so Father GALLAGHER stayed.
Such stories could be multiplied indefinitely. The English Catholic chaplain is playing his part in the war with the same courage, loyalty and self-sacrifice as the English Catholic citizen.
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