The Padre (Chaplain)

Chaplains in Gallipoli, September 1915. From left to right: Chaplains Merrington, AIF; King, NZEF; Dale, Royal Irish Rifles; McMenamin, NZEF; O'Connor and Crozier, both of the Royal Irish Rifles.

'I have once more to remark upon the devotion to duty, courage, and contempt of danger which has characterized the work of the Chaplains of the Army throughout this campaign.' (Field Marshal Sir John French, after the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, 10-13 March 1915.)

Chaplain to The Forces

Ambassador of Christ you go
Up to the very gates of Hell,
Through fog of powder, storm of shell,
To speak your Master's message: "Lo,
The Prince of Peace is with you still,
His peace be with you, His good-will."

It is not small, your priesthood's price,
To be a man and yet stand by,
To hold your life while others die.
To bless, not share the sacrifice,
To watch the strife and take no part—
You with the fire at your heart.

But yours, for our great Captain Christ,
To know the sweat of agony,
The darkness of Gethsemane,
In anguish for these souls unpriced.
Vicegerent of God's pity you,
A sword must pierce your own soul through.

In the pale gleam of new-born day,
Apart in some tree-shadowed place,
Your altar but a packing case,
Rude as the shed where Mary lay,
Your sanctuary the rain-drenched sod,
You bring the kneeling soldier God.

As sentinel you guard the gate
'Twixt life and death, and unto death
Speed the brave soul whose failing breath
Shudders not at the grip of Fate,
But answers, gallant to the end,
"Christ is the Word—and I His friend."

Then God go with you, priest of God,
For all is well and shall be well.
What though you tread the roads of Hell,
Your Captain these same ways has trod.
Above the anguish and the loss
Still floats the ensign of His Cross.

By Winifred Mabel Letts (1882-1972), playwright, poet and author, she was born in England to an Irish mother in 1882, but spent most of her life in Ireland, where she died in 1972; she was buried at Rathcoole, County Dublin.

IWM Q10678

(Above, a padre talking to men of the 12th Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles in the 36th Division at Essigny on 7 February 1918. (© IWM (Q 10678))