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Members' research

We invite members of the society to discuss their research or to announce their latest publication through a short blog post.

Peter Howson

Chaplaincy in the British Army: Records and representation

After a career of 25 years as a chaplain in the British army I started to research into the history of chaplaincy during World War One. This lead to the publication, in 2013, of Muddling Through: The Organisation of British Army Chaplaincy in World War One. A problem with researching British army chaplaincy is that no War Office records appear to have survived. Only occasionally did any offices administering chaplains maintain diaries. Even when they did, these are not always found in the National Archives.

The initial research has resulted in further work being done on the way chaplains looked at the potential post-war world. New information about their views, and how they shared these with the rest of the army are emerging and need to be evaluated. Much more work needs to be done on the sermons that were preached at the compulsory church parades that were a feature of army life throughout World War One. Diaries, especially where the writer served for a long period of time, such as that kept by Bishop Gwynne (August 1914 to November 1918 with some gaps in 1918) can provide a valuable insight into the developing thinking of those who were expected to influence the troops. I am currently working on the diary of the Revd Benjamin O’Rorke. A regular chaplain, he was captured in August 1914 and repatriated in 1915. He then wrote of his experiences in a book, In The Hands of The Enemy. He then returned to France and served until the summer of 1918. His diary for the first six months of 1918, when he was a staff chaplain, provides a parallel narrative to that of Bishop Gwynne. Sadly O’Rorke died on Christmas Day 1918.

Material on chaplaincy remains scattered and fragmentary. One of my aims is to work with others in ensuring maximum visibility for this material.

Chaplains reflected on their experiences in a number of ways, including novels. I am researching some of these novels, but I am also looking at other media in which chaplains appear (or in some cases do not appear) further exploring the reasons why this might be. My interest was stimulated by the novels of Henry Williamson, where a chaplain appears in Patriot’s Progress, but apart from one reference to the Bishop of London and another reference to some chaplains present at a military execution, they are noticeable by their absence.

I currently have a part-time Associate Tutor post at Cardiff University and am also a Methodist Minister in Surrey.