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For the love of God

Salvation Army and AIF personnel loading comforts fund items onto a truck fro distribution to the troops (AWM 007478).


Posted on 12 May 2018

If you were an Australian soldier, far from home during wartime, what would you keep in your pocket? A photograph of your family, a notebook and pencil or perhaps some lollies?

Along with all of these items, many soldiers kept a small servicemen’s Bible or prayer book. They took comfort in their spiritual beliefs, trusting that, in the stress of battle, they were not alone and God would keep them safe.

Chaplain George Jarvis wrote to his wife from the battlefields of France during the First World War:

Tuesday June 18, 1918

Yes dearest Ethel, I feel sure we can safely leave it all in God’s hands. What a comfort it is to feel that, and I can tell you darling that I have realised more than once what a present comfort that is to feel one is in God’s hands. When others are “windy” and ducking down and really scared, I feel the comfort of trusting in Him.

Each service of the military – navy, army, and air force – has chaplains, or padrés, as they are often called. Padré is a Spanish word meaning ‘father’, and it was probably originally used for Catholic priests, but now it refers to all male and female chaplains.

Padrés have a unique role. They wear the same uniform and share the same pressures as other service men and women, but they are trained to bring peace, hope and love to those they work with.

An outdoors group portrait of a Belgian priest and an Australian padre with some village children, all unidentified (AWM E04142).

Under the rules of the Geneva Convention, military padrés are non-combatant, and when out on operations they wear a brassard – a band on the upper arm over the uniform – to identify them as protected people. They often accompany troops in front-line positions and work in dangerous conditions.

The role of padrés operates across faiths, although it may be given a different name.

Even during the First World War, commanders acknowledged the cultural diversity of their troops.

The Australian Imperial Force included people of Aboriginal, Maori, Jewish, Chinese, Greek, Lebanese and even German origin. Both the British and the French had a large number of non-Christian troops, including Muslims from North Africa.

Regardless of their faith, each brought a sense of belonging to those far from home.

Captain John Cope, padré to the 14th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force in Egypt wrote home to his mother, shortly after being evacuated from Gallipoli:

Egypt 14.1.16

Had a great little service on the sand the other Sunday night – the morning Parade Service was boxed up by a blooming aeroplane sailing just over our heads, so he scored that one, as I couldn’t possibly tell ‘em how Nehemiah built the wall when they were all gazing up at the buzzing plane! So I pronounced the benediction.

The Salvation Army, or the ‘Salvos’ as they are affectionately known in Australia, is a worldwide organisation committed to caring for people’s physical and spiritual needs.

Nowhere was this more evident than during wartime. At the outbreak of the First World War, the Salvation Army was widely identified as ‘Christianity with its sleeves rolled up’, and many of its chaplains and volunteers served in every area of the conflict.

It was at Le Havre in France that their famous ‘Hop In’ sign first appeared. Servicemen could stop at these centres for a hot cup of tea and a friendly chat. ‘Salvos’ or ‘Sally Men’ also doubled as medics and stretcher bearers for troops wounded on the frontline.

Today, prayers, readings and hymns often form part of commemorative ceremonies, whether recited by the audience or read by chaplains and other selected people.

Each acknowledges the sacrifice of those who have served and the spiritual strength and comfort that can come from a belief in faith.

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