Chaplain General



Kenneth Anderson, an Australian chaplain during World War 1 in France, wrote that:

The influence of a chaplain over the men depends on one thing - his obvious physical bravery. Everyone can value courage, for all know the meaning of fear. All things may be forgiven to the chaplain who shows himself prepared to share their dangers; nothing can mitigate the failure of the man who is not. This is also true of chaplains serving in the SANDF. Each chaplain has signed the Code of Conduct in which the chaplain pledges to “carry out my mission with courage and assist my comrades in arms, even at the risk of my own life.”

The place of a chaplain during operations is to be there where the fighting soldiers are, and not necessarily at the first medical resuscitation post. The chaplain must be there where he is most needed, even if this means that his life might be in danger. His position during a battle will be determined by his appreciation of where his ministry will be most effective.

History has shown that a chaplain needs to be present where the fighting is taking place. It is the chaplain’s God–given privilege, but also his responsibility, to comfort the wounded and give hope and support to those who are in battle. In this the Rev Eustace St Clair Hill, chaplain of the 1st SA Infantry Brigade, is a striking example. During the battle of Delville Wood the Rev Hill was in the forefront of the fighting. He shared with the men the dangers and privations endured in the trenches. He laboured amongst the wounded and cheered the downhearted. His steadfast bearing gave courage to the fearful. His smile or encouraging hand on the shoulder was a message of comradeship and support. In the hell and destruction of war, Padre Hill was God’s representative pointing to Jesus Christ and His love. Devoted to his duty, and untiring in his ministrations, Hill attained wide recognition for his courageous and selfless service to God and the South African soldier. Peter Digby, in Pyramids and Poppies, made the observation that:

Through all the horror that was Delville Wood there shone one beacon of light. A promise of a future. Hope. A conviction that there was still a God. For it was as though Christ walked with Captain the Rev Eustace St Clair Hill, Chaplain to the Forces.

The South African military has a proud tradition of chaplains putting their lives in jeopardy on behalf of their fellow soldiers. During the First World War South African chaplains won twelve Military Crosses for bravery under fire. One chaplain was killed in action while another drowned when his boat sank in the English Channel. During the Second World War SA chaplains won three Military Crosses for bravery while two chaplains were killed in action. Thirteen chaplains were taken as prisoners of war.

The first Black chaplain to be appointed in the South African military is also a fine example of a chaplain who did not hesitate to put his life on the line for his convictions. He was the Rev Elijah M Mdolomba, who, in 1906 was appointed as the chaplain to the Natal Native Horse during the Zulu (Bambata) Rebellion. He was very highly thought of by Capt Robert Samuelson, the Second in Command of the unit, who wrote:

He was a splendid type of the Fingo tribe, in the Cape, and is a preacher equal in power to any European preacher I have heard. He is brave, and had his rifle always ready for use when occasion might arise - he showed himself an exemplary Christian.

The chaplain on active service has a unique opportunity to serve God and his/her fellow soldiers. Perhaps we, the current chaplains of the SANDF, need to re-learn the lesson that Capt (Rev) M J M van Coller learnt in German East Africa during the First World War:

One suffers the same hardships, encounters the same dangers, and is in the same fights with them. This, shall I say, makes one a recognised member of the regimental family circle, and an interest is shown in one as such - a fact which, if wisely employed, becomes a stepping stone to higher things... Thus far, under heavy shell and bullet fire and in a sickly country, the good hand of Providence has been over me, and I am glad of this opportunity of rendering my Master a little service in this particular field of labour.

Chaplain since the dawn of the SANDF have had the opportunity to deploy internally (within the RSA boarders) and externally (outside the RSA boarders). Internally they deployed along the border line with their units for a period up to 6 months. Externally chaplains deploy as part of the UN Missions and African Union Missions in DRC, Sudan and Burundi. Chaplains deploy on board Navy vessels as part of the Ant piracy campaign as well as support staff with the Department of Environmental affairs to the Gough Islands and Antarctica. On these deployments chaplains continue to be the spiritual support and agents of hope in these stressful and opportune moments of deployment.