Chaplains in the Royal Australian Navy: 1912 to the Vietnam War

Chaplains in the Royal Australian Navy: 1912 to the Vietnam War

Rowan Strong, NewSouth Publishing

Church Historian Rowan Strong introduces his specific interest in Australian Naval Chaplaincy with a record of the beginnings of the work of members of religious orders among the armed services of both Great Britain and the United States.

In the Crimean War the volunteers from a range of religious backgrounds “set aside their denominational differences to a great extent”.

However there remained a shared concern among chaplains, that they were first and foremost ministers of their own religious bodies with specific duties, difficult to carry out in the authoritarian, hierarchical environment of the armed services.

While conforming to the tradition of compulsory church parades, some were more comfortable with voluntary attendance. Naval personnel on shore bases were concerned with where they were expected to sit in chapel, believing this reflected their elative social order; whereas the chaplains worked hard to maintain a good relationship with both officer class and ordinary seamen.

There were also tensions over uniforms and compulsory saluting.

The book deals with the RAN chaplains in detail, those who served in famous battles, such as Vivian Little on the HMAS Sydney and the victory over the Emden.

Strong quotes at length the experiences of Keith Mathieson as a POW on the Burma railway after the sinking of HMAS Perth.

During the Vietnam War “the RAN’s commitment was smaller and more diverse”, with the HMAS Sydney being dubbed “the Vung Tau Ferry”.

The first Uniting Church female chaplain was appointed in 2005.

Strong recognises current concern that sailors and cadets “have come to public attention for behaviour that is largely unacceptable to the wider Australian community”.

John Atkinson




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