Over 5,000 British priests and pastors served as army chaplains or padres during the First World War. Their job was to provide spiritual guidance for the soldiers and to boost the morale of the men at the front. The grim realities of the job included scenes they hardly could have imagined.
Often stationed just behind the lines at first aid posts and casualty clearing stations, padres ministered to wounded and dying men. In a war in which bodies were often torn apart or abandoned in No Man's Land, padres assisted in retrieving and identifying soldiers' remains and giving them burial. They frequently had to deliver news of men's death to their comrades-in-arms, and theirs was the gut-wrenching duty of providing solace to men who had deserted and were to be shot by their fellow soldiers at dawn. The BBC webpage "Why did chaplains end up on the front line in WW1?" tells more of their stories.
Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was not only a padre, but a poet. His poem "Lighten our Darkness," shares the struggles of a man wrestling with his faith and his God in the midst of war.
Lighten our Darkness by Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy
Lighten our darkness, Lord, in bygone years,
Oft have I prayed and thought on childish fears,
Glad in my heart that, when the day was dead,
God's four white angels watched about my bed.
Lighten our darkness! Kneeling in the mud,
My hands still wet and warm with human blood,
Oft have I prayed it! Perils of this night!
Sorrow of soldiers! Mercy, give us light.
Lighten our darkness! Black upon the mind
Questions and doubts, so many paths that wind,
Worlds of blind sorrow crying out for sight.
Peace, where is Peace? Lord Jesus, give us light.
Lighten our darkness! Stumbling to the end,
Millions of mortals feeling for a friend,
Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?
Flame through the darkness, Lord, and give us Light.
Labels: Behind Their Lines, Centenary, Connie Ruzich, In Memoriam, Poetry, refugees, Women, World War 1