Roman Catholic Army Chaplains During the First World War : Roles, Experiences and Dilemmas

Purdy, Martin (2012) Roman Catholic Army Chaplains During the First World War : Roles, Experiences and Dilemmas. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This dissertation examines the role and actions of the Roman Catholic clergy from Britain who served as military chaplains during the First World War, including the external influences and pressures that may have contributed to their behaviour. In doing so it looks at international themes relating to the Catholic Church as a transnational body as well as the more national and parochial issues that were unique to the status of the faith in the different combatant nations included in the study. While Catholicism was very much a minority religion in the British Isles during the 1914-1919 war, it has been argued that the faith came out of the conflict with its reputation enhanced. This has often been put down to the actions of the Catholic chaplains at the 'sharp end', or most dangerous part, of the battlefield. This dissertation re-examines a number of the themes that have been presented in previous academic works as having provided the evidence for such an assertion. While finding substantive evidence to support a number of the claims (including the advantages bestowed on the RC chaplains by the nature of the Catholic landscape in many of the key battlegrounds, as well as the importance of the delivery of the Sacraments), it also argues that the more aggressive attitude and role of the 'home' clergy in France and Belgium was to have a significant influence on the British chaplains. Furthermore, it is argued that some of the reasons previously given for the behaviour of the RC chaplains, and particularly those with regard to their class and ethnicity, are misleading and in need of further serious examination.

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