Field report
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Date: 08 July, 2005


Courtesy National Archives, photo no. WW2-100


'I didn't have any fundraising to do; I didn't have a roof to look after!'



 

In 2005, Andy Jackson spoke to the Rt. Rev. Mark Green, a former Bishop of Aston, who served as an Army Chaplain during World War II.

His first experience of witnessing combat was during the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944.

In 1945, German and Japanese forces surrendered to the Allies armies after the invasion of Germany and the use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Ordained in 1940, the Rt Rev Mark Green was joined the 24th Lancers Independent Armoured Brigade in 1943. After training for the D-Day landings, his regiment landed in France on D-Day+1, June 7, 1944. An Army Chaplain wears the uniform of the British Army but does not carry arms - a non-combatant.

I first asked what his role as an Army Chaplain involved: "I did question my role somewhat because I didn't have a church. I didn't have any fundraising to do; I didn't have a roof to look after! I conducted services for troops in bombed out houses and buildings, and on one occasion a bombed out Roman Catholic Church.

Servant

"I was doing things that I was not ordained to do. I would define the role as that of servant. I always based myself with the regiment's doctor and so one of my roles was to help evacuate the wounded to field hospitals. I spent a lot of time in the first week of the [Allied] invasion just ferrying the wounded people into any vehicle I could find.

The jobs he performed weren't always as easy. "I also had to scoop the bodies out of tanks. When a tank was destroyed it became a kind of crematorium and the five members of the crew normally burnt to death. Somebody had to get the bodies out and that wasn't a very nice job. That I will never forget."

Coming from training in England and crossing to Channel to enter a battlefield for the first time with strong opposition from German forces, Bishop Green said that it wasn't altogether surprising to feel a sense of exhilaration about going into the combat arena.

But did troops who had previously not attended services turned to God as they experienced combat? "There's an old saying about there being no atheist in a trench and there's some truth in that but the people I served with were very decent and ordinary human beings. They weren't turning to God out of cowardice.

"We were all made to think about the meaning of life and death. Every day was a new day. Nowadays it's taken for granted but back then every day was a gift. It was a gift to get to the end of a day. We take far too much for granted now."

Contradictions

But what was it like being a man of God following the teachings of the Bible preaching to those whose job it was to kill the enemy?
"I did learn to live with contradictions. It was a contradiction to teach the Gospel of love while at the same time hearing encouragement to the troops to fight the enemy to death.

"We have to live to learn with contradictions I think. However, I never came across what I would call bloody-mindedness killing on the part of our troops. They did what they had to do, often at a terrible cost to themselves."

When the war came to an end Bishop Green felt relief and sadness because many friends had been killed. He said that one of the strangest feelings to come from his time of service after the war was helping to put Germany back on its feet.

"I was there for 18 months after the fighting had finished and many others were there for longer. We met both former soldiers and German civilians after the war. It was very interesting finding out how much they had known about the regime, Hitler's regime, they all gave the impression that they didn't know about it, but my feeling was they knew more than they let on.

Willing

"I can understand why some people said that they didn't know too much, but I think they must have known more than they were willing to tell."

Was it a just war? "Is any war just; can any war be just? It's a difficult one. Looking back, I think those of us who were involved in World War II, something had to be done about the Hitler regime for those who were being subjected to atrocities. In terms of what both sides did they are all mixed up together.

"In this world you cannot be free from all stains of humanity. I think we all did the best we could in a terrible but what I would call unique situation."

Did his army service help when he took over as Bishop of Aston? "There are more connections than you might think because I've always defined and acquired various roles for myself such as being a go between, between the ranks and the junior ranks and the very senior ranks, between the church at home and the church in the Army, or a go-between between God and man. What is a bishop if not that?

"I was also a servant of God. I wasn't ordained to make tea for wounded soldiers, I wasn't ordained to bury mangled bodies, but actually I was."

"I'm grateful for having the experience. If I had my time again I would do it again, very much so."

In 2005, Bishop Green represented the Royal Army Chaplain's Department, one of the Army's oldest departments, formed in 1796, at a lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace for veterans, where, he said Grace.

Christian Aid was founded in 1945, initially to help refugees from the Second World War. You can read more about the organisation's history and how it helps people now by clicking here

Read a potted history about life in post-war Germany by clicking here

 




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