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Royal Army Chaplains’ Department Centenary

On 22nd February, 1919, His Majesty King George V bestowed the Prefix ‘Royal’ on the then Army Chaplains’ Department in recognition of its outstanding service and sacrifice during the First World War. His Granddaughter, Her Majesty The Queen, will attend a special service of commemoration with the entire Army chaplaincy community, to mark this auspicious anniversary.

For centuries, the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department (RAChD) has ministered to soldiers and their families in times of war and peace. Chaplains are honoured to provide spiritual support, pastoral care, and moral guidance to all, irrespective of religion or belief.

The Centinery Service will reflect upon the sacrifice and service of those chaplains who rose to the challenges of the great conflicts that have beset our nation, those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those that continue to support soldiers on operations today but also, those who have simply been there when a soldier has asked ‘Padre have you got a minute…?’

Generals, throughout history, have valued their chaplains and the service will link the work of chaplains in the past to their function today.  It will also reflect on the enduring need for chaplaincy in the future.  Soldiering remains an essentially human activity and the Army recognises the need to support the spiritual needs of soldiers.  Chaplains have remained steadfast to their calling, providing spiritual support, moral guidance and pastoral care to all soldiers wherever they serve and will be found wherever the fighting is toughest.   A faith-based chaplaincy is an integral part of the wellbeing of the men and women who serve our country in the Armed Forces.

The service will culminate in an Act of Dedication: The Chaplain-General will ask all serving RAChD Chaplains to reaffirm their commitment before God and to rededicate themselves to the Service of soldiers in the presence of their Royal Patron and the Deputy Chief of the General Staff. 

Army Chaplains across the World who for operational reasons cannot attend the service will also pause, at this hour, for a moment’s prayer and reflection in a global act of unity and re-dedication.

During the service a new Book of Remembrance and Roll of Honour detailing the 315 Army chaplains who have died in the service of others will be blessed.  This Book of Remembrance contains the first complete RAChD Roll of Honour spanning the beginning of the Great War to the present day.  The Book will subsequently be laid up in the Royal Memorial Chapel Sandhurst where its pages will be regularly turned.

In this year of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the processional cross used in the service will be that fashioned by Canadian Engineers from German Copper in Normandy in June 1944 so that the then Chaplain to the Forces, Reverend A (Sandy) Reynolds TD could conduct services for soldiers fighting at the front. The cross which normally resides in his parish of Brown Candover in Hampshire, was used by the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance on the 40th and 50th Anniversaries of D-Day and has been kindly lent for this centenary service with the permission of the Reverend Reynold’s daughter Georgina Spencer.

The Band of the Grenadier Guards will provide musical support throughout.

Harry Parker served as a Rifles officer in Iraq and then Afghanistan, where he was caught by a mine and lost both legs in 2009, at the age of 26. Now an artist, he has been commissioned by the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department to produce three new paintings to commemorate its centenary and Her Majesty The Queen will view these works immediately after the service and meet the artist.

Her Majesty will also meet serving chaplains, including chaplains recently returned from operations in Estonia, Afghanistan and Sudan, the most recently recruited chaplain but also soldiers who have either helped chaplains in their daily duties or who have benefited from the support and care from chaplains in barracks or on operations.

The Royal Army Chaplains’ Department is unique as the only part of the Army solely dedicated to the moral component of fighting power, inculcating and nurturing in soldiers the strength of spirit to win.  Chaplains are all ordained professional clergy drawn from a range of Sending Churches.  They provide spiritual support to soldiers and their families of all faiths and none, offering moral guidance when required and have the freedom to speak truth to power by providing views from a different standpoint to many soldiers. A Chaplain’s faith means they engage with soldiers solely out of a sense of compassion and concern for their wellbeing, irrespective of their beliefs.

Going forward, the Chaplain-General will work to ensure that the Department evolves in tandem with the wider Army, broadening its base but remaining true to the traditions of the last hundred years through the delivery of a religious based, compassionate ministry of an ‘all soul’s’ nature to soldiers of all faiths and beliefs. Chaplaincy are part of the current ‘Belonging’ campaign and are a visible statement that the Army remains a caring organisation. Chaplains help ensure the British Army is ready for the challenges of the future, whatever that may bring.