During the course of the First World War over twenty clergy from the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane served as Military Chaplains. This may have involved ministering to those soldiers on troop ships, in training camps, and action at the front. Through a detailed examination of the Archives individual Chaplains have been identified and are displayed here. Each Chaplain has a brief biography, a photograph, if available, and a list of the various documents associated with that Chaplain. It is to these Chaplains, and Military Chaplains both past and present, that we dedicate this online exhibition.

This project was made possible with the support of the Queensland Anzac Centenary Grants Program.

Dr. John Moses Lecture

Church Publications


War Time Diary Transcript

Diocesan Correspondence


Brisbane Great War Chaplains

The Reverend Dr John A. Moses

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today on this topic of Brisbane Chaplains during the Great War. As an old Queenslander I have been privileged to have had the chance to augment my studies, so long ago, at St Francis’ College and the University of Queensland  by an additional five years of doctoral studies in the then West Germany (1961-65). I must say, it was the greatest learning experience of my life being exposed to the ancient German university system (which still had not changed to that point since the 19th century) and at the same time getting acquainted from the inside with the German Lutheran Church as it was still cleansing itself from its compromise with the Hitler regime. That experience led to my recent book on the famous pastor who was executed on Hitler’s orders for his part in the resistance, namely Dietrich Bonhoeffer which I followed up with the book on Anzac Day origins which I co-authored with my New Zealand Colleague, Dr George Davis. With this background I venture to talk to you about chaplains from Brisbane during the Great War. [2] But let me begin by outlining the context.

It was not so long ago that the prophets of Marxism-Leninism were trying to inculcate the dogma that all wars were caused by capitalism, that is the struggle among the Powers to corner export markets and to control the world’s resources. This has been proved to be a fallacious and very naïve doctrine. In its place there has been a resurgence of the Holy War explanations where the mainsprings of conflict are to be found in the different religious-political cultures of the nations. Certainly, we see the consequences of fundamentalist Islamic religion and Jihadism every day in the news.   This poses the question whether all wars are really the result of rival nationalisms of which religion is arguably a major component. Focussing on the Great War of 1914-18 we have the grotesque phenomenon of the most brutal and destructive conflict in human history to that point caused by the rivalries of avowedly Christian Empires: Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy on one side with Britain, France and Russia on the other. The mystery was that both alliance blocs claimed they were fighting God’s cause. This is very interesting because it seemed as though the religious leaders of the day in all these countries had managed to decode God’s will. For example we here in Australia knew we were fighting for “God, King and Empire”; the Germans knew that God was on their side: “Gott mit uns” and “Gott strafe England! ” – may God punish England!; the Russians for  “Holy Orthodox Russia”; the French for their grande nation which was self evidently a Christian nation as were also Austria-Hungary and Italy.

So we have here at the outset a considerable problem. How can nations, each professing to be faithful followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace, engage in a war of annihilation against each? I know that after the Great War the national churches of each of the former belligerents tried to engage in ecumenical reconciliation with each other. With this, however, the Germans had great difficulty, especially because of the Versailles Treaty which declared the Germans and Austro-Hungarians were solely guilty of starting the war and the destruction that ensued, and that therefore they had to pay heavy reparations. The German churchmen could not accept that their government had done anything to incur this punishment.

Now it is really very important to know the justification in the mind of the individual national churches for declaring war on each other because that determines how the clergy comprehended the war and how they explained or justified to their people why it was crucial to support their fighting men. —  Looking back it is very clear that it was the different idea of God particularly in the mind of the Germans.  Let me explain that.

 First, the Germans perceived themselves as having saved the Church from going to the Devil back in 1517. Martin Luther’s courageous action in liberating the Church from its “Babylonian captivity” under the corrupt Papacy at the time and by translating the Bible into the vernacular established the Protestant Principle of sola scriptura, that is, by scripture alone, thus elevating the Word of God above the authority of Popes. In short, the German Protestants perceived themselves as the saviours of Christendom from the agent of Satan on earth. Thus they were able to produce true theology for the first time. And their Biblical scholarship subsequently became honoured throughout the world. So, in their own estimation the Germans were pre-eminently the “nation of poets and thinkers”, superior to all others.

Second, we may not forget Luther’s teaching about the office of the Prince. He is God’s anointed one who rules by divine right. But not only since the Reformation was he responsible for all tasks of government both domestic and foreign affairs, he was now summus episcopus, meaning that he replaces the Pope as the supreme authority in the Church. So the prince on the one hand was a supreme commander and prime minister but also what the Lutherans called a Notbischof which means he replaces the authority of the Pope over the Church in his territory. So, there are two realms over which the Prince is sovereign: the State, obviously, and the Church at the same time, the so-called doctrine of the two kingdoms. The Prince represents God literally on earth. His will both in politics and the governance of the Church is supreme. So where does that leave the clergy? They are responsible for the spiritual realm, namely  or preaching the word of God, and administering the sacraments. A central task of preaching was to proclaim the importance of obedience to the powers-that-be, as it says in St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans XIII, the most important document in German history.  [3]

So where is this going? It means first that a culture of submission to state authority without protest was established. The Prince, being responsible for law and order had both unlimited power to punish the wicked alongside the responsibility to defend his realms from invasion which, of course, prioritised the military.  And this is the point: German political culture could not develop a loyal opposition and a parliamentary system as did the British. Instead it became the epitome of militarism where when ever the monarch took the nation to war it was always in the name of God.

So the monarch was always a warrior king, as is found in not a few books of the Old Testament, never a prince of peace. And as the supreme commander and head of government his decisions had the force of divine law. He never had to cope with a turbulent parliament.  – I have laboured Prusso-German political culture because if it is not comprehended we will not be able to understand the British Churches’ response to it. [4]

 The British Bishops and theologians leading up to 1914, one would have to say, were not as systematic in their thinking as the Germans but when challenged they rose to task. They had generally perceived the Churches’ role at the height of Empire to be the conscience of the government, namely to admonish the statesmen to adopt policies that were in accordance with the Gospel. This meant in practice that British power overseas should be exercised for the welfare of the subjects who lived in territories under British sovereignty, to establish the rule of law and to teach the peoples how to develop British institutions of government and administration. The Churches at the time saw this as genuine missionary activity because British patriotism in those days was based on the idea that almighty God had endowed the British with so much power that they should use it to spread the Gospel of Christ throughout the world. Churches and governments should work in tandem to do God’s work.

That, of course, was the Churches’ understanding of their role within the Empire. The secular government did not always share this view or act in accordance with ethics of the Gospel, thus producing considerable discord at times such as during the Boer War,  for example.  But my point is that the self-perception of the role of both the German and British Churches in the world was very different. In Germany, the Churches had no developed tradition of criticising state policies because the State was really the agency in the world for executing God’s will. And if Germany believed she was called to establish her power over Europe and the world she would do it and the Churches would have no difficulty endorsing it, indeed they had duty to do so. After all, the Kaiser was summus episcopus.

In Britain, on the other hand the Whig tradition had prevailed which developed the parliamentary convention of the “loyal opposition” and the role of the Church was to admonish the State if its policies were not in accordance with the Gospel. So when the German army marched into Belgium committing atrocities on the way the British Churches responded by appealing to the German church leaders to admonish their government for the army’s barbaric behaviour, but there was no Whig tradition in Germany. Consequently the British Churchmen’s appeal to their German counterparts unleashed an indignant series of responses. German professors, especially the theologians all vehemently denied the facts of which their army was accused.  They did this by publishing a series of manifestoes making some embarrassing claims that would backfire such as affirming that the German army was an integral part of their national Kultur and so the German professors and theologians stressed their solidarity with the army. The British churchmen were taken aback, but of course, they never really understood, with few exceptions, the different kind of Christianity or Church-State relations that had developed in Germany in contrast to Britain.

It is quite remarkable for those days how quickly this acrimonious debate between Churchmen across the North Sea about war guilt got into the daily news papers, especially the Church press here on the other side of the world. The conflict with Germany especially after the Belgian atrocities flared up focussed the perception of Church people on the war as a Holy War because it seemed as though the Germans had deserted Christ and begun to worship their ancient mythological god of war, Wotan. The scandal over the Belgian atrocities went viral at the time, and although the Germans continued to deny that they murdered civilians the most recent research has confirmed it. In short, in the mind of our Bishops at the time the kindred nation of the Germans had become apostate and the only response could be to fight them to the finish. Our troops were regarded as modern day crusaders fighting against an infidel foe.

Here in Brisbane Archbishop St Clair Donaldson who had been on leave in Britain just as the war broke out was acutely aware of German war aims as he had a brother in the top ranks of the civil service who was put in charge of munitions production. [5] On return to Brisbane the Archbishop immediately began giving public lectures right here from this pulpit on why we were fighting the Germans and the menace they posed to the entire civilised world.  Those lectures were gathered together and published as a booklet. The bottom line was there was no alternative but to stand by the mother country and fight with all the resources available. [6]

Soldiers became crusaders for the Gospel of Christ whether they realised it or not. Arguably the very first priest in Brisbane, namely Canon David John Garland immediately after he had returned from three year’s secondment in New Zealand (1912-1915) became secretary of the local recruiting committee which was run from St Luke’s Church in George Street, now the premises of the Pancake Manor. He also inaugurated a fund-raising appeal called the Lavender Appeal to collect money for soldier welfare. Canon Garland had already been a chaplain at the time of the Boer War when he was serving in the Diocese of Perth, and in 1915 he reactivated his commission and worked as chaplain in the Enoggera training camp. The motto of his appeal was “Nothing is too good for our Soldier Boys” and he collected considerable sums of money from around Queensland. [See Church Chronicles June 1915 Supplement Garland]

Canon Garland we would have to say, “hit the ground running” because of his earlier army chaplaincy during the Boer War while he was in Perth. His war-time exploits I have covered in the book, Anzac Day Origins.  There are copies available in the Cathedral Book Shop here. My task to today is to recall the chaplaincies of three other Brisbane priests who answered the Empire’s call to serve our fighting men at home while in training and overseas when at the front. They were William Maitland Wood (1864-1926), sometime Rector of St Mary’s, Kangaroo Point, Cecil Howard Edwards (1877-1965) who was in 1913 Rector of Woolloongabba, Garland’s old parish, and Norman Osborn (1882-1966) who had been Rector of Pttsworth prior to his enlistment in 1916, When you investigate the biography of these men you cannot help but be deeply impressed by their faith and sense of duty.

First of all they were, as most other chaplains at that time, with the distinct exception of the Irish Roman Catholics, very clear in their own mind why it was of crucial importance to oppose the war aims of the Kaiser’s Germany, to declare unquestioning solidarity with the mother country and to the Empire generally and give unstinting support to the young men who had offered their lives to defend it. For them it was a “just war”. Certainly, they were Empire patriots with a fervour that most people today would find difficult to comprehend, but we have to remember that the Empire was one extended world-wide jurisdiction under the Union Jack upon which the sun never set. So to ask these men why they volunteered to serve as chaplains would have been incomprehensible to them; it was a self-evident duty. As Canon Garland preached, the Diggers were latter day crusaders defending the world from the scourge of Godless Prussianism. And these crusaders needed both spiritual support as well as the best creature comforts the chaplains could provide to sustain them in their mission. This was indisputably the mentality of all Church of England chaplains.

It is interesting to note that the army authorities accepted the need for chaplains – somebody has to bury the fallen decently — but the army did not in most case understand the self-perception of the chaplains of their task. That was always the case, and the chaplains noted that most officers and men were either indifferent to organised religion, bored by it, and only tolerated the chaplains as part of the army establishment. In short the army authorities, certainly back in 1914-18, were not very sensitive to the religious requirements of the men under their charge. It may have changed since then, but that remains to be seen. In this regard, of course, our officer class is not alone. Many successful people in all walks of life have remarkably immature conceptions about Christianity. Chaplains notice this among men of all ranks. And this comes out very strongly in reading the diaries and reports of our Brisbane chaplains.

First,  William Maitland Wood: He was an Englishman and an Oxford graduate who used his education to considerable effect in teaching the diggers in the Middle East about its ancient history. Indeed he was an amateur archaeologist who rescued the Shellal Mosaics in Palestine and had part of them sent back right here to be embedded in the floor of this cathedral.

Maitland Woods

Maitland Woods

 We should take a look. As well he was responsible for rescuing that little Union Jack in the glass case over on the west wall here and sending it back to Canon Garland who used it on his recruiting drives before it was preserved here. Why? Because that flag was carried ashore at Gallipoli by two young soldiers who had been altar boys, one at Kangaroo Point and the other at Woolloongabba. Both young men had been protégés of Maitland Wood and David Garland respectively. 

Garland and Maitland Wood

Garland and Maitland Wood

Maitland Wood served at Gallipoli and maintained a lively correspondence with Canon Garland while he was going about his chaplaincy work at home. There is no doubt that Maitland Wood’s information inspired Garland to extend his ministry to troops at home to those encamped in the “Fleshpots of Egypt”.  As Maitland Wood had earlier recognised the chaplains had their work cut out trying to keep young men out of brothels and for that the army should have been grateful, because once a soldier had contracted VD he could not fight and was punished by being dishonourably discharged. Over 300 such men had been infected and summarily sent home in disgrace. Canon Garland had a remedy for this. He managed to secure a special chaplaincy to Egypt in 1917 and set up with money collected from all over Queensland eight hostels for Anzac troops including a house boat on the Nile.  These were in addition to the ones he had set up in Brisbane on North Quay, in Toowoomba and Coolangatta.  Central to his concept of troop ministry was the idea to have an alternative place for soldiers on leave to go especially when they were in Middle Eastern cities where temptation was most pervasive. There they could write letters home and relax in friendly surroundings.

Australian Club Jerusalem, Port Said Rest Hut

Australian Club Jerusalem, Port Said Rest Hut

Australian Club Jerusalem, Port Said Rest Hut

Australian Club Jerusalem, Port Said Rest Hut

Much more could added about Maitland Wood and Canon Garland but now to the others:

First, Chaplain Cecil  Edwards: He also was an Englishman born 21 March 1877 at Kingston-on-Thames in 1877 and died in Cheltenham Victoria in 1965. It is recorded that he had a private education in England before migrating to Australia like so many other young men; found his way to Townsville where he became a lay-reader in 1905-06 but had then received his theological education at St Francis’ College, when it was located at Nundah. This led to his being made deacon 30-September 1906 and his priesting on 19th May 1910. He served a curacy in Charters Towers 1906-1910 which overlaps with the time when Canon Garland had been Archdeacon and Rector there.

That explains in part why Cecil Edwards was licensed as a Mission Chaplain in Brisbane and transfers to an assistant curacy at Holy Trinity Woolloongabba where by which time David John Garland was the Rector (1907-1913) which raises interesting questions. How could he have not been influenced further by the crusading Dubliner? Then after a further curacy at Charleville 1910-1913 Edwards returns to Woolloongabba to succeed his old mentor Canon Garland as Rector from May 1913 to April 1925. So he was Garland’s successor. But of course he interrupts his tenure by becoming an army chaplain in 1916 until 1919. And for this crucial period we are fortunate to have his diary [See War Time Dairy Transcript]. But before reporting from that source let me throw in a few important observations about the self-perception of educated young men in Australia at that time. 

Army Chaplains WW1

Army Chaplains WW1

First and foremost they have enough brains to comprehend what would happen if the Kaiser’s Germany succeeded in carrying out its war plans against England.  When the Germans at that time used the word England they did not just mean from Land’s End to John o’ Groats; they meant the entire British Empire. And their main war-aim at sea was to deliver knock-out blows to British shipping including ports both in home waters and overseas. And the Kaiser had built the navy to do precisely that. So, if we do not understand what imperial German policy was we have no idea of the real political reasons for resisting them. It was naïve to argue that because Australia and New Zealand were so far away from the flash point of conflict in Europe we were in no way existentially threatened.

I mention this because there are currently some very anti-British Australian historians who are arguing that the Great War was none of our business. And these people, some of whom are leading authorities on other subjects, simply have no idea of German war aims, because to admit that we were in real existential danger at that time would be to cancel out their anti-British agenda. The fact is in 1914 and much, much later we were British; that was our then self-perception. No one comprehended that better than men like Canon Garland and Archbishop St Clair Donaldson. It is also emphatically confirmed by Cecil Edward’s diary.  When those men migrated here it was just to another part of “greater Britain”.

It was “Greater Britain” that was existentially threatened by the Central Powers in 1914 so logically one stood up to defend the Empire. A young priest volunteered to serve as chaplain. The spiritual welfare of fighting men was naturally a major concern for the Church. While the Salvation Army and the YMCA did extremely valuable welfare work for enlisted men, the Church could not be seen to neglect those who had offered their live in defence of the Empire. Let me say that the Church had a much more refined concept of the Empire as an instrument in the service of almighty God than any of the denominations. It was this concern that animated Canon Garland and it comes out both in his letters and articles as well as in the practical things he initiated such as recreation huts and hostels in camps both at home and overseas.

Returning to Cecil Edward’s diary we learn that he initially served as chaplain on transports between Sydney and Port Said in Egypt. This was essential work in demonstrating the pastoral care of the Church to young men as they were being ferried into mortal danger at the other end.  Apart from regular celebrations of the Eucharist on ship’s deck, weather permitting, they organised concerts, boxing matches and gave confirmation instruction. Edward’s diary is full of references to these events.  After several transports to and fro Chaplain Edwards finally disembarked in Egypt at a late stage in the Gallipoli campaign and records giving Holy Communion to men about to depart for the Dardanelles. He is spared going there himself but records taking a transport after Gallipoli to Marseilles and finally lands in the Australian Camp on Salisbury Plain where men trained for the Western Front.

Padre Edwards then accompanies troops to combat and is mainly occupied in burying the fallen and celebrating the Eucharist in Gun Pits where you have to keep out of enemy sight. This is the melancholy routine of frontline chaplaincy. You act as stretcher bearers, bury the fallen usually at night, comfort the dying and wounded, write letters home for them and you write to the next of kin.  Clearly all this is essential for both troop and home front morale. And it is what the home front expects.

Edwards wearing hat

Edwards wearing hat

Of course, chaplains being human beings are exposed to all the same diseases and discomfort as the combat troops, not to mention the effects of artillery barrages. But being officers they can go on leave to England. From Boulogne to Folkstone is no real distance and from there to London a matter of minutes rather than hours. Naturally, being from Kingston-on-Thames, Padre Edwards is keen to re-visit the haunts of his youth. In the process he records the church visits he makes and his exhilaration at the celebrations in the great cathedrals and in famous parish churches such as St Matthew’s, Westminster.

Back at the front the Padre rides, weather permitting on pushbike, although he seems also to have had access to a motorbike for some of the time. After the Armistice is signed the opportunity exists for longer trips by train which he does and visits Paris where he even manages to dine at the famous Hotel Majestic where the international delegates to the Paris Peace Conference are staying. So our Brisbane Padre rubs shoulders with men who really frequented the corridors of power. But he is also delighted to record that he assisted at Mass at our St George’s Church in Paris where another former English-born Queensland priest namely Father Frederic Cardew was the long-time Rector (1907-1934).

Padre Edwards obviously greatly enjoyed his post war travel, brief though it was. It included after Paris, Rome indicating his great interest in art and culture generally. He came back to Woolloongabba and served until 1925 and then after an energetic ministry in the Brotherhood of St Paul he became chaplain of Slade School, Warwick until 1943, retired to Melbourne where he served until his death in 1965. 

Cecil Howard Edwards

Cecil Howard Edwards

Finally, Padre Norman Osborn MC was a priest also of tremendous energy, courage under fire and sense of duty towards soldiers serving in two world wars. He was born in Roma in 1882, made Deacon in 1905, priested 1907 and served from 1916 to 1919 as chaplain on the Western front where he saw very heavy fighting such as in the famous battle of Messines in Belgium 7-14 June 1917 where for acts of bravery he was awarded the MC. 

Reverend Canon John Edward Norman Osborn

Reverend Canon John Edward Norman Osborn

The citation read:

Captain Chaplain the Reverend John Edward Norman Osborn after only one month’s preliminary line work, did excellently in the Messines Battles in June 1917. In addition to other duties at a forward aid post he organised parties and went again and again over newly won country burying the men who had been killed. Throughout he showed splendid coolness and devotion to duty.

Again at the fierce battle of Hamel 4th August 1918 led by General Monash, Chaplain Norman Osborn distinguished himself in like manner. He was without doubt an outstanding representative of the Chaplain’s corps.

Obviously, in the time available we cannot go into detail on the performance of each chaplain. But each one is deserving of an in-depth biographical study. They were all men of mettle, faith and unshakable commitment to the task in hand, sharing gladly the fate of the men they came to serve. Let me conclude with the following observations:

First, a chaplain is a priest and therefore a disciple of the Prince of Peace. He has therefore, having volunteered, to decide for himself whether the war which he supports is just. In the Great War that issue rarely came up as it has with more very recent conflicts.

Secondly, as in peace time the priest is committed to serve his parish selflessly and that involves ministering to all and finally officiating at their burial as a matter of course; in frontline duty it becomes a harrowing daily experience which tests both the spiritual and physical endurance of the most devoted chaplains.

Thirdly, not only is the chaplain’s theology of war tested but also his ability to communicate with men of all ranks. So his emotional intelligence needs to be supplemented by scholarly knowledge. He must, for example, be able to give a rational explanation of why it was/is necessary to fight and how this squares with the message of the Gospel to love all men, even one’s enemies. He therefore has to have some understanding of history and international relations.

All these factors place heavy demands on any man, no matter how well educated and physically fit he is.  Having only had time to give the sketchiest review of each of the four men from this diocese my judgement is that they acquitted themselves remarkably well. Each was gifted in different ways. David Garland was the great organiser and visionary whose grasp of what the sacrifice of young life meant for the spirit of the nation has bequeathed to us Anzac Day. Maitland Woods, although the same age as Garland, served at Gallipoli and with Light Horse in the Sinai campaign against the Turks with great distinction. Cecil Edwards similarly brought great honour to his calling with his dedication to troops on transports, in camps and under fire at the front. And finally Norman Osborn acquitted himself performing outstanding service under fire on the Western Front and after serving at St Thomas’ Toowong, St James’ Toowoomba and St Mary’s, Kangaroo Point, volunteered again for chaplaincy service for the entire Second World War.

Their legacy is one of which the diocese may be justly proud.

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[1] I have been greatly helped in the preparation of this lecture by the Diocesan Archivists, Sue Laidlaw and Adrian Gibb who kindly made available sources not accessible in Canberra.

[2] John A. Moses, The Reluctant Revolutionary: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Collison with Prusso-German History (New York/Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2009, 2014); John A. Moses & George F. Davis, Anzac Day Origins: Canon D J Garland and Trans Tasman Commemoration (Canberra: Barton Books,  2013). For excellent general background on army chaplaincy, see  Michael Gladwin, Captains of the Soul: A History of Australian Army Chaplains (Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publications, 2013). A recent and very perceptive study of considerable relevance is: Philip Jenkins The Great and Holy War: How World War 1 changed Religion for Ever (Oxford” Lion Hudson, 2014).

[3] For an overview of Luther’s teaching  on obedience to the “powers-that-be” see my chapter, “Church and State in post-Reformation Germany 1530-1914” in  , Church and State in Old and New Worlds edited by Hilary M. Carey & John Gascoigne (Leiden/Boston: Brill 2011): 77-98.

[4] See the following articles by the present writer which help explain this: “The Theological Component of World Conflict: the Example of the Anglo-German Antagonism 1914-18” St Mark’s Review No. 209, September 2009 (3) :39-58; “The Faith of Canon Garland (1864-1939) – An Australian Gladstonian Imperialist”  St Mark’s Review No. 225, August 2013 (3): 71-84;   “David John Garland, Priest: ‘A Triton among the Minnows’ ” St Mark’s Review, No. 230, December 2014 (4) : 60-71; “Anzac Day as Australia’s ‘Civic Religion’?”St Mark’s Review No. 231, April 2015 (1): 23-38.

[5] See chapter 7 of Anzac Day Origins: “The Seedbed of Anzac Day commemoration – the Brisbane Diocese”, pp. 130-164.

[6] See Archbishop Donaldson’s booklet, Christian Patriotism (Brisbane: Church Book Depot, 1915).