Canadian Chaplain Service

The Canadian Chaplain Service was reactivated by act of the Canadian Paraliment on 22 November 1939. Serving widely during the Great War (World War One), it had been allowed to disband as part of the government’s parsimonious plan to reduce the Canadian military. With the advent of World War Two, it became necessary to greatly expand the Army to provide for the national defense and contribute forces against the Axis powers.

The interwar indifference to national defense was keenly felt in lack of preparation for a modern war. Amongst other things, the Army had to raise a body of paratroopers for service in Europe. Not having any experience, or training facilities, men were taken from a wide variety of units to form the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.

 

Following the Canadian policy of assigning an Army Chaplain to each battalion, Rev. George Harris (Church of Canada) as appointed to provide spiritual guidance as well as what would later be recognized as social services.  Rev Harris was an athletic vigorous man well suited for the personnel of the new Canadian parachute battalion. Many of the original members were former professional Canadian Football League members. Its future leader, Jeff Nicklin, had been a divisional award winning player. Participating in training with men, going on air drops with them, following along on route marches, organizing athletic events, etc. Harris was respected by the men and seen as relevant to their lives, trials and experiences.

The night of air drop into France (during the D-Day invasion), Harris would become entangled with the parachute lines of another man. He coached the other man in straightening out the other man’s lines. The survivor told of his parachute opening in time to allow him to land safely whilst Rev. Harris’s parachute continued to “candlestick” as he plummeted to his death. Later, his remains would be found by advancing troops, buried by the Germans, in a grave facing several other paratroopers as if they were standing in church parade. His Bible and liturgical equipment wrapped in a zeltbahn atop his grave.

Within a few days, casualty lists began filtering back to the rear. The Presiding Chaplain (Overseas) for the Canadian Chaplain Service reached out to a young Chaplain from Toronto, Rev. Douglas Candy (Church of Canada) initially assigned to an English base hospital to take Harrls’ place with the Paras. Candy readily agreed and joined the Battalion in France. He was not received well. He was not *their* Padre… Over the coming months, Rev. Candy would slowly develop a degree of acceptance with the men that would only be cemented by joining them as they dropped on the Rhine during Operation Varsity and supporting them as they fought their way across Germany. Rev. Candy would be credited for repeatedly leaving his nominal position at the Regimental Aid Post and seeking out wounded and dying men and getting them back for medical care or comforting them where they were. Brigadier Hill would comment that every time he moved along the front, he would see the Padre bringing in another man.

The Chaplain’s influence on the men could be judged by the large numbers of them that would seek out Rev. Candy, after the war, for a variety of family and faith related reasons.


 

Chaplains are to be dressed according to the dress regulations for officers. Their branch of service is distinguished by the Canadian Chaplain Service cap badge. This badge was a direct copy of the one authorized for the British “Royal Chaplain Department.” Badges of a smaller size were used as branch insignia on the service dress coat and the buttons were also of a similar pattern made of black horn, plastic or other suitable materials.

For Battle Dress (BD), Chaplains were, as officers, also granted the choice of issue or tailored clothing. The backing colour for insignia was purple and a purple shoulder title was authorized. Photographic evidence bears out the “common man” nature of Candy’s ministry by his exclusive use of issue clothing as worn by the Other Ranks. His only statement of individuality might be construed to be his choice in altering the official Canadian Chaplain Service shoulder titles to adhere more to his personal view. In some, he wore the battalion’s insignia and added just the word “Chaplain” to the set. This varied from uniform to uniform at different times of the war.

Equipment is much as line officers with the omission of a sidearm. Candy gave his issue fighting knife away shortly after landing in Germany. He had accepted it only for the jump into the Rhine in the event he landed in a tree and needed to cut parachute shroud lines. For liturgical use, he carried a small pyx for consecrated bread, the issue communion flask and the issued Prayer book/Bible carrier. Of note was the over 50 pounds of medical supplies he carried when landing in Germany.  Later, when the ground portion of the unit caught up, he had his full issue kit.

Chaplain kit layout by Rev Forth  - Canadian Chaplain in an infantry unit

Field Communion Set pictured in the History of  the Canadian Chaplain Service in WW2

Following a long established custom of the British Forces, the chaplain was referred to as Padre by the majority of the troops. This was not a rank title but rather an acknowledgment of his place within the battalion and the mens’ lives. Typically officers would address him as Padre or his given name. An interesting note would be the chaplains the men did not respect/trust would be referred to as “chaplain so and so”, “holy joe”, or the worst, (said in a drawn out drawl of distaste) “preeeacher.”

Function in Garrison and Field

In garrison, the chaplain was assigned the task of spiritual care, conducting services and provided various services that, today,

would be characterized as “social services.” Upon LtC Jeff Nicklin’s assumption of command, Church Parade was cancelled to allowfurther time for training. Additionally, Nicklin would refuse to allow the Army practice of “Chaplain’s Hour” for the same reason. It bears mentioning that the British Airborne General, “Boy” Browning started this practice and it spread throughout the British and Commonwealth armies. Given he was denied conventional access to the troops, Rev. Candy would find them in the barracks and other (rare) off duty times to minister to them. Like other chaplains, Rev. Candy was issued a jeep by the army to allow him to travel to visit wounded/sick men of the battalion in hospitals up and down the countryside. On numerous occasions Ltc Nicklin would divert Rev. Candy’s petrol allotment to “battalion training.”  This became enough of an issue for higher command to step in and stop LtC Nicklin's practice and Rev. Candy spent much of his time chasing down the wounded of the battalion.  

In tactical situations, Rev. Candy was assigned to the Regimental Aid Post (RAP). Here, he would assist as he could with medical care and his special duties as the battalion's chaplain.  As the unit would advance, he would move with the RAP and seek out the men as circumstances and time allowed.  Typically, they would gather in small groups and during the "March across Germany."  There were only three occasions when the battalion would come together for prayer.  

 

It was during his tenure in the RAP and fierce combat that he would leave to seek out members needing his support physically and spiritually.  

Be it leading in a church, an organized church parade, an intimate service working off the bonnet of a jeep, treating wounds, carrying and treating wounded men, writing letters to the their next of kin, helping hold up morale and countless other tasks, the chaplain was an important part of the battalion's success.

Rev. Canon Douglas C. Candy (17 Oct 1915 - 12 May 2011

© 2015-19 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion 1942- 1945 Preservation Association (USA) Inc.

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