Padres, or military chaplains, were men who provided spiritual guidance to the men who sought it during World War One. While mainly Anglican, those regiments with predominantly Roman Catholic soldiers had Catholic too, and none of them held weapons regardless of their proximity to the front lines.
While on the Western Front in a religious capacity, padres also carried out other tasks such as boosting morale on the front lines and wearing items of clothing that reminded soldiers that God was with them (just like the German army belts that stated ‘Gott mit uns’ or God with us).
Padres were also responsible for taking services on Sundays, reading last rites to those in No-Man’s Land and conducting burial services, even if this meant putting themselves in great danger. Conditions made it hard for them to keep up morale, but their presence in the conditions found at the Somme and Ypres was a comfort even to those who were not religious.
Due to their presence and bravery, padres became very popular among the men on the front line, particularly when they went the extra mile to distract soldiers from the brutality of trench life.
‘Woodbine Willy’ for example became well known for handing out free cigarettes after a service. Reverend ‘Tubby’ Clayton also became well known having started a social club at Poperinge that became known as ‘Toc H’, although it was more formally referred to as Talbot House. At Talbot House the rank of soldiers and officers counted for nothing and men were offered the chance to read in peace or just socialise with others, despite being just a few miles from the battles taking place in Ypres.
It was even a padre, David Railton, who came up with the idea for a tomb for an unknown soldier, arguing that there were many thousands who had been killed on the Western Front but had no known grace. Railton believed that the burying of an unknown soldier at Westminster Abbey, carried out after the war, was a gesture for all of the men who had lost their lives.
"Padres in World War One". HistoryLearning.com. 2019. Web.