Formation of the Australian Army Chaplains Department
In 1913 representatives of the Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Methodist denominations met with the Australian Army’s Adjutant General, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Chauvel, to establish the structure of the Australian Army Chaplains Department. It was agreed that each denomination would appoint one chaplain general, and one senior chaplain per state to administer that denomination’s chaplains. One chaplain from each of the four denominations would also be attached to each infantry and light horse brigade. In total, the proposed establishment would comprise 116 chaplains. The Australian Army Chaplains Department was promulgated in the Commonwealth Gazette on 20 December 1913.
Conditions of service were based on the British model. Promotions were governed by length of service and chaplains were exempt from normal retirement ages. Unfit chaplains would be placed on the unattached list.
Chaplains were commissioned as officers. Although the chaplain general had no equivalent military rank, the four classes of chaplain corresponded to the relative ranks of colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, and captain. Chaplains were appointed initially to class IV (captain equivalent).
Recruitment of Australian Army chaplains
The Australian Army had very little input into the recruitment of chaplains. The six senior chaplains from each denomination forwarded the names of candidates for chaplaincy to the Military Board via the chaplain general.
While the original plan incorporated an equal number of chaplains for each denomination, the numbers were revised after the start of the First World War. Allocation of positions was now based on the proportion of each denomination in the population according to the 1911 census. This became a constant source of friction during the war as Anglicans believed they had enlisted in greater numbers than census proportions suggested. As a result, honorary chaplains were appointed to serve on transport ships without pay or rank.
In July 1915 the “Other Protestant Denominations” (OPD) petitioned unsuccessfully for the appointment of their own chaplain general. The Minister of Defence ruled that there would be only one senior chaplain for OPD in each military district. Although a roving Jewish chaplain was commissioned during the First World War, the first Jewish senior chaplain was not appointed until 1943. The Salvation Army petitioned for a senior chaplain but was denied because its status as an orthodox church was questioned. Although no senior chaplain was appointed, several South Australian Salvation Army officers were appointed as chaplains and welfare workers.
During the course of the war 414 clergymen served in the Australian Imperial Force. Their denominations were:
- 175 (42.3 per cent) Anglican
- 86 (20.8 per cent) Roman Catholic
- 70 (16.9 per cent) Presbyterian
- 54 (13 per cent) Methodist
- 27 (6.5 per cent) OPD
- 2 (0.5 per cent) other