#whitefeather diaries

An army chaplain changes his mind

Monday 2 November 2015

Bert was one of many Christians to be shocked and angry about the willingness of most church leaders to back the war.

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was an Anglican army chaplain on the front line from 1915. Initially a supporter of the war, he became increasingly anti-war as the war progressed. He described a key moment in his change of heart, when he was 33:

I was running to our lines half-mad with fright, though running in the right direction, thank God, through what had been once a wooded copse. It was being heavily shelled.

As I ran I stumbled and fell over something. I stopped to see what it was. It was an undersized, underfed German boy, with a wound in his stomach and a hole in his head. I remember muttering, “You poor little devil, what had you got to do with it? Not much great blond Prussian about you.”

Then there came light. It may have been pure imagination, but that does not mean that it was not also reality, for what is called imagination is often the road to reality. It seemed to me that the boy disappeared and in his place there lay Christ upon His Cross, and cried, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my little ones ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

From that moment on I have never seen a battlefield as anything but a Crucifix. From that moment on I have never seen the world as anything but a Crucifix. I see the Cross set up in every slum, in every filthy, over-crowded quarter, in every vulgar flaring street that speaks of luxury and waste of life. I see Him staring up at me from the pages of the newspaper that tells of a tortured, lost bewildered world...

But the Vision of Life in the Cross is not a vision of despair but of confidence and hope, because behind it there is the empty tomb, and the figure with wounded hands outstretched to bless, ascending into glory.

Geoffrey's views changed. Towards the end of the war he wrote a poem called Waste:

Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of Blood and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth's most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God -
War!

Geoffrey went on to write passionate theology and is best known for his poems, which draw on the idea of a God who suffers with people rather than inflicting suffering on them.

Source: G.A. Studdert Kennedy, After War, Is Faith Possible? - An anthology, edited by Kerry Walters (Lutterworth Press, 2008)

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Brocklesby family photograph
Monday 2 November 2015

A week after his bruising experience in Conisbrough, Bert found himself preaching in another church. He took a more cautious approach, but delivered the same message. He later wrote about the experience.