British Journal of Canadian Studies

Chaplains of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-18: modern revisions on one hundred years of historiographical development

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2021), 33, (1), 1–29.


This article surveys nearly 100 years of how British and Canadian Great War army chaplains were historicised through three distinct stages: the interwar decades, the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and a revisionist phase that began in the 1990s and continues. Postwar memoirs of numerous literary-minded British and Canadian veterans almost invariably characterised chaplains as hypocritical and irrelevant to the average soldier, doing more harm than good to the cause of organised religion. This and other war disillusionment motifs were taken up by the 1960s anti-war movement and sealed into public consciousness. The 1990s, however, witnessed the beginning of scholarly, revisionist efforts to disentangle history from literature and myth. The effort has produced a more balanced, complex, and interesting assessment of chaplain front-line performance, as revealed through the diverse testimony of soldiers from all socio-economic backgrounds, not just the educated literary class.

Cet article examine comment les aumôniers britanniques et canadiens de la Première Guerre mondiale ont été historicisés depuis près de cent ans, en distinguant trois étapes : les décennies de l’entre-deux-guerres, les mouvements de contre-culture des années 1960 et 1970 et une phase révisionniste des années 1990 à nos jours. Dans l’aprèsguerre, les mémoires de nombreux anciens combattants britanniques et canadiens lettrés dépeignaient presque toujours les aumôniers comme des personnes hypocrites et sans rapport avec le soldat ordinaire, qui ont fait plus de tort que de bien à la cause de la religion organisée. Le mouvement anti-guerre des années 1960 a repris ce motif et d’autres motifs de désillusion envers la guerre et les a ancrés dans la conscience publique. Les années 1990, cependant, ont été témoins des premiers efforts révisionnistes de chercheurs pour démêler l’histoire de la littérature et du mythe. Ces efforts ont produit une évaluation plus équilibrée, plus complexe et plus intéressante de l’action des aumôniers sur la première ligne, telle que révélée par les témoignages variés de soldats de tous horizons socio-économiques, et non seulement ceux de soldats instruits et amateurs de littérature.

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Author details

Baird, Ian