God and the RLI ….
A tremendous post about a chaplain in the RLI posted by Mark Adams. It originally was posted in Cheetah in 1980. I will be blogging and writing some articles on the RLI in the upcoming weeks and months
“Come on Padre, how come you are talking to us about God when we have to go out and kill’?”
By Major (The Rev) Bill Blakeway
“Padre, do you want to go on Fire Force.” That question put to me by Lt Col Pat Armstrong, then O.C. of Support Commando, started my understanding and appreciation of what the RLI was all about.
I nearly had a heart attack when I looked at the stick board that evening and saw there in first wave, stop one – Padre! It was quite a serious stick – Cpl ‘Dutch’ de Klerk, ‘Ticky’ Millet, ‘Buzzard’ Dalgerous and yours truly. Fortunately, the only contact we made that day was with ‘Buff Beans’. But I shall never forget the almost paralysing fear as the chopper circled the target area. For me the moment of truth. I have recalled that “heavy war story” because that experience helped me to know something of what the members of the Battalion had to go through every time the siren went off. I don’t think it is possible for a Padre to begin to communicate with the Troopie unless he has been frightened with him.
My association with the Battalion started during 1974, whilst I was still a T.A. Right from the beginning, to me, there was something “special” about the Unit. It also became clear to me that there was a tremendous pride in the Unit by its members and like all regular army units, it was a “closed shop” to anyone on the outside. 1 soon realised that 1 would have to become a regular if I was to stand any hope of being accepted. It was during the first half of 1976 that the Chaplain General said “You are now officially Chaplain to the RLI get on and know them.”
It would take far more than this article and would be impossible to recall and record everything I would like to of these last six years. The Padre’s Hour for instance. You know that exciting period during the week when most of the ouens catch up on their gonk! I recall a few anxious moments when difficult questions have come up, like . . “Come on Padre, how come you are talking to us about God when we have to go out and kill’?” If anyone thinks there is an easy answer to that one – good luck. All I could do was to help the troopie to see that the country had the right to both rule and defend itself, and that the Christian had a moral obligation to be involved in both. I would also like to say that during the whole of my association with the Battalion, I have not come across one man who claimed categorically that he is an atheist. They might not have been Church-goers, but they accepted the fact that there was “someone up there” looking after them.
My trips to the bush to visit the different Commandos – few Chaplains had the privileges that I had in this respect. To be accepted as part of the Unit. I remember incidents like Forbes Border Post with 2 Commando, hot extraction demonstration with 3 Commando – with me hanging from that bar and the chopper circling a couple of hundred feet up – when I could have been back home sitting having tea with the old ladies of the Church! Being one of six sticks, total 24, and being told by the O.C. that 75 to 100 enemy had been sighted – I didn’t stop shaking for an hour.
The occasional patrol clinging hopefully to the promises of the Log Enslins and Charlie Warrens of: “Dont worry, Padre, we will look after you.” Another moment that aged me twenty years was when the present CO Lt-Col Aust was 2IC. We were discussing the various para courses and he said: “Do you want to be para-trained?” As I was still stumbling over my answer he picked up the phone, spoke to the para school and asked them if the Padre could get on a course. I sat completely speechless as I heard him say: “Right, thanks, — three weeks’ time.” Once again, however, what a privilege to be accepted as one who has jumped with the Battalion – even if they were only fun jumps.
There have been the sad times …. having to go and visit N.O.K. of members of the Battalion and giving them the one message they were dreading. The happy times at the get-togethers and marriages. The proud moments. There is no doubt that to me, personally, the supreme moment of pride was on the 1st February, 1979 when the Statue of the Troopie was unveiled. To have been part of that magnificent ceremony will always be the most treasured memory that I will have.
And who of those who were there will ever be able to forget the Memorial Service on 12th September, 1979, and the funeral service for Major Bruce Snelgar, held at the foot of the statue. Or that final Wreath-Laying. Possibly there will be those who will read this and say “the Padre’s being carried away again.” All I know is that those who have served in the Battalion will know exactly what I am saying. They will understand the fierce feeling of pride that the men in the Unit, and its achievement, coupled with the memory of those of their number who did not return from the op area.
As the Padre remembers, he would also like to say “Thank You”. Thank you to the men of the green and silver, for your professionalism as soldiers, for your courage, for your loyalty to the cause for which you fought. And I thank you for your personal friendship.
Remember this, we’re going to be in that number when the SAINTS GO MARCHING IN!
From the October 1980 Cheetah magazine.