What is it about?

This article explores the way in which chaplaincy style was developed and honed in the early years of military aviation. The 1st World War was also a time of great technological advances, and as people took to new forms of transport and military behaviour, so too did their way of life change. In this very particular set of circumstances, what could chaplains bring in terms of support and pastoral care? What did it feel like to serve a group of people who for the most part were experiencing the war alone, and in an entirely new way? How did this short period inform the work of chaplaincy into the 20th century and beyond?

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Why is it important?

While this article is rooted in the events of 100 years ago, many of the themes explored have resonance today. It seeks to grapple with the question of how we can bring spiritual and pastoral support to people otherwise isolated from the rest of the world, venturing into unknown territory, and developing new ways of working. The role of a chaplain in this milieu has to change- one must be flexible, innovative and fearless. How to care in a theatre of war, how to face the impossible questions thrown up by conflict, how to support both those on operations and also extend that care to those left behind, each of these questions remain valid and vital today.


I served as a chaplain in the Royal Air Force 80 years after the Branch came into being. Researching the live and ministry of chaplains and the experiences of personnel was a profounding moving experience. But it also amazed me to find how many parallels there continue to be in the very particular form of chaplaincy that military aviation requires.

Eleanor Rance

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Anglicans and Aviators: The First World War and the Forgotten Origins of Royal Air Force Chaplaincy, Journal of Religious History, May 2021, Wiley, DOI: 10.1111/1467-9809.12731.
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