|Regimental Sergeant Major H 'Tommy' Atkins
What role does religion play in your life and the life of a veteran?
In the early days of course church parades were a compulsory routine, there was no choice about that, depending on what denomination you were, so you attended a church according to the church parades as and when they were ordered, and that was nearly every week, on a Sunday, that was part of the routine. Church parade and you prayed in the normal ceremonial manner and then marched to church. Church of England people, that would be the main parade of course. We always used to feel a little jealous of people like the Roman Catholics because they didn't have to parade but so long as they went along to mass at whatever particular church they went to. Now I was brought up to a certain extent not to be religious but I believed, I went to Sunday School like most normal children did, so religion to me wasn't something that I didn't believe in, so the church parade was for church, was accepted as far as I was concerned. Most soldiers, not to my knowledge, they didn't grumble except that it was a parade they could have done without on a Sunday or something like that, and off to church we went.
What about the role of the chaplain or padre in North Africa?
In North Africa we had several very good Padres and, how can I best explain this, whilst I didn't have too much to do with them I became probably more aware of the value of the padre whilst we were in Tobruk and it became obvious to me. I was the Platoon Sergeant and more or less the Platoon Commander of the Platoon in post R65 in the Tobruk perimeter, and every week the Roman Catholic padre would come up and want to speak to those who were the Roman Catholic denomination, and he would give them absolution and have a little talk with them, but I could never remember ever seeing the Church of England padre coming up and doing such things, and that impressed me quite honestly. That's an example of it from that angle. When we were in Ceylon I was fortunate in having a very good Sergeant Major so we made a habit of going to church, not regularly but there was the facilities to go and we used to go along to the Church of England church and sort of pay one's sort of religious duties in that manner. As a little sideline to that, when I came home and this lovely lively brunette that I spoke about in my book, she was Catholic by faith, you see, a Roman Catholic and I was Church of England in that sense, but my mind went to the efforts made by the RC padre at that time and then working up to present day or when I got married, there was always of course a thought that when children come along what faith are you going to bring them up in, and my approach that was there was going to be no arguments about this, I remembered the parson, I thought I will convert to Roman Catholic faith, which I did and we had no bother, and as I say I am still now as I say a Catholic, albeit not a very good one, but there you are. Is that what you want to hear?