Church Army & the Forces
Church Army throughout its history has had heavy involvement in the forces. During WWI its resources were diverted into the requirements of servicemen at home and abroad, running recreation huts, tents, hostels, rest homes, mobile canteens and visiting injured troops in hospital. The recreation huts in particular provided hope and light in the darkest of situations, and at their peak saw 200,000 men through them in a day, where they would find tea and biscuits, a space to read or play games, writing paper and spiritual support, as well as space for quiet and reflection. Once a week a film would be shown and there would be weekly services.
After WWI Church Army cared for servicemen and their families, helping them to resettle and many of the recreation huts became social centres for families.
Again during WWII Church Army were involved in providing physical and spiritual comfort all over Europe and at home, in numerous different ways. Tea carts were placed at the stations to welcome the servicemen passing through and care was given as people sheltered in the underground stations, taking down tea urns, food and babies' bottles.
During WWII Church Army played a big role in supporting those men and women serving in the forces through mobile canteen. These canteen would be stocked with necessities and where possible luxuries, including writing materials, soap, razor blades, tooth brushes and paste, cigarettes, cleaning materials and books, as well as plenty of tea and cake. These canteens would travel to those manning guns, searchlights and listening posts of the anti-aircraft defences and those on coast defence batteries. Many of those serving in these smaller more isolated units lived very lonely lives and the arrival of these canteens was so important because it bought a friendly face and a touch of civilisation.
These canteens didn’t only work at home but also overseas in France, Flanders, the Middle East and on the Continent.
In the year ended 30 June 1942 the mobile canteens visited 282,752 small units & aerodromes, served 11,147,682 members of the forces & gave emergency assistance to 86,754 civilian victims of air raids. They travelled 2,010,000 miles. In addition the beds in Church Army hostels and bunks in railway stations were occupied by over 230,000 travelling people, so approximately 6,000 weekly.
"We find the Church Army Club a haven of rest, as it were, to us who often return after a hard day’s work. The kind attention & unity shown to us by those in charge inspires us with fresh vigour for another day’s work & above all drives away all depressing thoughts, thus leaving us to look forward to another such evening. We cordially extend our hearty thanks to the Church Army for the excellent work they are doing in the Middle East."
Following the war years Church Army continued to have a presence in the forces, as chaplains and working within the chaplaincy.
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