Frontline Fathers indispensable

Fr Mark Sexton

The Army chaplain is as relevant today to Australian troops peace-keeping in Afghanistan as he was to the diggers of World War I, says RSL South Australia State president Tim Hanna, reports The Southern Cross.

'For as far as I can see into the future, there will be a need for chaplains,' he said last month. Mr Hanna said soldiers were known to return to their faith or renew their faith when faced with the difficult circumstances of combat.

'You can imagine the horrors that would have entailed when we lost more than 60,000 men and women in World War I,' he said. 'While the numbers have not been so high in Afghanistan and Iraq, the chaplain’s role in ensuring we honour those killed continues to be a key part of what they do.'

The Southern Cross has been made aware that at least 11 Adelaide priests have served as chaplains amongst Australian and British troops in active war or peace-keeping and emergency missions overseas from 1940 to present. Many more Adelaide priests have acted as part-time chaplains in Australia and continue their service for the Australian Army, Army Reserve, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Royal Australian Navy.

Monsignor John Swann OAM said the Adelaide Archdiocese had a strong history of clergy supporting the Australian Defence Forces. He said local clergy were among the soldiers serving in World War II and Afghanistan. He said priests had been injured, shot at, and awarded for their services.

Mgr Swann said Fr Michael Dunne, who was ordained in Dublin for the Adelaide diocese in 1940 but could not travel to Australia due to War World II, served the British Army as chaplain in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and West Germany. He was wounded eight times, including after a parachute jump over Holland.

'In an incident on the West Coast of France, he saved the life of a companion as a German soldier went to shoot him,' said Mgr Swann. 'Fr Michael shot the soldier in the knee, grabbed his rifle and bashed it against a tree,' he said. 'He then tended to his mate and bandaged the German’s knee. In his broken German he told the soldier he was sorry.'

Photo: Australian Army chaplain Fr Mark Sexton, who served in Afghanistan in 2011, lights a candle

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