Book Review: "Captains of the Soul: Australian Army chaplain history "

A review of Michael Gladwin’s book "Captains of the Soul" by Jonathan Bailey

(Daniel Ridley graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Teaching in 2008. He teaches English and History at Redeemer Baptist School.)

Captains of the Soul’,chronicles the contribution of Christian men and women in a sphere of life that is often portrayed as godless and lacking in moral restraint. Similarly, the notion of war and its psychological impact upon both its victims and perpetrators typically conjures up soulish questions of life's meaning and purpose. Too often the devastating nature of war has shattered confidence, leaving many believing that suffering and death disprove the very existence of God. The real stories documented within the pages of this book, however, convey a very different message.

Michael Gladwin begins with the notable story of Hugh Cunningham, a Presbyterian padre, who started his ministry in the army during the Second World War. It is from Cunningham’s own story that the book’s title, ‘Captains of the Soul’, is taken. Ironically, the title ‘Captain of the souls of men’ was given to Cunningham by Japanese guards in a POW camp so that the honoured role of the padre could be identified since, up to that point, padres wore no badge of rank. The title attributed to Cunningham by the Japanese summarises the contribution that chaplains have made to our combat forces—not just in that war but also across the scope of conflicts in which our military have been involved. From the eighteen Australian chaplains who served in the Boer War to the hundreds of multi- denominational padres who are currently serving alongside Australian forces in over fifty worldwide peace-keeping missions, Gladwin’s account is a narrative of hope and life faithfully rendered by godly men and women.

At a significant time when, as a nation, we celebrate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, this book is a welcome addition to all the military stories that are surfacing in our bookshops and on our television screens. ‘Captains of the Soul’ acknowledges the terror and loss that war has brought to Australians. But this history also reminds us of the redeeming hope of the gospel and the committed men and women who fearlessly and unashamedly remained true to their faith whilst providing pastoral care for their mates in battle. In the name of tolerance and acceptance, Australia’s historians and media too often reduce the presence of Christian service in public life to nice religious charity. Thankfully, Gladwin’s book is an admirable exception. He has accurately detailed the enduring service of Australian chaplains who have faithfully guarded, guided and sustained the souls of men in otherwise potentially soul-destroying experiences in war.

Daniel Ridley