Unsung Heroes

GA Studdart-Kennedy was no ordinary padre. His hard won reputation was that of the finest chaplain on the Western Front during the darkest days of World War One.

Whilst the other men in dog collars remained safely kilometres behind the lines, his motto was ?work in the frontline and they will listen to you, and take fags in your rucksack.? Eventually he became known as ?Woodbine Willie? for his habit of handing out cigarettes to the troops.

He also became renowned as the first man to run into no-mans-land, between the trenches, to drag the wounded back to safety. He undertook all of the gruesome jobs that other men shirked.

As a consequence he won the respect and affection of even the most hard-bitten of soldiers not to mention a Military Cross for his bravery.

It was one day whilst sitting in the trenches, body parts raining down from above amidst a telling artillery barrage that he realized he might not make it home. He penned a simple letter to his wife with nine critical aspects she needed to cover if she was to do a good job of raising their only son.

The second of these is compelling.

He encouraged her to ensure the child played team sports, to ensure that he was well-versed in the gentlemanly rules of competition and could look his fellow man in the eye as a team mate and competitor.

Against all odds Kennedy survived the war and returned home, one assumes to ensure his nine critical aspects were carried out. You can picture the decorated war veteran standing aside emerald fields, exhorting his son to greater effort and using the arena of sporting endeavour to further his education as a gentleman.

These days we enjoy a more peaceful existence. Most of Australia?s population under the age of fifty has been spared the spectre of any significant involvement in combat.

It is now our sports fields that provide the arena for combat between our modern day warriors, the same sports fields that Studdart-Kennedy saw as so vital to his son?s education. Our young men have become gladiators in the public spotlight, with the hopes of thousands pinned on their ability to perform in combat situation.

Whilst much is made of the occasional indiscretions of these warriors, it may surprise many to learn that, at the frontline of that battle, sharing dressing sheds and private moments with the modern day gladiator is a small and dedicated army of chaplains.

These are the men committed to guiding the modern day hero, ensuring their excellence on the field is matched by courage, integrity and character off it. These are people that are there to share the private doubts and fears of the players, to empathise and advise on the issues and decisions that all of us face as human beings.

Nearly every NRL club has a chaplain, and their input into the team is vital.

To the working man it may seem ludicrous that men earning stratospheric amounts of money to do something they love would face hardship and struggle. However, money will not guarantee a cessation of the pressures and struggles of life.

If anything, it adds to them.

The recent case of the Sharks? Michael Sullivan is a cautionary tale of the pressures players face when they are thrust into the fishbowl of public and media scrutiny, given large amounts of money, and little training in life skills.

Public adulation and a full wallet do not render a man immune from disaster. Football skills and notoriety cannot miraculously give a man the skills required to begin and grow good relationships with superiors, colleagues or members of the opposite sex.

If anything the fame and available time that is the lot of the Rugby League player makes all of these tasks more arduous and uncertain. Yet men in their position, playing the toughest contact sport on earth, are often reluctant to seek help lest they appear weak in the public eye or provide bait for taunting opponents.

It is at this frontline of life that the unsung heroes of the chaplaincy operate. Men providing help to our warriors, offering assistance and guidance, friendship and counsel.

Studdart-Kennedy would be proud of these frontline padres. After all, it was he who said that ?the last thing in the world that Christ was or wanted to be was pathetic?. These unsung heroes are the very embodiment of that statement.

Sources of information:

G.A. Studdart Kennedy, "The word and the work" Longmans, Green and Co. London, 1929

G.A. Studdart Kennedy, "The Best of GA Studdart-Kennedy" Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1947

Malcolm Bull?s Calderdale Companion

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