In 2005, Andy Jackson spoke to the Rt. Rev. Mark
Green, a former Bishop of Aston, who served as an Army Chaplain
during World War II.
His first experience of witnessing combat was
during the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944.
In 1945, German and Japanese forces surrendered
to the Allies armies after the invasion of Germany and the use of
atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Ordained in 1940, the Rt Rev Mark Green was joined
the 24th Lancers Independent Armoured Brigade in 1943. After training
for the D-Day landings, his regiment landed in France on D-Day+1,
June 7, 1944. An Army Chaplain wears the uniform of the British
Army but does not carry arms - a non-combatant.
I first asked what his role as an Army Chaplain
involved: "I did question my role somewhat because I didn't
have a church. I didn't have any fundraising to do; I didn't have
a roof to look after! I conducted services for troops in bombed
out houses and buildings, and on one occasion a bombed out Roman
"I was doing things that I was not ordained
to do. I would define the role as that of servant. I always based
myself with the regiment's doctor and so one of my roles was to
help evacuate the wounded to field hospitals. I spent a lot of time
in the first week of the [Allied] invasion just ferrying the wounded
people into any vehicle I could find.
The jobs he performed weren't always as easy.
"I also had to scoop the bodies out of tanks. When a tank was
destroyed it became a kind of crematorium and the five members of
the crew normally burnt to death. Somebody had to get the bodies
out and that wasn't a very nice job. That I will never forget."
Coming from training in England and crossing
to Channel to enter a battlefield for the first time with strong
opposition from German forces, Bishop Green said that it wasn't
altogether surprising to feel a sense of exhilaration about going
into the combat arena.
But did troops who had previously not attended
services turned to God as they experienced combat? "There's
an old saying about there being no atheist in a trench and there's
some truth in that but the people I served with were very decent
and ordinary human beings. They weren't turning to God out of cowardice.
"We were all made to think about the meaning
of life and death. Every day was a new day. Nowadays it's taken
for granted but back then every day was a gift. It was a gift to
get to the end of a day. We take far too much for granted now."
But what was it like being a man of God following
the teachings of the Bible preaching to those whose job it was to
kill the enemy?
"I did learn to live with contradictions. It was a contradiction
to teach the Gospel of love while at the same time hearing encouragement
to the troops to fight the enemy to death.
"We have to live to learn with contradictions
I think. However, I never came across what I would call bloody-mindedness
killing on the part of our troops. They did what they had to do,
often at a terrible cost to themselves."
When the war came to an end Bishop Green felt
relief and sadness because many friends had been killed. He said
that one of the strangest feelings to come from his time of service
after the war was helping to put Germany back on its feet.
"I was there for 18 months after the fighting
had finished and many others were there for longer. We met both
former soldiers and German civilians after the war. It was very
interesting finding out how much they had known about the regime,
Hitler's regime, they all gave the impression that they didn't know
about it, but my feeling was they knew more than they let on.
"I can understand why some people said that
they didn't know too much, but I think they must have known more
than they were willing to tell."
Was it a just war? "Is any war just; can
any war be just? It's a difficult one. Looking back, I think those
of us who were involved in World War II, something had to be done
about the Hitler regime for those who were being subjected to atrocities.
In terms of what both sides did they are all mixed up together.
"In this world you cannot be free from all
stains of humanity. I think we all did the best we could in a terrible
but what I would call unique situation."
Did his army service help when he took over as
Bishop of Aston? "There are more connections than you might
think because I've always defined and acquired various roles for
myself such as being a go between, between the ranks and the junior
ranks and the very senior ranks, between the church at home and
the church in the Army, or a go-between between God and man. What
is a bishop if not that?
"I was also a servant of God. I wasn't ordained
to make tea for wounded soldiers, I wasn't ordained to bury mangled
bodies, but actually I was."
"I'm grateful for having the experience.
If I had my time again I would do it again, very much so."
In 2005, Bishop Green represented the
Royal Army Chaplain's Department, one of the Army's oldest departments,
formed in 1796, at a lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace for
veterans, where, he said Grace.
Aid was founded in 1945, initially to help refugees from the Second
World War. You can read more about the organisation's history and
how it helps people now by clicking here
a potted history about life in post-war Germany by clicking here