While I cannot recall if we ever sang ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ during the Sunday morning church parade at Forrest Hill it would have been an appropriate hymn for the occasion.
The RAAF made provision for our spiritual growth. Given our tender age and the known propensity of 15 and 16 year old boys to get into trouble the authorities probably thought a bit of religion might help keep us on the straight and narrow. With the exception of the chaplains who must have been a wake up to our little tricks, Church parade provided us with another opportunity to practice deception.
Catholics were known as ‘left footers’ and the rest of us as ‘right footers’ and services were conducted for both groups.
While attendance at church parade was not compulsory during our first six months the RAAF did provide an incentive that many of us found hard to ignore. As an alternative we could elect to do an hours drill on the parade ground under the instruction of our drill instructors – and we had already done plenty of that through the week.
Each Sunday morning a roll book was placed on the front pew and following the service we queued up to sign off our attendance. It did not take us long to work out a roster system that helped us circumvent the system. Each week one of us would attend church parade and sign the book – for three or four of our mates.
At the time I never thought about it – but I do now. Every Sunday those chaplains must have seen the rolls, the number of names signed off as having attended and noted the discrepancy. Yet we were never confronted with our ‘sin’. Perhaps those chaplains extended to us the mercy that they preached from the pulpit and for this we can all be thankful. For I am certain that if they had we would have spent many hours on the bull ring (parade ground) under the watchful eyes of our drill instructors repenting of our sin.
As an aside, I still have in my possession a pocket sized New Testament and Psalms with a RAAF crest on the cover. The note inside the cover records that this was presented by the British and Foreign Bible Society on 17 October 1967.
Ken Marsh, November 2012