Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (Hons.)


Department of History


The First World War was a period of great change and upheaval for Australians. The Church of England, however, presented an air of stability and normality in the parochial ministration of its duties. The clergy interpreted the war as having a spiritual meaning, rather than a mere affair between hostile nations. Scriptural attitudes to war were examined by the clergy and they believed that the 1914 war was a call from God to them, to turn the nation from its national sins to righteousness, so it could be used by God for His purposes. In this study of the Church of England during the war, the clergy's attitudes and activities will be examined - to the daily ministry of the parish churches, to the ministry to war needs, to the recruiting campaigns and conscription referendums, and to the Germans and the war itself.

Historians have had a tendency to disregard or treat in a cursory manner the parochial ministry of the church during the war. Yet the normal peacetime activities of the clergy and the churches were maintained as much as possible throughout the war years. Clergymen believed that the everyday life of the parish was a source of comfort and order in a world of change and despair.

Throughout the war, the clergy defined their ministry in spiritual terms rather than material, and were thus only supporters, not initiators, of the charitable war organisations. Comforting the bereaved and convincing the people of the need to turn back to God was regarded by the clergy as their specific war ministry. By 1917 some of the clergy believed that the nation should be prepared and repentant for the second coming of the Lord.

The recruiting campaigns were supported enthusiastically by the clergy, for they believed that a willingness to volunteer was a test of a man's faith in God. Although the clergy encouraged so many young men to volunteer for duty, the majority of ministers stayed behind and endured much soul-searching and public opposition because of this. The two conscription referendums held during the war were supported by the clergy, yet they were strangely silent in publicly voicing that support. The clergy may well have preferred their male parishioners to willingly volunteer for a just cause rather than be forced.

Clergymen accepted that the war was from God, sent as a warning and judgement on a sinful and unrighteous nation. The clergy believed that it was their duty to try to reveal to the people their national and individual sins, and to aim instead for righteousness. The national sins were vigorously denounced from the pulpit. These sins were the main moral issues of society, such as intemperance and sabbath desecration. As victory seemed far off, the clergy began to turn to varieties of millennialism for solace. Throughout the war, the clergy's sustaining belief was that the war was a call from God for righteousness and that blessings would be granted to the nation and its people.