as your correspondents Peter Newman and David Jarvis claim, "Catholicism for the ordinary ranker is nil," the fault lies not with the Army which in matters of religious practice is more than helpful, but with the individual soldiers themselves. Time and again I have seen young Catholic Servicemen march off like sheep to attend, with the remainder of their platoon, religious instruction conducted by the C. of E. chaplain. These youngsters have positively to be ordered to claim their rights under King's Regulations ; they lack the moral courage to remind their platoon commanders that they are R.C.s.
As for the standard of conversation in barrack-rooms, the moral atmosphere differs considerably between one unit and another. Where the tone is relatively high, I have always found it has been influenced by practising Jews, Quakers and
other Nonconformists. If Catholics in the Forces practise their religion in the same way they can expect to get the same results.
The truth of the matter is that this problem is merely another aspect of the " leakage." If Peter Newman and David Jarvis. who find so much wrong with the morals of the Services today, ever find themselves employed in any large factory workshop they will have good cause to revise their harsh opinions. The much maligned barrack-room will seem, in retrospect, like a Sunday school.
F. S. IAndsay. Capt.
Ste.-All ex-Servicemen know the value of a good service chaplain. but the War Office does not allew us a great number. I would like to show that without much trouble the civilian priest in whose area the camp is situated could do an immense amount of good-if his time will allow.
As I see it, one of the main factors which disposes the weaker Catholic to give up the Faith is isolation. He feels swallowed up by the surrounding paganism which ignores or mocks his beliefs; he is just one man out of step with the rest of the world and why be
unique? He does not appreciate his part in the work of the visible Church because for him the Church is not visible. The frequency of week-end passes and the fumes of ilie R.C.'s Sunday truck, do not help him to discover his fellow Catholics of the unit. In fact he relies solely on his own devotion to offer
regularly a Sunday Mass. Somehow he must be shown the reality of the unity of Christ's mystical Body so that he may appreciate his own membership of a visible society. the Church, and see that he is not a cranky sectarian but part of Christ's embassy to his barracks.
The initiative of the priest can do much towards this, though the ways will differ in each case. To suggest a Catholic action group like the Legion of Mary to one of the active Catholics won't always meet refusal. Perhaps he could invite the Catholics of a unit to the parish social, dance, etc. At my first station it was largely the hospitality of a Catholic parishioner that helped me to keep my head above water-could a priest help to arrange such kindness?
" Imperfectus." London.
Sue-During the war 1 served for nearly four years in what is probably the toughest regiment in the British Army. I heard plenty of foul epithets," but my reaction was a feeling of pity for the speakers' limited vocabulary. The swearing is motivated by a desire to achieve authority and emphasis in conversation, a desire which educated persons naturally accomplish with more
finesse. Eventually this habit tends to become unconscious, the speaker becoming insensible to the meaning of his epithets. The words have become a part of his every-day language.
Considering the abundance of
" filthy literature " displayed on book-stalls, it is small wonder that an occasional sample finds its way into a barrack-room. As for " bawdy songs," they can be wonderful pickme-ups during a forced route march. It is the tunes which are important. and these are usually first-class. The words may be ignored or charitably recognised as a simple expression of that cynical disillusionment the soldier adopts as compensation for his lost independence.
29e South Road, Twickenham, Middlesex.
Sue-The dirty talk and all the rest described by your correspondents is no worse than that heard in factories and the places where men meet for their leisure.
All men, of whatever religion or even none, are not bad and it is possible to choose decent men for one's friends and personally I had Protestant friends who were examples to many Catholics. One of these, indeed, would take to task Catholics who did not attend Mass on Sunday.
The percentage of those attending Sunday Mass compares very favourably with civilians and overseas it increases, the fact of being so far from home seems to draw men to their religious duties.
A. Richardson. ex-Flight Sergeant, Royal Air Force.
S1R,-The language of the barrackroom is shocking to one unused to it at first, but there are one or two points to be remembered. It is a language peculiar to the barrack-room and most of the words (described in the Oxford Dictionary as "not now in polite use ") have no more mean ing than the " in an oldfashioned novel. If one has to try constantly not to use these words one thinks of their meaning each time they are heard. and this. surely, is had.
The conversation is not always what is cynically described as " sub)ect normal," but whatever the subject (from the C.O. to sport or religion to opera), it is discussed with a colossal indelicacy. Talk of sex, jokes and songs about it, raise hoots of ribald laughter. but certainly not (except with the few unbalanced people), depraved desires.
The barrack-room cannot he blamed for the most distressing spectacle of the lax (or lapsed) Catholic. In a barrack-room one sees more vividly the extent of such lapses hut the cause is a general one and outside the forces. to be found in had homes, and. let's be honest, priests and teachers who have somehow failed Id instil a solid spirituality into
their charges. The leakage is no
greater in the forces than outside.
Drunkenness is almost non-existent in the forces as a whole, and the conduct of these boys is good when in public-houses. Only beer is sold in MOM N.A.A.F.I.s, and no intoxicants are allowed in barrack-rooms.
Edward P. Lae.
Late R. Sigs. & R.A.S.C.
SIR,-The constant repetition of nauseous talk centred around sins against the sixth and ninth Commandments, unnatural sin, etc., must have a debilitating moral effect on all but the strongest.
The only solution I can think of is the formation of Catholic regiments where indecency would be as punishable as insubordination. From experience I would say that the example of the staunch Catholic. who gets up on Sunday mornings for Mass and consistently behaves as a Catholic should, can be of the utmost help to the weaker Catholic, and possibly in God's good time to the other men he meets in his barrack-room life.
L. R. Stevens. ex-Infantry. Effingham, Surrey.
SIR.-If "wild orgies" were seen by our correspondents, then, surely. they are lacking in moral courage for not reporting the fact to their commanding officers, who would be bound by Service and Civil Law to take action.
Our unfortunate fellow Servicemen are not to he condemned but pitied for not possessing a religion or, possibly, a decent upbringing. However, I am sure that they possess some redeeming virtues. There is a " leakage," without a doubt, but there are also quite a number of conversions. I. personally, know of six.
H. Flanagan. R.A.F., High Wycombe, Bucks.
SIR,-Your correspondents all deal with this negatively ("What effect
will Forces life have on Catholics?") rather than positively ("What effect can Catholics have on Forces life?"). During ten years Army service ('39 to '49) I found there (as in civil life) an infinitesimal proportion of Catholics with sufficient '' guts" to make themselves felt.
The Forces deprive Catholics of nothing i but plenty lack something on joining.
served in many large military units in England, spending much time trying to persuade feeble Catholics to be dynamic.
Catholic Other Ranks were largely content to decide lethargically that it was " impossible " to practise religion in the Army. Catholic officers, who should have shown leadership in religion. were nearly as bad; and very few exerted their considerable " legal " powers to enable themselves and others to practise.
For example-some Catholics did not speak up enough in enlistment to have their religion correctly documented; and never made themselves known as Catholics to their officers or comrades (as "Centurion " suggests happens automatically) or to members of the opposite sex. Many never requested transport for Mass-although it was almost bound to he provided if requested. (As F/S Flanagan says: " Higher authority gives every facility to those wishing to practise "-yet. but only if these wishes are made known!) Many failed to use transport provided, and did not go to the Sacraments, except perhaps on leave. Many never requested a Catholic Padre's Hour, and even attended Padres' Hours of other denominations-thus rarely. if
ever, saw a priest. Few had the moral courage to pray openly in a barrack room, or to display crucifixes, etc., by their bed-spaces (which would generally have been allowed), neither did they try to enlighten others about the Faith, even in the simplest ways.
[Owing to the numbers of letters received we have had to shorten some of those printed above, EDITOR, C.H.1