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A Padre on the Battlefield
       Near East School of Theology, Lebanon
Proclaiming the love of Jesus Christ
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     By Major Rev. Dr. Tom Hamilton,
who serves in team-ministry with the Rev. Paula Hamilton at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown, P.E.I. He is the Senior Reserve Military Chaplain for the 36 Canadian Brigade Group (Nova Scotia and P.E.I.) and is the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service historian.
When the director motioned to the film crew and said “Action!”, it was as if we were transported back in time. Wearing a Second World War uniform, I looked at the camera and spoke the first words of my historical re-enactment: “It happened here on this ground, in this place, it was 31 August 1944—for all of us, it was a day like no other.”
We were standing on the ground where Canadian soldiers engaged in combat during the Battle of the Foglia River in Italy. The battle was part of the initial move against the German Reich’s last major line of defence in Italy known as the Gothic line. The defenders occupied the high ground and laid thousands of land mines.
The historical monologue was told from the perspective of Padre Laurie Wilmot, a Canadian Anglican military chaplain, who was thrust into the midst of the battle. As the battle be- gan, Canadian soldiers unintention- ally detonated German mines and casualties soared: “I heard the first mine explode soldiers ran for cover, more mines were set off... and some were crying out, ‘Padre,
help me!’”
Disregarding his own safety, Pa-
dre Wilmot knew what he had to do: “I pulled out the Red Cross flag from my thigh pocket and attached it to a switch lying nearby... Then I stood up waving the Red Cross flag...and led the stretcher bearers into the battle.”
Thankfully, Padre Wilmot survived the event. He and the stretcher bear- ers were able to rescue more than 60 soldiers from the battlefield. But there were countless fatalities that day, in- cluding another military chaplain, Pa- dre Ken Eaton.
Throughout the Italian Campaign during the Second World War, Can- ada’s military units included many Presbyterians. There were military chaplains like Padre Logan-Vencta, Padre Johnston, Padre Fulford and Padre Rowland. There were also Presbyterians in the ranks, like Pri- vate John Bell, who paid the ultimate sacrifice. His widow and seven chil- dren grieved for a husband and father who never returned home.
In the aftermath of the Battle of the Foglia River, Padre Wilmot continu- ally relied on his faith in Christ to deal with his own battle exhaustion. He was not alone. Many veterans, who shouldered the physical and mental scars of war, along with many griev- ing families who were forced to pick up the pieces of their lives shattered by war, did so by reaching out to God.
Presenting a historical drama on the very ground in Italy where Padre Wilmot was sustained by his faith in
G.D. Johnston in military uniform stand- ing in front of an army vehicle at Senny Bridge in 1942. PHOTO CREDIT: THE PRES- BYTERIAN CHURCH IN CANADA ARCHIVES
Major Rev. Dr. Tom Hamilton at Padre Eaton’s grave in Italy, wearing the Second World War uniform he wore for the his- torical documentary.
the midst of battle was a powerful re- minder that war, suffering, pandem- ics—and even death—will never be stronger than God’s presence and love.
A short trailer of Major Rev. Dr. Tom Hamilton’s historical mono- logue is available on the Bravery In Arms website: The entire documentary video will be available to watch later in 2022.
  Presbyterian Padres that served overseas, taken some time between 1943 and 1945. Back row (left to right): W.S. Sutherland, R.C. Creelma, N. Sharkey, C.M. Cameron, D.C. Smith, D.B. Mackay, D.C. Hill, D.P. Rowland. Front row (left to right): W.D.G. Hollingworth, J.A. Munro, G.M. Jamieson, J. Logan-Vencta, G.D. Johnston, A. Mills, Wm. Sutherland, D.E. Flint. PHOTO CREDIT: THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN CANADA ARCHIVES, DONATED FROM GEOFF JOHNSTON’S FAMILY COLLECTION

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