History of Chaplains in the Air Force

Since its inception the Royal Australian Air Force has engaged clergy in both the permanent and specialist reserve of the Air Force.

Known as Chaplains, these clergy have served Air Force personnel and their families in both tragic and joyous times, and during conflict and peace. They were the early providers of spiritual, religious and pastoral care support to the Air Force.

In the early years, part-time chaplains served the infant Air Force. The first full time chaplain was Father Ken Morrison, a Catholic Priest who was appointed on 5 September 1939 - two days after the declaration that began World War II.

With a growing number of chaplains needed to serve the rapidly expanding Air Force, it was clear that an organised chaplaincy service was needed. Fr Ken Morrison was joined by the Rev'd I Davidson, a Presbyterian minister. Together, the two full-time staff chaplains marked the formation of the Air Force Chaplain Branch on 31 August 1940.

The early chaplains were prepared to go wherever they were needed to serve Air Force personnel. Catholic Chaplain J Pierce, together with five Air Force personnel, commandeered a Bentley in Malaya for escape to Singapore. Then, with sixty Air Force personnel, he commandeered a semi-derelict vessel for an escape journey from Singapore to Darwin.

Chaplains Bob Davies (Anglican), John McNamara (Catholic) and Fred McKay (Presbyterian) served in the Middle East and the Mediterranean between 1942 and 1945. They led the way in embracing diversity, and showed a Christianity ‘with its sleeves rolled up'.

Methodist Chaplain Gordon Wood lost his life when a flying bomb hit the church where he was worshipping on 18 June 1944.

It is with that same spirit that Chaplains serve God and the Air Force on Australian soil, seeking to provide spiritual, religious and pastoral support to members and their families in times of joy and tragedy.

Air Force chaplains have continued to serve in that expeditionary spirit, in places such as:

  • Japan (as part of the post war occupation force)
  • Korea
  • Vietnam
  • Kuwait
  • East Timor
  • the Middle East, and
  • many humanitarian missions.