N. “…a consecrated and prophetic religious leader.”: The Reverend (Hon. Captain) Carlisle

18th Battalion Association[i]
Windsor and Detroit Branch

When our Conventions are held at Windsor and we all parade to All Saints Anglican Church for our annual Memorial Service, it always brings back memories of our fist Chaplain, Captain Arthur Carlisle, who was the Minister at All Saints before and after the First War. Many officers and men of the Battalion worshipped at All Saints during their lifetime. Some still do.


We had only attended a few Church Parades in London and Sandling before we became convinced that Captain Carlisle could preach a better sermon, and do so in a nicer voice, than any other Chaplain in our Division. It was a pleasure to listen to him. We will always remember the beautiful service he conducted on the S.S. “Grampion” while we were at sea.

On Christmas Day (1915) two of our Companies were in the front line while the other two were in reserve at Ridgewood and Vurstraat [sic]. We were at Ridgewood.

We were later told that on Christmas morning, Captain Carlisle had gone into the front line and held a Communion Service for the officers and men who wished to attend. It was quite a setting, for only a hundred yards of no man’s land separated us from a powerful enemy. It so happened that on this day both sides were honouring an unofficial cease fire because the Germans, like ourselves, and the rest of the Christian world, were celebrating the birth of a child in a stable at Bethlehem many years before. We recall Major Baxter mentioning this unique service at one of our banquets.

Whoever selected the Rev. Arthur Carlisle of All Saints Anglican Church to be the first Chaplain of the Eighteenth Battalion made and excellent choice.

He was well-respected by the officers and men of the Battalion. We will always remember him.

The Story

The author, C.S.M. Abbott Ross, D.C.M., relates the experiences of one of the most visible men in the Battalion, Rev. (Captain) Carlisle. Captain Carlisle was the Battalion Chaplain from his enlistment on February 22, 1914 until April 15, 1916.

The story relates how central he was to the spiritual life of the soldiers, and then post-war, veterans, of the Battalion as he was active serving the church before the war and after the war. The men of the 18th found his sermons pleasing as he preached to the men and the author extols the value of his sermons and how he presented them to the troops. He also was willing to go to the men, even when they were in the front-line doing duty against the Germans and in close proximity to them.

This active engagement with the men won their respect and his sermon on that Christmas Day was remembered to the veterans of the 18th Battalion at a reunion after the war.


Religion was a focal point for society in Canada during the war. There are no attestation papers that this author has reviewed (n = 2,000 +) in which the man enlisted has not listed a religious affiliation. There were apparently, at that time in Canadian history, no atheists or agnostics in the trenches. Thus, the role of religion in the C.E.F. was a significant part of the life of a member of the military and, by extension, the role of the Battalion Chaplin was a key component to the spiritual life of the men. The Chaplain’s flock involved the religious well-being of a diverse, mostly Christian[iv], polity and as a battalion appears to have had only one Chaplain from one religious denomination (Carlisle was Church of England / Anglican) administering to all the men’s various religious needs, this man would, without doubt, been known to every soldier of the battalion.

Chart of CEF Religous Affiliation at Attesation. Source: Source: C.E.F. Statistics (NAC, MG 30, Duguid Papers “CEF Statistics”, Religion. Note that Jewish is 0.4%. Due to rounding shows “0” percent.

This brief remembrance hi-lights the Reverend (Captain) Arthur Carlisle and his work with the 18th Battalion from his enlistment into the Battalion and his departure. Even with his departure, his connection with the Battalion extends to the post-war period where the 18th Battalion Association organizes its reunion activity with its participation in a church service at All Saints Anglican Church in Windsor. Carlisle moved to Montreal in December 1921 and may have participated in the reunions of 1919, 1920, and 1921.[v] It illustrates the efforts of Rev. Carlisle was willing to go to for the Battalion as he enters the front-line during Christmas Day to offer communion to the two companies serving there.

Officially, though enlisting with the 18th Battalion, Captain Carlisle was attached to the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade and was subject to the orders and tasking of his superiors which could have been challenging for him to maintain his connection to his parent unit as he would have been responsible to the other three battalions making up the Brigade. Whatever the case, he is able to offer the eucharist to “his” battalion on Christmas Day.

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Above: “A UK ‘WW 1’ double communion kit in a named oak case.  The second chalice doubles up as a ciborium for the host (wafers).  Original items but assembled together for this display.” Source: Chaplains at War (UK)

This act of Communion would encompass many of the men practicing under Christian denominations and would have been especially significant during this particular Christmas. This was the first Christmas that the Battalion had experienced away from Canada. The Women’s Canadian Club of London had organized a dinner for the entire Battalion[vi]. Now, in Belgium, the ability to celebrate as a unit was denied due to the unit be subject to the requirements of the service. Two companies, “A” and “C”, were in the front-line and “B” and “D” were in battalion reserve. The men would be home sick with many cards, letters, and packages reminding them of home, so far away. Coupled with their baptism of fire in the trenches in the Ypres Sector with the resulting dead and wounded suffered, the men would rely on the comfort of each other’s company and that of the solace and comfort of their faith and the practice of that faith. From September to December 1915 the 18th Battalion had suffered twenty-four fatalities. These deaths had an impact on the members of the Battalion due to the position of the soldier killed. It is with certainty that the soldiers serving knew that continued combat would lead to many more men wounded and killed.

As a Battalion Chaplain Carlisle had a duty to serve his men:

“…and chaplains moved forward into the trenches. Years of suffering and sorrow stripped away every personal disguise and every religious trapping. Denominational barriers faded as chaplains called upon every spiritual resource they could muster to meet the challenges of suffering and death.”[vii]

His Communion Service in the trenches was one such act. With some risk. Not just, as noted by the story-teller, the threat of German action by breaking the tacit cease-fire being observed during the second Christmas of the war, but also because, under British regulations (under which the men of the C.E.F. were subject to) chaplains were not permitted in active service areas. This did not stop them. Their duty to their men, of all faiths, was greater than the fear of official rebuke:

“Their first test of allegiance came as soon as the chaplains went to the front. British Army authorities restricted their chaplains from going forward into the trenches, cloistering them in rear area hospitals. Canadian officers, therefore followed suit. Although chaplains in both the British and Canadian forces objected, Canadians systematically disobeyed the order, sharing the dangers of the front with their men. The campaign to defy the orders let to chaplains’ sneaking into the line and conducting trench visits and burials after dark, occasionally fast-talking their way past the senior officers who challenged them. Though some were unofficially rebuked and ordered to the rear, most chaplains disobediently flung themselves into front-line actions through the 1915 and early 1916 fighting and frequented the Canadian trenches between battles.”[viii]

Save for this “memory” this unselfish act, so emblematic of the values of many religions, for the spiritual comfort of his flock at a trying and stressful time for the young men of the Battalion would vanish into time. His efforts are remembered fondly by the author of the memory and one wonders if members maintained contact with Reverend Carlisle while he served his church in Montreal.

Captain Carlisle’s service with the 18th Battalion began on February 22, 1915[ix], shortly before the departure of the Battalion to England and ended, per an affidavit on file in his service record, on July 5, 1916. Thus, he served with the Battalion for over a year, from its embarkation to England to just after the bloody and confusing battle at the St. Eloi Craters. The service records do not give any indication why he was “Permitted to Resign” but he did resign his commission upon his return to Canada and re-entered civilian life, presumably at his prior assignment at All Saints Anglican Church. Post-war Reverend Carlisle would rise in the clergy of the Anglican church, eventually obtaining the position of Bishop of Montreal.

He died at the age of 61 on January 5, 1943 and his funeral reflected the communities regard for this man.

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The “memory” of the Reverend (Captain) Carlisle illustrates the bond between men in military service and in combat and that the religious differences between these men become minimized by their shared experience and faith. This ethos was not necessarily reflected pre and post-war in Canadian society. The higher ideal of Christianity is realized in war, but not by the hard-earned peace. Yet, under the stress and circumstances of war, men, and by a larger extent humanity, can extend their understanding and tolerance in their shared values and faith.

The men of the 18th Battalion remembered their chaplain. He served his flock well and they paid tribute to him decades after his service in the Canadian Army.

Fittingly, the following statement summarizes Carlisle’s values:

Rabbi Harry J.Stern, of Temple Emanu-El, voiced the following tribute to the late Bishop:

‘We mourn the passing of Bishop Carlisle. He was a great champion in the cause of Christian – Jewish fellowship and better understanding. On a number of occasions he graced the pulpit of my own synagogue and thus reinforced our faith in our common religious heritage.

In his going, we of the Jewish community have lost a great Christian friend, and the religion community generally, a consecrated and prophetic religious leader.’”[x]

“Interfaith Passover Seder, Temple Emanu-El, ca. 1960s. Rabbi Dr. Harry J. Stern with dinner participants.” Source: Museum of Jewish Montreal.

Who knows how much his war service and experience influenced his future practice as a priest?

[i] The blog has come into the possession of an exciting and valuable series of documents care of Dan Moat, a member of the 18th Battalion Facebook Group. His Great Grand-Father, Lance-Corporal Charles Henry Rogers, reg. no. 123682 was an active member in the 18th Battalion Association and the Royal Canadian Legion. With is interest in the post-war Association a series of “MEMORIES” in the form of one-page stories relate many of the Battalion’s experiences from the “other ranks” soldiers’ point-of-view.

It appears that the documents were written in the early 1970s by C.S.M. Abbott Ross, D.C.M., a full 50-years after the end of The Great War and are a valuable social history of soldiers’ experiences as told in their own words about the events that happened a half-century ago to them, and now a full century for us.

[ii] The transcription and research of these “memories” is an attempt to connect and identify the people mentioned in the stories with some accuracy. This is, in no way, a definitive identification of the people in the stories but there is high confidence that these are the men mentioned in the “memories”. In some cases, the story may identify people, places, dates, times, and details inaccurately and, where possible, these details are noted. Given that the men relating these memories would be in there late 70s, at the minimum, their errors can be forgiven. The stories related stand on their own as a social history of the experiences of the men of the 18th Battalion.

[iii] Thanks to the assistance of Major (Padre) Mike Peterson, Ph.D. for the article that helped to flesh out this article and broaden this author’s perspective.

[iv] According to the Duguid Papers “CEF Statistics” the Jewish faith only represented 0.4% of the population.

[v] It is interesting to note that the creation of the 18th Battalion Association may have been the first association of its kind to spawn from the needs of the veterans to support each other. It also indicates the strength of the bond of the men of the Battalion as the association would be made up of men who originated with the Battalion at its inception and to the replacements that came to the Battalion during the war.

[vi] See The Christmases of the 18th Battalion for more information.

[vii] The Ecumenical Model of Ministry in the Canadian Forces Chaplain Branch: A Compendium of Articles: Resource for the United Church of Canada and Anglican Church of Canada Dialogue. Section A. Historic Foundations – A Precis of Canadian Military Chaplaincy. Major (the Rev Canon) Eric Reynolds. Page 12. Pub: National Defence (Canada), 2003.

[viii] Obedient Rebels: Canadian Chaplains in World War 1. Page 14. (Source to be determined.)

[ix] He was officially appointed Battalion Chaplain on February 27, 1915.

[x] Thongs Pass Bier of Bishop Carlisle. The Montreal Gazette. January 8, 1943. Page 17.

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