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Church parade for foreigners in British Service during the Georgian era

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A question came up while I was talking with a friend about the British Army church parade and importance of CE observations during the reign of the first three Georges. George I, a Hanoverian by birth spoke no English. George II was also born outside of Britain and spoke English with a definite accent. George III, unlike his father and grandfather was born in England and spoke English as his first language.

During the Seven Years War, the 60th Regiment of Foot was raised and initially recruited from the ancestral homeland of the Georges in Hannover, and from Swiss cantons. The was understrength when it was sent to the Americas, and continued recruiting among the German speaking people of eastern Pennsylvania, and accepted recruited males from other ethnic backgrounds. Although most of these men were probably Protestants (Lutheran/Evangelish) , they would not have been Church of England.

Normally, a British Army church service would be in English and something from the Book of Common Prayer or something else acceptable by the Church of England would be read out as part of an obligatory Sunday church parade, or funeral service. Since the 60th Foot, aka "The Royal Americans" had a large component of Europeans recruited directly in Hannover, German speaking Swiss, the amount of English the men understood beyond basic drill commands was probably minimal. Sergeants and NCOs were probably required to translate non-drill related commands and orders so the men could understand them.

Here's the question. A CofE Church service to German/Swiss/Pennsylvania Germans delivered in English probably made little or no sense to the men standing in ranks listening to an officer who probably spoke no German. The King of England and in his first role as the reigning sovereign of Hannover also spoke German as his first language, and may have shared many of their religious beliefs although he would have been expected to rule as the head of the Church of England. Does anyone know if the Crown made any exceptions for German Hannoverians and German speaking foreigners in the ranks of the 60th Foot (aka "the Royal Americans") and if church services were given in English a language most of the men didn't understand, or in German, one they would have allowed them to understand what they were being read/told, and also, bonded them closer to the mutual German king and sovereign of both Britain and Hannover?

Or...were stiff necked regulations that were forced on the rest of the British Army applied willy-nilly to all and sundry, including the German speakers of the 60th regardless of whether the men understood English, and did not belong to the CofE?

Any "facts" or period references would be appreciated.

Edited by Les
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Les - you certainly don't ask easy questions ! I regret that I can't give you the exact answer you are looking for - and unless you can find access to early Orders laying down the format - I doubt that you ever will. I hope money wasn't riding on this ?

Knowing how the British mind works - and having attended enough Church Parades - I would say that British Officers wouldn't have worried in the least about whether the men understood the service. For them the important thing would be that it had been held in accordance with instructions.

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  • 2 months later...

"Church of England, fall out right. Roman Catholics, fall out left. Dissenters, report for fatigues!"

That about sums it up, with certain modifications for Scottish regiments. For the R.C.s it probably depended on whether they had their own Chaplain, or whether (as in France 1914-18) there was a church nearby.

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In what may have been regarded as a dangerous burst of liberalism, the British Army in 1827 passed a regulation which, in theory, allowed non C of E types to fall out when Church parade was called, presumably to practice their own bizarre religious rituals. It would, however, have been a brave man who actually asked for and got that dispensation from the CO! Michael has the right of it: CE, RC or jankers were still the real choices at least as late as the 1950s in the Canadian Army!.

Prior to that, and probably after, it seems to have been the case that Irish Catholics who had evaded the regulations and actually gotten commissions were given dispensations by their bishops to attend C of E church parades without committing a sin, as church parade would not have been optional for officers!. In a side note, when Michael and I were attending a Catholic college at the University of Toronto in the late 1970s, going down to ther Anglican cathedral on a Sunday to hear the choir and smell the incense - we RCs weeren't doing that much by then - was considered risque and possibly even slightly subversive!

The purpose of a church parade was, at least in the mind of the NCOs, to have the men parade! Spiritual sustenance, if any, would have been a fringe benefit. Patrick O'Brien probably had it right when he suggests that Sunday service on a British man of war was part of the comforting routine - a kind of spiritual mental blanket rather than a spiritual experience as we would understand it, especially given that on many occasions the sermon was replaced by the recitation of a list of capital crimes which the congregants might be charged with! After all, until the 1960's the RC Mass was said in Latin, hardly a language in common use and any number of Orthodox denominations still use Greek, Arabic, Ukrainian and so on for congrgations who are not proficient in those languages.

There was an NCO of the Royal Artillery in the 1810's who retired, went to Bible college and returned to Halifax, Canada in the 1820s, where he founded a chapel. In fact, the garrison chaplain (C of E) was in the embarassing position of having to ask to use his chapel for church parades because the garrison had nothing suitable. He was very highly thought of and when he passed away some of his pall bearers were officers of the Halifax garrison, but that was sufficiently unusual that it was widely reported.

On short, church parade in the abstract was undoubtedly about religion and spirituality but in practice was often more likely a reflection of a tried and true rationale for many large organizations: "Because that's how we do it!"


Edited by peter monahan
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Hallo Gents, :D

Interesting subject, my contribution, as follows, from the top of my head, and from papers I have seen during my research on the British military in the West of Ireland, in the 1800's service men of both predominant religions (i.e. Protestant & Catholic) attended their respective Churches in towns where churches existed, with the parade to the Protestant Church being held foremost, in other locations, a local minister was contracted to give a service in the military barracks, if a chapel was located in the barracks or a suitable room was provided for the service.

There is s documented cases of a British Officer removing his men from a local Catholic Church in the middle of service when he deemed the officiating priests sermon to be heading toward seditious language with regards the British Crown.

Also there were a few unfounded accusations published by the Catholic Editor of one local newspaper stating Catholic soldiers had been denied the right to attend Church service, (afterwards proved to be untrue,) published with the sole purpose of stirring up local agitation.

Kevin in Deva.

Edited by Kev in Deva
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