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Friday November 24 2017

Looking Back: Requiem for a Padre

A minister's tribute to his WW1 chaplain, published in November 1967.


A Correspondent, who from 1916 to 1918 was a young officer with the 5th/6th The Royal Scots, has sent his tribute to Ewen Maclean whose death was recently reported in too short a notice.

THERE he stood, a pale stooping, fragile, forlorn figure at the open end of the square. I wondered what had blown in, and when we sat down for the sermon, I never expected to get what I got then, and for two years would keep on getting, from a man with such a shy and downcast countenance. If I remember neither text nor sermon, the effect of that service abides after fifty years.

Our new padre was introduced to us at that Drumhead Service in a field behind the lines one Sunday while we were out on rest.

Head and shoulders picture of Ewen Maclean in dog collar and military uniformIt was the Highland voice that began it. In the first minute we could feel the fragrance of the heather. After five minutes he had us by our own fireside with our own folk. Before he had done with us that blessed day, there was not one of us who felt far from the gate of heaven.

In spite of his frail physique and the abhorrence he must have had for the din, the mud, the coarseness, filth and squalor, not to speak of front-line danger, day after day he constantly forced himself to go where we were.

When he did come among us man to man, it was obvious that his preference was the best, even to the second-best; but, bearing cheerfully and patiently with us as we were, he did not ‘threap’ his preferences down our throats. Only once did he deliberately involve himself in a head-on collision.

We were on that occasion out on rest during the festive season, and some of us may have been a little too festive. He dealt with the matter at a Christmas service, leaving us in no doubt about whom or what he was speaking. All of us, even the worst offenders, liked him the more for it.

He had left the U.F. Manse in Avoch (and he taught us not to sound the v) to come to us, and none could have talked long with him without knowing how deep was his love for the Black Isle. The end of his year with us showed the one occasion on which he chose what was worse. He had been given leave for one year only. If he wanted to extend his visit, he would have to resign his charge. And so for the beauty of his manse and the Moray Firth, he chose the chaos of the dug-out, for the peace of his parish the din of the trenches. For the generous folk of the Black Isle, he chose us. He stayed on to the end. The presence of so faithful a minister plainly strengthened by the Master he served had its effect.

Meeting me again ten years after the war, he asked wonderingly what was meant on my own ordination when I had written him a “Thank you” letter. He went on to say that a letter from Central Africa had also come from a young missionary thanking him for keeping him steadfast to the faith of his fathers.

On checking in the Church of Scotland Year Book I am staggered to discover that although he reached the rank of Assistant Chaplain General there are no letters after his name other than those of the M.A., to which Aberdeen University promoted him more than sixty years ago. But it comforts me to think that survivors of those who served with the 5th/6th The Royal Scots and many now ageing parish ministers who were young chaplains in 1939 and to whom he proved a wise and kindly A.C.G. salute his memory with thankfulness.

DAVID STIVEN


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