The Royal Army Chaplains’ Department (RAChD) is an all-officer department that provides ordained clergy to minister to the British Army.
The Army Chaplains’ Department (AChD) was formed by Royal Warrant of 23 September 1796; until then chaplains had been part of individual regiments, but not on the central establishment. Only Anglican chaplains were recruited until 1827, when Presbyterians were recognised, but not commissioned until 1858. Roman Catholic chaplains were recruited from 1836, Methodist chaplains from 1881, and Jewish chaplains from 1892. During the First World War some 4,400 Army Chaplains were recruited and 179 lost their lives on active service. The department received the “Royal” prefix in February 1919. During the Second World War another 96 British and 38 Commonwealth Army Chaplains lost their lives.
From 1946 to 1996, the RAChD’s Headquarters, Depot and Training Centre were at Bagshot Park in Surrey, now the home of The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh. In 1996, they moved to the joint service Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre at Amport House near Andover, Hampshire. Since 2020 the joint centre has been based at Beckett House, part of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, just outside Shrivenham, Oxfordshire.
Serving regular chaplains in the British Army can be Catholic, one of several Protestant denominations, or to the Jewish faith. Uniquely within the Army, the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department has different cap badges for its Christian and Jewish officers.
Army chaplains, although they are all commissioned officers of the British Army and wear uniform, do not have executive authority. They are unique within the Army in that they do not carry arms. Many chaplains have been decorated for bravery in action, including four awarded Victoria Crosses: James Adams, Noel Mellish, Theodore Hardy and William Addison. At services on formal occasions, chaplains wear their medals and decorations on their clerical robes.
The RAChD’s motto is “In this Sign Conquer” as seen in the sky before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge by the Roman Emperor Constantine. Its regimental march, both quick and slow, is the Prince of Denmark’s March, erroneously known as the Trumpet Voluntary.
The Royal Army Chaplains’ Museum is at Shrivenham, in a new building opened by the Countess of Wessex on 17 May 2022. Its newly curated collection replaced the Museum of Army Chaplaincy which was at Amport House near Andover, Hampshire until 2019.
Chaplains are the only British Army officers who do not carry standard officer ranks. They are instead designated Chaplain to the Forces (CF) (e.g. “The Reverend John Smith CF”). They do, however, have grades which equate to the standard ranks and wear the insignia of the equivalent rank. Chaplains are usually addressed as “Padre” /ˈpɑːdreɪ/, never by their nominal military rank.