The first Australian Army Chaplain to arrive in Vietnam was the Roman Catholic Chaplain, Father Gerry Cudmore who was attached to 1 RAR. He was soon joined by other chaplains from Australia.
As Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war developed and expanded so did the posting of Army Chaplains from various Christian denominations. At the peak of Australia’s involvement, the chaplaincy structure was as follows. There were 9 chaplains in country at any one time and they were detached into three teams of three chaplains. The senior team was posted to HQ Australian Force Vietnam (AFV) but detached to the 1 ALSG area at Vung Tau. Their areas of responsibility were to provide regular coverage for 1 ALSG units, and the 1st Australian Field Hospital, at Vung Tau. They also had monthly responsibility to visit the Australian Army Training Team (AATTV) detachments deployed all over Vietnam from the Mekong Delta in the south to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) in the north, as well as regular visits and church services at HQ AFV in Saigon. They had a very heavy schedule to meet and were frequently found in very volatile and dangerous areas throughout South Vietnam.
A second team of three chaplains was detached from HQ 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) at Nui Dat with one chaplain serving with each infantry battalion, with no additional unit responsibilities. The ANZAC Battalion also had a New Zealand Army chaplain attached with chaplaincy responsibilities to New Zealand personnel throughout Vietnam.
The third team of three chaplains was posted to HQ 1 ATF and each chaplain was given primary unit chaplaincy responsibilities to all non infantry units at Nui Dat, combined with each chaplain also being responsible for denominational part time duty with each of the 3 infantry battalions.
While there was no set formula for determining the number of chaplains needed, in practical terms it worked out that that there was one chaplain for each 1,000 soldiers. All this led to very hectic work schedules for all chaplains, with plenty of “front line” exposure for each one.
Each of the other two services, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), deployed their own chaplains to meet the needs of their own in-country personnel.
1. To provide regular religious worship facilities for personnel in all environments, and to provide advice and support to commanders at all levels on matters of morale.
2. To provide individual contact, counselling support and encouragement to all personnel and offer an emergency and speedy “Chaplain to Chaplain In Confidence” signals systems to help deal with domestic problems back in Australia and have them quickly resolved.
3. To organise voluntary assistance programs to orphanages within Phuoc Tuy Province and involve off duty soldiers in such projects as often as possible.
4. Because chaplaincy work involves direct face to face and personal contact with soldiers, the distinctive style and personality of each individual chaplain always came to the fore and helped to break down barriers of reluctance and reservation.