Nottingham military chaplain deploys to Afghanistan

Padre Brown

Padre Brown

The Reverend Father Daren Brown, a Roman Catholic minister in the Royal Army Chaplains Department, has just deployed to Afghanistan for his second, six-month tour as part of a team ministry.

Father Brown, from Tollerton, Nottingham, is chaplain to the Queen’s Royal Lancers in Catterick and is also the Brigade Roman Catholic chaplain.  Although they represent different faiths, on deployment the ministers represent all faiths and are there to support all soldiers.

“Unity in diversity, I think that is the key to chaplaincy,” says Padre Brown.

For his first tour, he was based at Camp Bastion Hospital, this time he will be out on the ground alongside his soldiers.  “I am chaplain to a specific forward operating regiment, a reconnaissance regiment, and I also have a Roman Catholic role – so both are going to get me out on the ground quite a lot.  Although I will be based in Bastion I imagine I won’t be spending much time there.

“I will be sharing the same dangers as the soldiers – in a dual role, going out to visit my own soldiers from the Queen’s Royal Lancers also going out to offer Roman Catholic Mass and all the sacraments to Roman Catholics wherever they are.”

For every chaplain in the field, finding a place to hold a service can be a challenge.  With his purple stole over his uniform and body armour close at hand, Father Brown explains how he ‘builds’ his church on the ground. “A little space, a little quiet room if that’s possible on a forward operating base.  I’ll have a white alter cloth, a little cross and I’ll make it as much of a church as possible – and that’s my church.”

Being close to the soldiers is the key explains Father Brown, who says the soldiers ‘love it’ when the padre goes on patrol with them.

“I’ll be 43 when I go out, older than their fathers probably – it gives them a lot of confidence I think and it’s a great spiritual help to them, I’m convinced it is, having experienced it. They do feel a great deal of comfort by having a padre along.  We can’t go on every outing clearly, we won’t go on strike ops, we would get in the way, but on a routine patrol … or visiting patrol bases, we will do that.”

Since the 7th century, members of the clergy have been ‘forbidden to shed blood’.  Although aware of the dangers of going unarmed, Padre Brown says he has never felt that threatened.

“I haven’t come under gunfire.  I’ve come under mortar fire a little bit … I’ve never felt the need to carry a weapon at all – well I wouldn’t anyway – it’s not our role – we are there in a spiritual sense.”

In his previous tour as hospital chaplain, Father Brown worked long hours and had to be on hand to help with casualties as they came in.  He also addressed the young medics who faced trauma on a daily basis.

“In the hospital my first thoughts were ‘what are the injuries going to be, has anybody died?’ Then I could prepare myself before I went into hospital.  It’s really trying to get to see everybody and be with each individual even if it’s just for half a minute, that’s my key role in that sense and if I have to administer last rights then I’ll actually be called in.  Hopefully that does not happen but those are the things that would go through my mind.”

As well as offering spiritual support to individuals and holding regular services, Father Brown may be called upon to lead a repatriation ceremony, also known as a ‘ramp’ ceremony.  It is a special service for those killed in action and provides time for soldiers to remember a fallen comrade. 

On his last tour of Afghanistan, Father Brown led 17 repatriation ceremonies. “It is very, very important.  It’s a chance for the soldiers to say goodbye to a comrade.  It’s a very brief time they’ve got to do that, the real grieving will happen when they get back but it is very important for them to say goodbye and to salute their comrade.  It’s not easy at all.  Every one was just as hard as the one before without a doubt.”

Many military chaplains have been decorated for bravery in action – four have been award one of Britain’s highest awards for gallantry, The Victoria Cross.  Some 400 military crosses have been awarded to padres in the past.

In Afghanistan today, they go where they are needed most.  Some spend their days in remote patrol bases living in tents alongside their soldiers others are on call 24-hours a day at Camp Bastion Hospital.

It’s a tough environment.  When Father Brown was last there temperatures rose to 63-degrees centigrade and the dust gave him a bad chest for the first two-months but he is driven to do the job.

“I joined to go to the front line as much as possible with the troops.  It’s frightening without a doubt but that’s what I joined for,” he added. Father Brown attended Tuxford Comprehensive School and worked as a civil engineer before joining the Army in 2005.  His mum, Hilary, lives in Tollerton, Nottingham.

Before October 2005, all military chaplains had been of Christian faith, from many denominations including Church of England, Methodist and Church of Scotland.  Since then, the MOD has appointed five civilian, tri-service, chaplains each from the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish faith communities.

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