‘The Army has provided me with both the best and worst of times.’
That is the thoughts of Rev Colin Butler, 42 (NW) Brigade Padre, who joined the regular army in 1999.
He was a parish priest but a trip to Normandy, France, made him want to help and support the country’s troops.
“Like most people I had not given the military a second thought,” he says.
“It never occurred to me to be involved until I went to Normandy as a young parish priest. I was astounded to see the cemeteries there filled with very young men – that made me think a lot about my own response to matters of defence.”
Colin, who is married and has two grown up children, was 39 when he joined the army and has held various chaplain roles at bases all over the country.
He has been based at Fulwood Barracks in Preston since May 2012.
His role has seen him complete tours with the army in places including Cyprus, Canada and more recently Afghanistan and Iraq.
The 54-year-old is originally from Birmingham but moving around is something he has got used.
His current role covers the whole of the North West, including St Helens, and among other things his role is to be a friendly face or a shoulder to cry on for troops.
“An army chaplain does three things really,” he says, “We work as a clergy in the army, I run the churches here, I provide pastoral guidance and support to army personnel and their families.
“We try to provide an element of emotional guidance and support if people have difficulties and troubles.
“The people we encounter in the army tend to be young people, dealing with the effects of conflict and bereaved families who have lost their sons and daughters.”
Colin’s role has seen him based everywhere from the south coast to the North East.
Since starting in 1999 he has worked his way up from a priest to his current role of deputy assistant chaplain general and he is the first to say how much he enjoys his job – despite the immense highs and lows.
He says: “It’s great, the involvement with people, going away and doing the difficult things that we do gives a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment and that’s why we do it. When we are on operations, the activity of being an army chaplain changes.
“We have meaningful contacts with people.
“Some respond in a religious way, others respond by seeking out conversation and support with a whole range of matters from family issues through to professional matters carrying out challenging operations.”
“It’s never easy being away from your family, friends and home town but the life that you share with other soldiers and officers compensates for that.
“You take hope in what you believe is a worthwhile activity.”
Of course, supporting soldiers in conflict zones means dealing with death is a big part of Colin’s job.
“We are the people who provide the reassurance,” he explains.
“There are some times when you can’t believe you have the capacity to cope with what you do, you find yourself struck by what you can cope with.
“There are times when no-one else can cope and they turn to the padre.
“When the medics do what they do and can’t do any more, other soldiers are hurt and upset by what has happened - and that is where my role comes in.
“On operations, we get as near as we can at the time of death and pray for the soul who has lost their life, then we provide immediate support to those affected.
“Soldiers don’t have the opportunity to grieve in the normal way, they have a dangerous job to do.
“Part of the chaplain’s role is to provide reassurance that their friend is going to be looked after.
“When we are on tour we deal with repatriation of soldiers.
“That is very similar to a funeral service. Back in the UK another chaplain, like myself, would care for the bereaved families.
“We remain linked with families as long as it seems right.
“Folks who lose loved ones never ever forget, they never get over the sense of loss and pain, but life has to go on and people to have to function and that’s part of life.
“Everyone who goes through bereavement understands we’re always available.
“In happier times we carry out marriages and baptisms and that is tremendous.
“It is different to being a parish priest - we wear a uniform and we have a position and acceptance that many priests would envy.”