A wartime archbishop prepared for enemy attack

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A wartime archbishop prepared for enemy attack

By Dr Nick Brodie
In early 1942, a few weeks after the Empire of Japan attacked Darwin, Archbishop Simonds of Hobart addressed a crowd gathered in St Peter’s Hall. The Premier and members of Cabinet were in attendance and the building was reportedly ‘crowded to the doors’. The Archbishop had called the meeting ‘to instruct the leaders of Civil Defence and the Catholic people on the duty of rendering spiritual aid to wounded or dying persons in the case an enemy attack is launched upon Tasmania.’ He gave his listeners a ten-point plan.

(1) Simonds highlighted the importance of spiritual aid, and stressed that ‘no opportunity must ever be rejected of providing spiritual aid for those in danger of death.’ (2) All Archdiocesan priests were registered as padre wardens, he noted, and were being given special armbands to facilitate ready identification and freedom of movement in a time of crisis. (3) Simonds reminded everyone to call priests to administer the Sacraments to any dying Catholics. (4) Hobart’s designated casualty clearing stations would each have a designated priest in attendance. (5) There was also special provision for the Archbishop himself: ‘Should the Postal Department find it necessary to curtail the use of telephones during a crisis, arrangements have been made to allow the telephone of the Archbishop’s House to function freely, so that those who experience any difficulties of communication with stations or presbyteries may make contact through our phone.’

(6) Simonds also reminded his listeners that ‘every member of the Mystical Body of Christ has the privilege and the duty of administering spiritual first aid to injured persons’, which ‘is most aptly done by helping the patient to make short acts of faith, hope, charity and contrition.’ (7) He informed them that a leaflet was being prepared and printed with the message ‘I am a Catholic. If I am seriously wounded, please call a priest, and in the meantime kindly read for me the prayers that follow.’ He asked all Catholics to carry these leaflets in due course. (8) He also encouraged people to read these prayers over the wounded, even those who were unconscious. (9) ‘Catholic officers are asked to carry with them a small crucifix’, he then added, which they could then present to the dying as an object upon which to focus. (10) Finally, families that were indoors during an attack, the Archbishop suggested, should pray the rosary together ‘on behalf of those who are in danger’ outside.

The Archbishop concluded with words of encouragement. ‘Remember that you are God’s children, and a child of God is not dismayed by temporal trials or misfortunes, however grave they may be.’ Fortunately, none of this had to be put in place, and the Catholics of Hobart were not put to such a trial. Although a few months later a Japanese spy plane did fly over the city, there is very little public evidence to suggest that many of the people of Hobart even noticed.