The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land begins like a romance for religious spinsters, but within 20 pages, the handsome missionary Barry Dunbar turns out to be asthmatic, pedantic, and tactless.
When war breaks out, Barry, a Canadian, tries to enlist. He is rejected on medical grounds, but his father is accepted.
Barry reluctantly accepts a chaplaincy and attempts to enforce godliness among the troops.
On the eve of his arrival in France, an elderly Anglican chaplain sets him straight: “My dear fellow, remember they are far from home. These boys need their mothers… And, my boy, they need God. And they need you.”
Those words change Barry’s attitude.
Later as Barry watches while his father, both arms blown off, die of his injuries, he learns personally what it means to be alone far from home.
Ralph Connor’s descriptions of trench warfare are horrific. Oddly, the descriptions of the sleep deprivation, loneliness, and submerging of their own needs that Barry and other non-combatants endure are even more painful.
Despite some implausible elements — the medically unfit Barry remains healthy, for example—Connor spins an unforgettable yarn about men and women who picked up the pieces of those who went over the top.
Though Connor’s story is fiction, the war’s horrors are not. In The Official History of The Canadian Forces in The Great War 1914-1919, Vol. 1, A. Fortescue Duguid writes:
The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land By Ralph Connor 1919 bestseller #6 Project Gutenberg e-book#3288 My grade: B
Carrying out their spiritual duties the Chaplains were to be found both in the field and at the dressing stations giving comfort to the dying. Major (Canon) F. G. Scott on the evening of the 22nd encouraged an advancing battalion with the words “A great day for Canada, boys—great day for Canada,” and he was in their midst when they charged the wood.
Photo of Military Chaplain (and noted Canadian poet) F. G. Scott is from the George Metcalf Archival Collection of the Canadian War Museum.
© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni