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5 - Flying into the Storms: Chaplain in the Royal Air Force, 1945

Alan Argent
Affiliation:
Trinity Congregational Church, Brixton
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Summary

Elsie Chamberlain and Margaret Stansgate, then Mrs Wedgwood Benn, had become firm friends after first meeting as students of theology at King's College, London, and their friendship was to persist for the rest of their lives. In the 1930s Margaret, an occasional student at King's, had developed a particular interest in Hebrew. After the Labour party's landslide victory in the general election of 1945, Viscount Stansgate was appointed by Clement Attlee, the incoming Prime Minister, to be the secretary of state for air, with a seat in the Cabinet. Margaret Stansgate seized her opportunity to further the cause of women, on the day when her husband went to 10 Downing Street to answer Attlee's call, and she broached the question of women chaplains, which was close to her heart.

During the Second World War she had worked with the chaplains department, among those women serving in the forces, and she was confident that she had discovered an ‘urgent’ and overlooked need for women chaplains. However, the Church of England had no women priests at this time and an outraged established church could be expected to mount sustained and powerful opposition to any attempt to appoint a woman chaplain. Margaret specifically recommended Elsie Chamberlain, by name, for such a post before her husband left to see Attlee that morning. Of course, it is possible that Elsie had already indicated that she would welcome a move away from Friern Barnet and that Margaret, having formulated her strategy, had simply waited for the correct time to put forward her plan to her husband.

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Elsie Chamberlain
The Independent Life of a Woman Minister
, pp. 53 - 64
Publisher: Acumen Publishing
Print publication year: 2012

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