Walter Evans (1916-2007) worked as an army chaplain for almost forty years, serving in North Africa, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Malaya, Singapore, Borneo, Kenya and Oman. Known as ‘Evans above’, he held almost every type of army chaplaincy appointment possible.
Evans was born at his mother’s family home in Eglwyswrw in Pembrokeshire, on 2 August 1916. In a few weeks, he was brought to Lampeter; he was christened Evan Walter in St Peter’s church. The register of baptisms names his parents as David, a cabinet maker, and Eleanor. The family lived in Station Terrace and young Walter attended St David’s College School. They attended St Peter’s church, where Walter was a choir boy (of indifferent quality).
Sadly, Walter’s mother died of cancer of the liver in 1932, when he was just fifteen years old. During the twelve weeks of her illness, Walter stayed at home from school to help his father. This meant he never took his Higher School Certificate, (the equivalent of A-levels). However, as he had passed the Oxford School Certificate with eight credits, he was able to sit for a Scholarship at St David’s College. He eventually graduated with a degree in history in 1936, just before he was twenty. The principal at that time was Maurice Jones, a former army chaplain who encouraged a small but steady flow of Lampeter men into the services.
After his graduation, Evans managed to pass Parts 1 and 2 of the General Ordination Examination, as well as spending a year teaching at St David’s College School. After ordination, his first post was as curate in Narberth. He then moved to Cardigan, where he stayed for two years before joining the Army. He was active as an ambulance driver in the ARP, steering a large car which had been adapted to take four stretchers. He was also involved in the Home Guard as a sort of Intelligence Officer.
In 1942, Evans was accepted as a military chaplain. His intake course was short and sharp, lasting only two weeks. His first posting was back in Wales, to 184 (Army) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, at Coed-y-Brenin Camp, a few miles north of Dolgellau. It was a huge, busy training camp. After a few months there, he was posted to 79 (Hertfordshire Yeomanry) Heavy Anti-Aircraft, Royal Artillery. He arrived at Bône (Annaba), in north-east Algeria, in February 1943. Then his regiment mounted an anti-aircraft defence of the town and port of Skikda, about 60 miles west of Bône. Every Sunday, Evans tried to give each detachment a service lasting 30 minutes. He often ended up taking eight or nine services in a day, and sometimes one or two on weekday evenings. For the men, the chaplain’s visit and the service were very much a part of the week’s ritual. Sickness was a significant part of life. At one stage, around 150 of the 1000 men in the regiment were hospitalized, mostly due to malaria. Later in 1943, the 79 HAA moved back to Bône. In addition to the English worship, Evans and a fellow Welsh-speaking chaplain organized monthly Welsh services in the YMCA.
At Easter 1944, the regiment sailed for Italy. Its next posting was to the airfields surrounding Foggia, near Bari on the Adriatic coast. Its role was to protect the Royal Air Force from German counter attacks. After a couple of months there, they moved north to provide fire-power for the American 5th Army in the west of Italy, and then to the 8th Army Front at Rimini. Eventually the 79 HAA was disbanded and Evans was posted for a short time to 56 Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery, (later to achieve fame because Spike Milligan had been one of its members).
Evans’ next posting was unusual; he was attached to the newly formed Jewish Independent Brigade Group. The Brigade contained escaped concentration camp prisoners, Jewish volunteers from all over the world and Jews from Palestine itself, supported by specialists from British units in Italy. Around 20% of the brigade were from Britain; most of these were Church of England. Evans, who was based at the Field Ambulance, ministered alongside three Jewish chaplains. Evans noted that there were no Brigade Orders on the Jewish Sabbath, and that mail did not arrive then. After the war in Europe ended, the Brigade’s transport was active in taking displaced Jews down through Italy, to enable them to sail for Palestine.
After a short time in Belgium and the Netherlands, Evans was posted to Germany with the Royal Horse Guards. Life in Germany in 1946 was interesting to say the least. There were thousands of displaced people and refugees, dozens of deserters, and spies of all kinds.
Later that year, while Evans was on leave in Britain, he married Peggy Evans. Peggy came from the village of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth, eleven miles south west of Lampeter. She and Walter were to have two daughters, Ann and Ruth.
Walter was demobilised early in 1947. After spending a few months in a temporary curacy, he became Rector of Didmarton with Oldbury-on-the Hill and Sopworth, a rural living on the border of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. Evans stayed at Didmarton for five years. He became Rural District Councillor for the parish, joined the Territorial Army and became Chaplain (TA) to the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry. However, he started to realize that he missed the structured discipline and the comradeship and common bond of the army. At this time, the Korean War was happening and military chaplains were in short supply. In July 1952, Evans rejoined the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department; he was attached to The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment). Initially he was stationed in Dover; in February 1953, the battalion battled with the East Coast floods which did serious damage to the Thames estuary. The next month, he went with the Buffs to Kenya, then in the grip of the Mau-Mau uprising. They were first stationed in Ol-joro-orok, 9 000 feet above sea level but only four miles from the equator. Initially the role of the Buffs was to ‘keep and maintain the peace’; later their task was to apprehend the Kikuyu tribesmen involved in the rebellion. In 1955, after a short time in Britain, the Buffs moved to Germany into Wuppertal Garrison. Evans remained in Germany after the Buffs had left for Aden; he was posted to Krefeld, on the Rhine. His next postings were back in Britain – to the Infantry Junior Leaders’ Battalion stationed in Plymouth and then to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.
In 1962 Evans was posted to Far East Land Forces, first of all to Kluang, Malaysia. As his daughters were at school, he went out alone, leaving Peggy back in Britain. Possibly because of this, he was moved around a great deal – to Brunei and to Singapore as well as Malaysia itself. In Singapore, he was warden of Church House, a small retreat and rest house on Blakang Mati Island, (now known as Sentosa). His next posting, beginning in January 1965, was to the army’s own university, the Royal Military College at Shrivenham, near Swindon. He commented that this was one of the best postings available. In addition, he was awarded an MBE in the 1965 Queen’s Birthday Honours. However, he was only to stay in Shrivenham two years; his next destination was the Chaplains’ Depot at Bagshot in Surrey. New chaplains came there to be documented, trained and kitted out. Evans’ last posting was to Hereford, the home of the SAS. The camp was run down and the church hut in a terrible state. Evans had always been an advocate of regular visiting. Going door-to-door visiting, like the milkman and postman, he aimed to visit every house about once every six or eight weeks.
By this time, the standard retirement age for army chaplains was fifty-five. It was time for Evans to return to civilian life. In January 1972, he became chaplain at The Royal Hospital, Chelsea; he remained there until he was sixty-five. Around 400 In-Pensioners lived there; the turnover was around 70 admissions and 70 deaths each year. Evans exercised a full ministry, thoroughly enjoying his work. From November 1980 to November 1981, he was also Lord Mayor’s Chaplain, supporting Colonel and Alderman Ronald Gardner-Thorpe, a former battalion CO in the Buffs. As part of his duties, he preached three times at St Paul’s Cathedral, said grace at numerous dinners in the Guildhall and Mansion House, and attended the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
In 1985, Evans moved back home to Ceredigion; he and Peggy settled in Llandysul. He died in 2007. General Sir Peter de la Billière, spoke at his funeral in the parish church of St Tysul, Llandysul.
Evans wrote of his work ‘The Chaplain represents something basic to men’s needs, whatever they are involved in. My task, as I saw it, was to do my best, wherever I found myself, and represent a standard which many forget in their anxiety to be something different and new in their lives.’ De la Billière said of him ‘A good Padre is the conscience of the Commanding Officer and the patron of the men – certainly this fits Padre Evans.’
Evans, W. (1996). ‘Evans above …!! The life and times of an army chaplain 1942-1981. Llandysul: Walter Evans
‘Evans above’. A tribute to Revd. E.W. (Walter Evans) MBE. (2007) The Journal / The Regimental Association of The Queen’s Own Buffs (PWRR). 15,37-38. Retrieved December 11 2020 from http://thequeensownbuffs.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Journal-No-15-Autumn-2007.pdf