P.E.I. chaplain's sacrifice brought to life in drama

A minister on Prince Edward Island is bringing the history of a fellow military chaplain to life through drama. Rev. Tom Hamilton has created a 20-minute monologue about the life and death of World War II chaplain, Padre Alfred Seaman.

Padre Alfred Seaman of Springfield died a month after D-Day

Reverend Tom Hamilton's moving tribute to a fellow chaplain, who lost his life in World War ll. He now shares the story of Padre Alfred Seaman. 2:16

A minister on Prince Edward Island is bringing the history of a fellow military chaplain to life through drama.

Rev. Tom Hamilton has created a 20-minute monologue about the life and death of World War II chaplain, Padre Alfred Seaman

Seaman, from Springfield, P.E.I., died in France from shrapnel wounds, a month after D-Day — and on the day of his 10th wedding anniversary.

Reverend Tom Hamilton wears a World War II uniform while sharing the story of Padre Alfred Seaman. (Nancy Russell/CBC)
Hamilton has a PhD in Canadian military history. He is also the chaplain for the P.E.I. Regiment. His dissertation focused on the work of Canada's military chaplains during World War II. That's where he came across the story of Seaman, known as Padre, the traditional designation for a military chaplain. 

"As a chaplain, I was naturally interested in his story," Hamilton said. "And it's a heart-wrenching story because he's someone who was trying to sustain life and lost his life in the process."

Comfort to wounded soldiers

Hamilton was struck by the sacrifice made by Canada's military chaplains who were not allowed to fire or even carry a firearm, despite being frequently in the line of enemy fire.

"They suffered a higher casualty rate than any other corps in the Canadian military," said Hamilton. "They're one of the only military personnel who are not trained to fire a gun, they're not allowed to carry a gun, even in self-defence. So that sets them apart in a rather unique way," he said.

In the monologue, Hamilton creates a scene where the unarmed Seaman heads into an area under attack to help carry some of his men to safety.

He's someone who was trying to sustain life and lost his life in the process.- Reverend Tom Hamilton

"When stretcher bearers became exhausted or in short supply, the medical officer would call on the chaplain," Hamilton said. "He would retrieve wounded soldiers to bring them back. It was the chaplain who would pray with them, provide comfort for them, and hold their hands as they died."

'Go back in time'

Over the years, Hamilton has researched veterans in his congregation at St. Mark's Presbyterian in Charlottetown and has told their stories through monologues similar to the one about Seaman.

Hamilton says drama is a powerful way to connect the stories of the past with present-day audiences. He also uses the technique as a lecturer in military history at the University of Prince Edward Island. 

"It's great to be able to look at a map and to lecture," said Hamilton. "But to be able to do a monologue and invite the listener to go back in time to see the circumstances and the history through the eyes of someone who was actually there is a very powerful tool, particularly for Remembrance Day and Remembrance Day time."

Hamilton performed the Seaman monologue as part of a veterans' tribute event at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in October. Hamilton wore a replica of a World War II chaplain's uniform that he ordered especially for the presentation.

Some of Seaman's relatives were in the audience.

"It is something that affects me deeply, not simply as a historian, but as a minister and as a person," Hamilton said. "It's also an opportunity to encourage the audience and others to appreciate the veterans who have gone ahead of us and some of the significant things they have sacrificed and endured."