THE REVEREND BENJAMIN CORRIE RUCK KEENE
ARMY CHAPLAINS' DEPARTMENT
26TH SEPTEMBER 1917 AGE 28
BURIED: YPRES RESERVOIR CEMETERY, BELGIUM
The epitaph 'Killed in action' is a statement of fact, and can be a matter of some pride, as well, of course, of regret. It was not an unusual inscription for a soldier but it was for a chaplain.
Chaplains did not take part in attacks but this didn't mean they were never seen in the front line. Initially the Army Chaplains Department had forbidden them from going any further forward than the advanced dressing stations. But many went up into the trenches knowing that the soldiers appreciated their presence, and knowing that they could make themselves useful: helping with the wounded, staying with the dying, talking to the men. One of the most famous of all war-time chaplains, the Revd Geoffrey Studdart Kennedy, had this advice to give:
"Live with the men, go everywhere they go. Make up your mind you will share all their risks, and more, if you can do any good. The line is the key to the whole business. Work in the very front and they will listen to you; but if you stay behind, you're wasting your time. Men will forgive you anything but lack of courage and devotion."
When asked what spiritual work could be done Studdart Kennedy replied:
"There is very little; it is all muddled and mixed. Take a box of fags in your haversack, and a great deal of love in your heart and go up to them; laugh with them, joke with them. You can pray with them sometimes; but pray for them always."
According to The Times' announcement of his death, Ruck Keene was killed "by a shell in the regimental aid post". Further forward than the advanced dressing stations, regimental aid posts were usually just metres from the front line trenches.
The son of the vicar of St Michael and All Angels, Copford, Essex, Ruck Keene had been a curate at St James the Great in Bethnal Green prior to beginning his service with the Army Chaplains Department in January 1917. The use of the phrase 'Jesu mercy', a shorthand prayer for the deceased to be spared the pains of hell, would suggest that both father and son had been High Church Anglicans.
Ruck Keene's eldest brother, Ralph, a lieutenant in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was killed in January 1916. His inscription too gives an accurate description of the circumstances of his death:
Killed in a bombing accident
On active service