National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Father Ted

For many New Zealanders, the iconic image of the blossoming Pohutukawa tree evokes memories of summers past; the beach, barbeques and Christmas time. This must have seemed like a distant memory to Chaplain 2nd Class Edward Forsman, whilst he sat in the sticky heat of a German Afrika Korps Prisoner of War Camp in 1941. Despite his less than peaceful surrounds in captivity, and amidst the sounds of shot and shell, Forsman composed a beautiful Christmas carol called “A Pohutukawa Carol” – a poem/hymn that reflected on the peace and tranquility that had abounded in his Grandfather’s beach farm in Northland, New Zealand.

Edward was born on the 20 March 1909; he became a student for the priesthood in Rome and could speak both German and Italian fluently. He joined 2NZEF as a Chaplain and was taken prisoner by the Afrika Korps when it overran an Advanced Dressing Station. He was later freed when the German unit that captured him was attacked by a South African group of soldiers.

When Italian forces took over 1400 captured patients and medical personnel in North Africa, this Chaplain overheard their plans to use the captured New Zealand vehicles to move their priosners behind the enemy line. In a dash of quick thinking, Edward organised for the New Zealand drivers to immobilise their trucks and ambulances by burying the rotors in the sand. This trick kept the majority of them in the same spot until the 8th Army retook the area nine days later.

Edward was a forceful character and impatient with red tape, whether military or ecclesiastical, but he had a gentler side and wrote poetry in a notebook which he kept with him throughout the war.

He became a Territorial Army chaplain after the war and received the Efficiency Decoration (ED) in 1955. He was a parish priest of Parnell, Auckland from 1949 to 1975 and lectured in philosophy at Auckland University.

He was known in the force as “Father Ted” and was renowned as a Priest, Poet, and Padre 1909-1976.