Obituary: The Ven Peter Mallett

Many of those who knew Peter Mallett would agree that his character was in inverse proportion to his stature. He was 5ft 5in and found throughout his distinguished career in the Royal Army Chaplains' Department, from 1954 onwards, that he was constantly grappling with large pieces of ecclesiastical furniture; there are those who will recall his stirring, thought-provoking sermons delivered while standing atop a whisky crate on a wobbly pile of woolly hassocks.

Born in Leicester in 1925, he felt called to the ministry at an early age, but before completing his theological education at King's College London he chose to leave his National Service in the RAF to work in the Nottinghamshire coal-mines at the Cinderhill Pit for two and a half years. When, in 1951, he was finally ordained deacon by Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher in Canterbury Cathedral, 200 miners on the afternoon shift that day stood together for a minute's silence in support of "our Peter".

He was priested in 1952 while curate at St Oswald's, Norbury, in south London. Shortly after his arrival there, his vicar had been appointed Provost of Cairo, leaving the young ordinand with the responsibility for a large suburban parish; the Archbishop, a Leicester man himself, commented, "I think, Mallett, you will learn from your mistakes."

Joining the Royal Army Chaplains' Department in 1954, he went, after two weeks' initial training at Bagshot Park, Surrey, to serve the 1st Battalion the Queen's Royal Regiment on duty during the emergency in Malaya. There, he devoted himself with energy and enthusiasm to the pastoral and spiritual care of the entire family of the regiment and gained the respect and affection of all ranks, becoming known as "Little Peter Padre". He was mentioned in dispatches in 1957.

Subsequently, he served in Hong Kong, Singapore and Germany and was Senior Chaplain of the Aden Brigade, leading up to the final evacuation in 1967 on the creation of the Southern Yemen People's Republic. Before embarking on the last plane out, he borrowed an army lorry and drove down "Murder Mile" under sniper fire to deliver two dozen beds and mattresses to the beleaguered Missions to Seamen hostel. His brigadier wrote home to tell his wife that the brigade chaplain was the sort of little fellow who did not need to grow a big moustache.

As Deputy Assistant Chaplain-General in Berlin from 1968, where the garrison church was also the embassy church, his abilities as an able administrator and effective marketing manager for the Church came to the fore. On the one hand, he devised and arranged the first four-nation Christmas carol service in the spectacular setting of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche which continued over the next 25 years. On the other, in this, as in earlier postings, he also ran monthly family services at which he produced a "little friend", often animate, to intrigue and attract not only children but their parents, soldiers and senior officers alike. Pigs, dogs, chimps, bears and lions put across the Christian message in compelling and memorable ways.

He took up the appointment of Senior Chaplain at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in 1969, where his impact on numerous officer cadets was considerable and he made a distinctive contribution to the life of the academy. He served in Northern Ireland in 1972 and as Assistant Chaplain-General to the British Army of the Rhine in 1973, when he was appointed Honorary Chaplain to the Queen.

In 1974, he became the 16th Chaplain-General to the Forces since the creation of the position in 1796, a post he held until leaving the Army in 1980. During these years, he remained dedicated to the service of the Royal Army Chaplains' Department and the Church within the setting of the Army, where he was widely and greatly respected by senior officers.

On relinquishing the appointment of Chaplain- General the wider Church could have benefited from his experience and considerable gifts. From 1981 to 1986 he was managing director of Inter- Church Travel, organising pilgrimages and religious and cultural journeys; in 1982 he became a Canon of the Diocese of Europe. In recent years, among other activities, he continued to advise in religious and cultural travel and pilgrimage and happily preserved links with the Army as Honorary Chaplain to the Regimental Associations of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, the Royal Tank Regiment and the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment.

His capacity for warmth, laughter and a truly Christian joy in life was perhaps only equalled by his understanding, care and concern for others in time of trouble or difficulty. He was a communicator par excellence, able to relate to and establish an immediate rapport with all who came in contact with him. He was devoted to his own family and delighted in recounting amusing stories to his four small grandchildren.

Whether within the corporate life which is the major military characteristic or outside it, Peter Mallett demonstrated throughout his ministry those attributes of wisdom, energy, leadership and vision which endeared him, and the church he represented, to so many.

His love for humankind and his keen sense of humour combined to form the colourful character which will be remembered by those who knew him; those who knew him well will recognise that beneath his bonhomie lay a deeper sense of purpose in the active demonstration of Christian love, not in any ostentatious way but purely as a direction of goodwill towards fellow human beings so as to draw out the very best in them.

Peter Mallett, priest: born Leicester 1 September 1925; ordained deacon 1951, priest 1952; Deputy Assistant Chaplain-General, Berlin 1968-69, in Northern Ireland 1972-73; Assistant Chaplain-General, British Army of the Rhine 1973-74; Honorary Chaplain to the Queen 1973-96; Chaplain-General to the Forces 1974-80; CB 1978; Canon, Diocese of Europe 1982-96; managing director, Inter-Church Travel 1981-86; married 1958 Joan Bremer (one son, two daughters); died Yalding, Kent 5 June 1996.

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