The Salvation Army has a rich and varied history which is preserved at the Heritage and Archives Centre (Plowman Resource Centre). This edition looks at the impact Salvationists had during World War I in demonstrating the kindness and love of God in the trenches.
At the outbreak of World War I, William Booth, co-founder of The Salvation Army, made it clear that war is a ‘horrid strife’ and that instead of praying for the British to win the war, The Salvation Army should pray for the end of war and for all Salvationists, British or otherwise. Under Two Flags: The New Zealand Salvation Army’s Response to the First World War edited by Major Kingsley Sampson, shares Booth’s words in the War Cry from 5 August 1916:
Pray. Pray. Pray. Live in the spirit of intercession. Plead for a speedy termination of the horrid strife. Pray for your comrades … on the British side, and pray also for your comrades, the Salvationists, who are on the other.
This was a radical view at the time that encouraged Salvationists to continue their ministry, even in the trenches. There was initial concern that soldiers who were enlisted to serve in the frontline would be influenced by worldly influences amidst their unsaved companions. However, many chose to ignore these temptations, proudly wearing their Salvation Army badge on their army uniform and sharing the gospel with other soldiers.
The Salvation Army has always had a holistic view of service, aiming to address both physical and spiritual needs, sometimes simultaneously. This was no different in war time, especially when many soldiers were wounded and in their last moments wanting comfort.
One of the more poignant stories to come from the War Cry over this time was from 2 January 1915, in an example of Salvationists from opposing sides of the war showing each other camaraderie. Although they are supposed to be enemies, they are joined together in their love for Christ and the mission of The Salvation Army:
Salvationist John Coombs of the 1st Gloucester Regiment wrote home to his wife of the aftermath of a bayonet charge in which he found a wounded German trying to reach his water bottle. This proving empty, Coombs gave the German water from his own bottle. Seeing a Salvation Army badge on Coombs’ uniform, the German whispered, ‘Salvation Army; I also am a Salvation Army soldier’. And indeed he was also wearing a Salvation Army badge. Coombs carried the dying German to an ambulance and heard his last words: ‘Jesus, safe with Jesus’.
The Salvation Army has always been about meeting human needs without discrimination and this was seen even during the horrors of war, in bringing the gospel of peace to all of humanity.