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Wednesday, 8 February 2017

An Army at War: Part 1 (1914 - 1918)

This is the first in a two part look at the work of the Salvation Army during the first and second World Wars, I hope you find it interesting. (EDIT: Part 2 - '1939-1945' is available here: )

2 years after Bramwell Booth son of the founder of the Salvation Army William Booth became the 2nd General (international leaact) The Secular and religious worlds collided in spectacular fashion...the year was 1914...

Still relatively young, the Salvation Army faced a challenge unlike any other. An entire world engaged in total war, nation fighting nation, good men on both sides forced to kill each other, brothers in Christ torn apart and a united, international Army suddenly and dramatically divided.

It's important to remember the atmosphere around the world in 1914 as the shadow of war fell. This was the first time civilians and the home front became an active part of the conflict, propaganda became an important weapon. Each nation had to prioritise morale to keep spirits up at home and inspire courage and heroism in the front line soldiers. To this end each nation did everything they could to villify it's enemies and play up its own strengths and reputation.

This became a real problem for the Salvation Army and the wider Church who believed (and still do) that everyone, from every nation, and every walk of life are important, loved and precious to God. This message of peace and understanding was not what the country wanted to hear, but nevertheless it's the purpose for which God raised up the Salvation Army, and as the General announced when he first took office:
"The Salvation Army belongs to the whole world. It knows no nationality as such, all men are the proper objects of its loving service." In this spirit the Salvation Army got to work:

- The General sent Dutch officer lieut-colonel Barbara Luppens to see how the Salvation Army in Germany was faring, showing care and concern even for those who were considered enemies.

- Ambulances were fitted out and the Army started working with the Red Cross, an 'Ambulance Band' was formed of Salvationist personnel to provide music and welcome to the troops.

- Australian and Canadian Salvationists sent Ambulances to both the Western and Eastern fronts.

- The United States sent Salvationists to serve in lots of practical ways, they sewed buttons, mended uniforms, listened to and supported the soldiers, sang, preached the gospel etc and of course the famous 'Doughnut girls' made doughnuts to give the U.S. soldiers a taste of home and help hold together the men's fragile morale.

-Australia, Canada and New Zealand led the way with the appointment of Salvation Army officers as chaplains, the UK and U.S. quickly followed suit. One such chaplain was Brigadier William McKenzie, he was attached to the first brigade of the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force); he trained with the men, organised recreation activities, visited the sick and injured and even helped digging trenches. When inevitable casualties occurred he would help identify the dead and write to their families and loved ones. He was a true believer in 'Belief in Action'.

This was a truly mobilised and international Army, separated by borders and conflict but forever linked by love, faith and membership in the family of Christ. A truly unbreakable bond of love, service and charity.

After the war the service continued, despite calls from a world hurting and scarred by war to punish Germany for it's offences, the Salvation Army continued to mobilise around the world providing food, clothes and money to support all that needed it including Germany and her allies.

For me, this is Christianity, this is service, both to man and God. This is the legacy of service that continues today.

I've said it before but the Salvation Army is far from perfect, but this example from history is an ideal to reach for and inspiration for anyone seeking to serve their fellow man, it is practical and efficient but still Christ centred, as it should be.

Service is not just about the big stuff, it's also about the small everyday acts of love and kindness. This is the challenge I want to leave you with, to look out for those everyday opportunities to serve and bless others and to do so not because you have to but out of genuine love, care and concern for each other.

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