Book Review: A Sally Son. Growing up in The Salvation Army by Ben Anderson
REVIEWED BY GARTH R. HENTZSCHEL
Personal stories, such as A Sally Son, are becoming important to the understanding of organisational histories. These narratives reveal personal ‘truths’ and unpack how corporate events and organisational culture are perceived by an individual.
There is a need, however, for such stories to be triangulated with other sources before they impact the historical canon. Memoirs by their very nature contain personal biases. Yet, in their basic form, memoirs add colour to wider historical narratives. A Sally Son is such a book.
Uniquely, the memoir is written in the third person; even when conversations are included in the story. The book is divided into four chapters, and each includes photographs, images of newspaper reports and certificates received by the narrator, Ben Anderson. Ben tells of the events of his life from birth, through schooling, to employment and marriage. As is common to this genre, Ben sets himself up as the hero of his own memories.
Sadly, the book ends with Ben and his wife Phyllis Hope Kitchen’s entrance to The Salvation Army Officer Training College. A postscript is given that lists the names of the couple’s children, a mention of service for over 20 years as an Army officer, and a list of other places of employment.
However, ending so early in the author’s life left many unanswered questions, such as how growing up in The Salvation Army impacted the rest of Ben’s life? It was a weakness that the book did not have Ben’s later life investigated, but by doing so the book remained true to the subtitle, ‘Growing up in The Salvation Army’.
Another weakness of the memoir was that some conversations included were too detailed. These in some places slowed down the pace of the story.
A Sally Son clearly shows Salvation Army culture of the time, 1930s to 1950s – although with some elements more distinctive to the USA where Ben grew up. Corps life, participation in brass bands, collecting money at Christmas time, Christian gatherings, and Army events were described through the memories of Ben.
Ben was the son of Salvation Army officers, and here his story is unique from other Salvationists of his generation. For this reason, this story is dotted with references to the state of Officers’ Quarters, official Army interactions, and of cause, constant relocation. Being myself the son of Army officers, I feel much of the Army context in Ben’s story is personally familiar.
This memoir would be of interest to readers attracted to personal memoirs, social history, or Salvation Army historical culture. A Sally Son gives one man’s account of what it was like to be embedded in Salvation Army culture during the early decades of the 20th century. The book is gritty and authentic.
A Sally Son is available as Kindle and Paperback editions from Amazon.com.au
Garth R. Hentzschel is a Salvationist living in Brisbane, a freelance historian and executive director of the Australasian Journal of Salvation Army History.