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The Quirky Army

Brigadier John McCabe (right) serves a drink to an Australian soldier during the Korean War.

In a new Army Archives series, BARRY GITTINS* brings you a selection of off-beat snippets from the files of Salvation Army history


Love’s winged feet


Being a Salvation Army officer doesn’t automatically qualify you as a relationship counsellor, matchmaker, or expert on romance. But the world is a curious place, God has a sense of humour, and Salvos have sometimes found themselves in the unexpected role of Cupid, or Cyrano de Bergerac.

In 1951, Brigadier John McCabe OBE was serving the troops in Korea as a Salvation Army Red Shield Representative. As required, he was here, there and everywhere, serving drinks, providing care parcels and making himself available for a chat as needed.


Soldiers and their worldview were not unknown to John, who’d been mentioned in despatches as a military chaplain in World War Two, in theatres of operation that included Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Ceylon, Papua and New Guinea, and in Japan. John had lost his father to the horrors of World War One and, as a young bloke in Bundaberg (Qld), he himself had “belonged to the Army cadet corps, and was a non-commissioned officer in the militia, before I went into The Salvation Army training college’.)

Interviewed years later, John was asked what he did “when soldiers had troubles, letters from home that weren’t very good, or any sort of problems whatsoever – did they come to him?”This is one of John’s World War Two stories:


“I don’t really know whether I was the first or the last resort ... different fellows would come to you and, you know, share their problems. “One fellow in particular in the battalion, Bill, came to me one day and he says, ‘I’ve got a letter here, Mac, can you read it for me? I don’t read very well.”


“So, I said, ‘I’ll read it Bill.” We sat down with Bill’s letter, which was from his girlfriend. “‘That’s good,’ he says.

“Bill didn’t read and write very well, he told me, and was worried that he’d ‘have to write to her, I s’pose’.


“‘I’ll write for you,’ I offered.


“I was single in those days, hadn’t married. So, I sat down and wrote a letter for Bill, putting in a bit of flowery stuff and so forth, and [in time] I sort of became Bill’s correspondent. I’d read his letters to him and sort of help him along his way with [words] and various other things, answering his letters.

“Years after the war, I was wandering down Hunter Street in Newcastle (NSW) in Salvation Army uniform. Coming towards me was this big fellow. Now, Bill was not the most soldiery-looking person; he was rather a broad sort of a chap, you know; he walked very slowly.

“This fellow was coming along towards me, and I thought, “By jingo, that’s Bill!” And sure enough, he greets me.

“‘How are ya, Mac?’ he asks, adding, ‘I’d like ya to meet me wife.’ And he introduced me.“‘Dear,’ he tells her, ‘This is the padre what used to write all those love letters to you’ – so I got to meet this girl I’d been corresponding with.

“Ah well, as they went on their way I turned around and looked at them, waddling down the street, and thought, ‘Ain’t love grand?’”

Brigadier John McCabe and a fellow Salvation Army representative sorting through mail packages during the war.

Rabbits, cauliflowers and a conversion

Some 101 years ago, in 1921, the Army’s War Cry reported that a labourer wandered into an English country corps’ Sunday meeting and plonked himself down in the back pew.

Worshippers were surprised by the bloke’s companions from the animal and vegetable kingdoms – under his arms, he was carting around two rabbits and several cauliflowers.

As the officer made a public appeal for prayer, the man, visibly crying, made his way to the mercy seat, accompanied by his unusual entourage.

After the meeting, newly converted, the unnamed chap asked the captain to “go to the squire’s house with me. I trapped these two rabbits on his land and stole these cauliflowers from his garden”.

Together they called on the squire who, after hearing the man’s confession and the story of his conversion, gave him the rabbits and cauliflowers and handed the captain a pound note for the corps fund.


*Barry Gittins is The Salvation Army Museum assistant manager in Melbourne


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