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The Quirky Army – flinging hallelujahs


Salvation Army street marches like this one depicted were targets for those who railed against what the Army stood for.

BY BARRY GITTINS

Threats and fisticuffs. Sticks and stones. Clods of earth and hunks of turf. Flying saucepans. Spittle and invective. ‘Flour, mud, stones and cabbage stalks.’ If there was something to be flung at the early-day Salvationists, first known as members of the Christian Mission, then their detractors would let it rip.


In one famed assault in the United Kingdom, known as the Battle of Sangers Circus, the circus ‘carnees’ set up shop right next door to Booth’s singing evangelists. The circus folk then deployed an arsenal against William Booth’s singing evangelists that included a brass band, a bass drum, side drum and cymbals, as well as a large elephant and two dromedaries that were ‘led up and down among the people’.


“The roughs shouted, women and children shrieked, and every moment we expected some dreadful accident,” recorded a 20th-century William Booth biographer, St John Ervine. “The persecution lasted just an hour and a half, but God was with us.”The battle preceded many similar ad-hoc assaults against Salvationists in the UK and across the world, as well as the ‘skeleton armies’ (often recruited and funded by publicans) that were formed to take down The Salvation Army.


Salvationists, on the whole, responded with the pacifist, non-violent resistance to oppression that was to later characterise the strategy and success of Mohandas Gandhi, the ‘Mahatma’ who helped India gain their independence from British rule.

 

Maintain your heading


You might think it was a magazine for martial artists, written to entertain boxers and practitioners of eastern disciplines, but The Warrior was one of many long-faded Salvation Army magazines for members and the general readership.


Among its offerings were devotional and instructional articles, as well as ‘slice of life’ anecdotes, which were used for spiritual purposes. In April 1937, a sailor and Salvationist with the nom de plume ‘Leadsman’ wrote of taking his watch (or a ‘trick’) in the wheelhouse around midnight – and witnessing a navigational near miss, courtesy of a distracted quartermaster.


The article from The Warrior magazine in 1937.

Arguing the merits, intentions and honour of a lively young woman (described as ‘a dame’ from the Cairo Bar in Malta), the quartermaster was distracted, and the wheel of the vessel was neglected. “The ship’s head swung slowly to port,” the article notes, and the officer of the watch screamed down the voice-pipe, “Where the _______ is your steering? Keep to your course, quartermaster!”


Our eyewitness to this maritime muck-up, the Salvo sailor Leadsman, spiritualised the event like so; by communing closely with God, he reasoned, “our course is set before us, which, if we steadfastly follow, will lead us to his wonderful presence. We certainly cannot afford to let worldly affairs distract us, or we will run off course.”Leadsman knew a thing or two about distraction, mind you, confessing that, “I have tasted of much of the pleasures of the world, as sailors can. Having done so, almost by accident, [God’s] enlightenment as to His power came in such a way that I can never be unenlightened.“Talking directly, as most sailors do, I say there is definitely no better life; if we serve the Lord our God in faith, without fear,  and [stand boldly] as champion of His glorious name. But if I fail, I must answer not only to God but to my messmates – and what that means I leave you to imagine.


 “It is my watch again,” Leadsman then signed off, “and I must go … trusting God all the time that I [will] keep to my course!”

 

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