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When New Year’s Eve was a big deal for the Salvos

This photo of  Captain and Mrs Smallbone was taken on New Year’s Eve 1891.


On New Year’s Eve 1891, Captain & Mrs Smallbone opened York Corps in Western Australia.


It is fitting that the couple were photographed with a cornet and a songsheet before embarking on their fledgling ministry in WA’s oldest inland town.


The Salvation Army has always embraced music as a way to push its message of hope and joy.


And, for parts of our history, New Year’s Eve has proved to be an occasion celebrated by Salvationists through music-making.


It’s hard to say exactly when the ‘soldiers of the Army’ ceased the practice of observing the New Year, through holding celebration meetings and watchnight services.


I would suggest that, by the mid-1980s, Salvos had decided to holiday with their families instead, choosing to take a well-earned breather before their duties and responsibilities for the next year pressed down upon their shoulders. (I further speculate it was about the same time the bulk of the soldiery decided to take the month of January ‘off’, refraining from attending meetings.)


It was not always so. In 1961, as reported by the Musician, Manly Corps (NSW) conducted its annual New Year’s Eve open-air meeting. The ‘marathon, three-hour gathering’ was held on “the Corso, a wide thoroughfare through the centre of this popular Sydney holiday resort” during which “the musical sections gave sterling service”.


Those ‘three hours’ sound like hard yakka. But all through the early and mid-20th century, open-air meetings and concerts on New Year’s Eve were not wildly unusual.


For example, seven years later, in 1968, the Warrnambool Corps band (Vic.) “gave a good witness in a New Year's Eve procession at Port Fairy”.


It wasn’t all hard work; New Year’s Eve gave Salvos a chance to socialise and celebrate their faith and fellowship with friends old and new.


In 1971, it was reported (again in the Musician) that “New Year’s Eve 1970 saw the arrival at Perth (WA) airport of Bandsman and Sister Mrs. M. Bowden, with their daughter Lorraine, from the UK. A large party of bandsmen and their families travelled 120 miles from Bunbury to Perth to welcome the new arrivals at midnight. Bandsman Rowden has just completed a period of service with an RAF band and will be welcome on the cornet bench of Bunbury band.”

The Salvation Army vocal group ‘Vision’ performing in the mid-1970s.

In 1976, the Salvo pop group ‘Vision’, from the Southern Territory officer training college, sang in a Melbourne city shopping plaza on New Year’s Eve.


On the same night, Box Hill Songster Brigade was spending “one of the longest days the songsters have experienced” while touring internationally. The choral tourists’ plane was delayed in Penang “for five hours, so we just waited and wilted in the heat. Finally, we arrived at Kuala Lumpur to hear that the program in Wesley church had been cancelled due to our late arrival. We went straight to a hotel and then to Kuala Lumpur corps where the songsters joined with the comrades for supper”.


Do you have memories of spending New Year’s Eve in Salvation Army meetings, events or concerts?



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