FROM ALDERSHOT TO PRETORIA
A Story of Christian Work among our Troops in South Africa
BY W.E. SELLERS
WITH AN INTRODUCTION
BY R.W. ALLEN
WITH FIFTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS
LONDON THE RELIGIOUS TRACT SOCIETY 56 PATERNOSTER ROW AND 65 ST. PAUL'S CHURCHYARD
PAGE CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION: THE EMPIRE AND ITS DEFENDERS 7
CHAPTER II ALDERSHOT 19
CHAPTER III OLD ENGLAND ON THE SEA 37
CHAPTER IV TO THE FRONT 53
CHAPTER V WITH LORD METHUEN 61
CHAPTER VI MAGERSFONTEIN 77
CHAPTER VII THOMAS ATKINS ON THE VELDT 96
CHAPTER VIII WITH LORD ROBERTS 105
CHAPTER IX KIMBERLEY 132
CHAPTER X WITH GATACRE'S COLUMN 129
CHAPTER XI BLOEMFONTEIN 145
CHAPTER XII ON TO PRETORIA 161
CHAPTER XIII HERE AND THERE IN CAPE COLONY 170
CHAPTER XIV WITH SIR REDVERS BULLER 177
CHAPTER XV LADYSMITH 193
CHAPTER XVI 'IN JESU'S KEEPING' 222
List of Illustrations
HIS LAST LETTER Frontispiece
SOLDIERS' HOMES AT ALDERSHOT to face p. 17
OFF TO SOUTH AFRICA to face p. 34
PARADE SERVICE ON THE TUGELA to face p. 53
REV. E.P. LOWRY to face p. 84
REV. JAMES ROBERTSON to face p. 90
BRINGING BACK THE WOUNDED to face p. 118
MORNING SERVICE ON THE VELDT to face p. 133
SOLDIERS' HOME ON THE FIELD to face p. 138
ARUNDEL to face p. 173
AMBULANCE WORK ON THE FIELD to face p. 193
REV. A.V.C. HORDERN to face p. 195
ONE OF THE LADYSMITH HOSPITALS to face p. 199
REV. THOMAS MURRAY to face p. 203
AMBULANCE WAGGONS ON THEIR WAY TO THE FIELD to face p. 210
It would have been a grave omission had no attempt been made at the earliest possible time to place on record some account of the Christian steadfastness and heroism of the many godly men belonging to every arm of the service engaged in the war in South Africa, and of the strenuous work which they did for their comrades, resulting in many being won for God, comforted when stricken on the battle-field or in hospital, and even in death enabled to find the life that is eternal.
It would have been equally an omission had not some account been given of the heroic devotion of the chaplains and the lay agents who have accompanied the troops in the campaign, sharing their hardships and ministering to them under all the trying conditions of their service.
When, therefore, I was approached by the secretaries of the Religious Tract Society, through Rev. R.W. Allen, with a view to preparing some such record, we both, Mr. Allen and myself, felt that the request must, if possible, be complied with. And we felt this the more, seeing that the whole British Force in South Africa has been placed under deep obligation to them, and to the great Society they represent, for the large and varied gifts of literature they have sent to our troops during the progress of the campaign.
It was originally intended that the book should have been written conjointly by Mr. Allen and myself; but pressure of other work has made this impossible. I am, however, indebted to Mr. Allen for the introductory chapter, and for the large stores of information in the way of correspondence from the Front which he has placed at my disposal.
I am also indebted to the Rev. Dr. Theodore Marshall for information as to the work of the Presbyterian chaplains. The Rev. E. Weaver, the Wesleyan chaplain at Aldershot, has also rendered important help.
The book has necessarily been written somewhat hurriedly, and by no means exhausts the history with which it deals. If, however, it has the result of deepening the sympathy of all true lovers of their country for our soldiers and sailors, and in increasing the interest they take in the good work done on their behalf, and if at the same time it brings cheer and encouragement to the men in the Army and Royal Navy who are trying to live manly, Christian lives, the author of the book and the great Society on whose behalf it has been written will be amply rewarded.
W.E. SELLERS. August, 1900.
FROM ALDERSHOT TO PRETORIA
INTRODUCTION: THE EMPIRE AND ITS DEFENDERS
The war in South Africa has been fruitful of A many results which will leave their mark upon the national life and character, and in which we may wholly rejoice. Amongst them none are more admirable than the awakening to the duty we owe to our soldiers and sailors, and the large-hearted generosity with which the whole empire is endeavouring to discharge it.
It is necessary to go back to the days of the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny to find any similar awakening. It was then that the British people began to learn the lesson of gratitude to the men they had so long neglected, whom they had herded in dark and miserable barracks, and regarded as more or less the outcasts of society.
The glorious courage, the patient, unmurmuring heroism, the tenacity not allowing defeat, which were displayed during the long and dreary months of the siege of Sebastopol, and the ultimate triumph of our arms, aroused the nation from its indifference, and kindled for its defenders a warm and tender sympathy.
Following swiftly on the Crimean War came the splendid deeds of the Indian Mutiny, when handfuls of brave men saved the empire by standing at bay like 'the last eleven at Maiwand,' or, hurrying hither and thither, scattered the forces which were arrayed against them. The sympathy which the Crimean War had produced was intensified by these events, and the duty of caring for those who thus dared to endure and to die was still more borne in upon the heart of the nation.
Changed Estimate of our Soldiers and Sailors.
It came to be discovered that though the British soldier and man-of-war's man were rough, and in some instances godless to the extent of being obscene, vicious, and debauched, they were, to use the phrase which Sir Alfred Milner has made historic, possessed of a 'great reserve of goodness'; that they were capable not only of good, but of God. As it were by fire the latent nobility of our nature was discovered, and the fine gold, and the image and superscription of God were revealed, in many instances to the men themselves, and in great measure to the nation at large.
There were many circumstances which aided in this awakening, both in the War and in the Mutiny. Among them may be reckoned the terrible hurricane which wrecked the transports in the harbour at Balaclava, when so many of the stores intended for the troops were destroyed; and the awful winter which followed, with its numberless deaths in action, and by hunger, cold, and disease. The horrors of Cawnpore, and the glorious tragedy of Lucknow, also compelled attention to the men who were involved in them, and to their comrades who survived.
Their Deplorable Condition in the Past.
Previous to these times nothing could well have been more deplorable than the condition of the soldier or the sailor. It was on all hands taken for granted that he was bad, and, wonderful to say, he was provided for accordingly. His treatment was a disgrace. The barrack-room, with its corners curtained off as married quarters, the lash, the hideous and degrading medical inspection—samples of the general treatment—all tended to destroy what remained of manly self-respect and virtue. Whilst the neighbourhood of the barracks and the naval ports, teeming with public-houses and brothels, still further aided the degradation. The creed of the nation, or rather, the opinion that was tacitly accepted, would be best expressed in the familiar saying that 'the bigger the blackguard, the better the soldier.'
Their Devotion to Duty.
Nevertheless, amidst all these evil conditions, not only did courage and loyalty to duty survive, but even, in many instances, a chivalrous tenderness and devotion. There were to be found many earnest Christian men, and the work of God went on, comrade winning comrade to Christ, so that it was rare indeed to find a regiment or a man-of-war which had not in it a living Church.
What, for instance, can well be more interesting or significant than the record which tells of the men on the Victory, Lord Nelson's flag-ship at Trafalgar, who had no need to be sworn at to be made to do their duty, who amidst much persecution sang their hymns and prayed, and lived their cleanly, holy lives; who attracted Lord Nelson's attention, and so won his respect that he gave them a mess to themselves, and ordered that they should not be interfered with in their devotions? Or than the record of the godly sergeants of the 3rd Grenadiers at Waterloo, who went into action praying that it might be given to them to aid in the final overthrow of the tyrant who threatened the liberties of the world?
But returning to the Crimean War and the Mutiny, there were not wanting even then men and women in foremost places to voice the awakening which these created, and to give it right and wise direction.
The Queen's Care of her Men.
The care of the Queen for her soldiers and sailors in those early days, which she has continued with wonderful tact and tenderness throughout her long and glorious reign, was of untold advantage. Her sympathy showed the nation where its heart should go and where its hand should help.
The send-off from the courtyard of Buckingham Palace; the review of the battle-worn heroes in the Palace itself, when she decorated them with their well-earned honours; her constant visits to the hospitals, were incidents which the nation could not forget. In them, as in so many other ways, she awakened her people from their apathy, and by her example led them to a higher and more Christian patriotism.
The Netley and Herbert Hospitals.
There was also the noble man whose monument adorns the Quadrangle of the War Office, who was War Minister at the time. But perhaps foremost of all, save the Queen herself, was the 'Lady of the Lamp,' who, surrendering the comfort of a refined and beautiful home, went out to the hospitals at Scutari to minister to the wounded and the fever-stricken, and found in doing so a higher comfort, a comfort which is of the soul itself. These two—Florence Nightingale and Sydney Herbert—the one in guiding the Administration, the other inspiring the nation, did imperishable good.
The Herbert and the Netley Hospitals were the first embodiment of the nation's sympathy expressed in terms of official administration—palaces of healing, which have been rest-houses for multitudes of sick and wounded men pending their return to duty, their discharge on pension, or their passing to an early grave.
The Royal Patriotic Fund was the expression of the nation's desire to succour the widows and orphans of the breadwinners who had fallen in the war.
The Awakened National Conscience.
But these efforts, noble though they were, by no means met the full necessity. For solicitude on behalf of our soldiers and our sailors being once aroused, their daily life on board ship and in barracks soon compelled attention. Its homelessness and monotony, its utter lack of quiet and rest, its necessary isolation from all the comforts and amenities of social life, the consequent eagerness with which the men—wearied well-nigh to death, yet full of lusty vigorous life—went anywhere for change, society, and excitement—all these things broke like a revelation on the awakened conscience of the nation. The terrible fact, to which reference has already been made, that hitherto almost the only sections of the civil community which had catered for them was the publican, the harlot, and the crimp, that they had indeed been left to the tender mercies of the wicked, still further deepened the impression.
At the same time it came to be gradually realized that the splendid manhood of the army and the navy was a vast mission force, which, if it could only be enlisted on the side of purity, temperance, and religion, might be of untold value to the empire and the home population.
It was plainly seen that if left, as it had hitherto been, to the homelessness of the barracks and the main-deck, and to the canteen and the public-house, it would certainly take the side of sin; and whilst defending the empire by its valour, would imperil it by its ill-living.
All these convictions were confirmed by the record of the noble lives of heroes, who were Christians as well as heroes, with which the history of the Crimean War and the Mutiny is enriched. If a few could thus be saved, it was asked, why not many? if some, why not all? For men of all ranks, of varied temperaments and gifts, were among the saved, some whose natural goodness made them easily susceptible of good, others 'lost' in very deed, sunk in the depths of a crude and brutal selfishness.
Woman's Work in this Field.
As might be expected, the first to take to heart these special aspects of the case, and to embody the great awakening in the deeds of a practical beneficence, were women. Miss Robinson and Miss Weston, Mrs. and Miss Daniel, Miss Wesley, and Miss Sandes will ever live among those who set themselves to fight the public-house and the brothel by opening at least one door, which, entering as to his own home, the soldier and the sailor would meet with purity instead of sin, and where the hand stretched out to welcome him would be not the harlot's but the Christ's.
The Influence of Methodism.
It was given to the Wesleyan Methodist Church to take the foremost place in this new departure. Nor could it well be otherwise when the history of that Church is borne in mind.
The soldiers and man-of-war's men of John Wesley's time came in large numbers under the spell of his wonderful ministry. Converted or not, they recognised in him a man; and his dauntless courage, his invincible good humour, and his practical sympathy, won for him from many of them a singular devotion, and from not a few a brave and noble comradeship. Some came to be among his most successful preachers, and in the army, and out of it, nobly aided him in his victorious but arduous conflict with the evils of the time. From Flanders to the Peninsula and Waterloo, and from Waterloo to the Crimea and the Mutiny, the bright succession continued. Hence, when the nation awoke to its duty to its defenders, Methodism abundantly partook of the impulse, and threw itself heartily into every enterprise which it inspired.
It was the first Church, as a Church, to commit itself to the policy of Soldiers' and Sailors' Homes. It passed a resolution at its annual Conference to the effect that these institutions were essential to any successful work for the good of the Army and Royal Navy; and it has continued, as the years have gone on, to increase the number of its Homes, until at the present time it has thirty under its direction, established in various parts of the empire, which it has provided at the cost of many thousands of pounds, and which are its gift for the common good. They are all held on such trusts as secure them for the free and unreserved use of all the soldiers and sailors of the Queen, without respect of religious denomination.
The Work of the Anglican and other Churches.
But Methodism is not alone, as a Church, in this patriotic and Christian enterprise. The Established Church has entered upon it with an ever-increasing earnestness, having come, mainly through the advocacy of the Chaplain-General, Rev. Dr. Edgehill, to grasp the situation, and to realize that for the men themselves and for the empire it is of paramount importance that this provision should be made.
The reflex result of the efforts to establish Soldiers' and Sailors' Homes has also been most beneficent. Speaking at the anniversary of one of these Homes, not many years ago, Lord Methuen said that they had led the way to the improvement which is now being effected in barracks, where the old squalor has given place to comfort, and the temperance refreshment room, the recreation room, and the library more than hold their own against the canteen, and the cheerful and sufficient married quarters have replaced the scandal of the curtained corner or the miserable one-roomed hut.
Nor must the prayer-room now attached to every barracks in India be forgotten, nor the Army Temperance Association, of which the Rev. Gelson Gregson was the pioneer, and the illustrious Field-Marshal, Lord Roberts, the founder. This association has now, thanks to the sympathy of H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge when Commander-in-Chief, and to the hearty and constant support of Lord Wolseley, his illustrious successor, been established throughout the whole British army.
It will thus be seen that the great awakening of now nearly fifty years ago has borne good fruit, and that in proportion as the nation has risen to a higher moral level, and consequently to a juster appreciation of its duties, the soldier and the sailor have continued to share in its results.
Christian Work at Aldershot.
The camp at Aldershot embodies in itself all these changes; and is, indeed, an epitome of the results of this awakening. Anything more desolate than its aspect when it was first established it would be impossible to imagine. Long 'lines' of huts, planted in a wilderness of gorse, heather, and sand, dimly lit, and miserably appointed; 'women that were sinners' prowling about the outskirts, and gradually taking possession of much of the hastily-constructed town, with the usual accompaniment of low public-houses and music-halls—such, to a great extent, was Aldershot at the beginning.
Here then was a sphere for the work of the new awakening. And one by one all the agencies mentioned above took up their duty, and entered upon the enterprise. Mrs. and Miss Daniel founded the Soldiers' Institute. The Wesleyans, guided by the Revs. Dr. Rule, Charles Prest, I. Webster, and C.H. Kelly, built their first Home at the West End, where, like another 'West End,' so much of vice had congregated. Subsequently it was transferred to the site in Grosvenor Road, and another Home put up at the North Camp, on a site secured by Sir Hope Grant. Then came the Church of England, with its splendid premises in Aldershot and its church rooms in the North and South Camps.
Meanwhile the camp itself has been reconstructed, so that at last the empire can look without shame upon it; and the brave spirits who first caught the awakening, or saw that it should not die,—many of whom have joined the majority, but some of whom are still enriching their country by their lives,—can rejoice in the work they have been permitted to accomplish.
And the result? 'Ah, sir,' exclaimed a sergeant, as he entered one of the Aldershot Homes, 'you are at last giving us a chance. Hitherto you have provided for us as though we were all bad, and all wanted and meant to be; and bad we became. But now, sir, you are giving us a chance, and you will see what will be the result.'
And truly we do; for the life of the nation is enriched, not enfeebled, by the men who return to it from the Army and the Royal Navy. And all ranks of society are becoming convinced that religion is the prime factor in the service efficiency and in the national well-being. Thus God is, after all, seen to be the greatest need, and the one true enrichment of human life and character—the vital force by which alone the commonwealth can live.
The wonderful records which will be found in the succeeding chapters of this book, telling as they do of Christian life and service in the South African War, will still further show the fruits of this great awakening.
A raw, cold morning in the late autumn! A weird-looking train, slowly drawing into the station out of the mist, with carriages altogether different in appearance from those we were accustomed to see! A battalion of brawny Scotchmen, travel-stained and sleepy. And then a somewhat lazy descent to the platform.
'Twenty-four hours in this train, sir, and never a bite or a sup. What do you think of that?'
But as the speaker could not quite keep the perpendicular, and found it absolutely impossible to stand to attention, it was evident that he had had more than one 'sup,' whether he had had a 'bite' or not. All along the line, sad to say, 'treating' had been plentiful, and this was the result.
Mobilising at Aldershot.
Multiply this scene a hundred times. Imagine the apparent confusion on every hand. Listen to the tramp, tramp of the men as they march from station to camp and from camp to station, and you will have some idea of the hurry and bustle in this camp on veldt during the period when the word 'mobilisation' was on everybody's lips.
Barrack rooms everywhere overcrowded, men sleeping by the side of the bed-cots as well as upon them; every available space utilised; even the H Block Soldiers' Home turned outside into a tent, that the rooms it occupied might be used as temporary barrack rooms again.
Discipline was necessarily somewhat relaxed! Drunkenness all too rife! The air was full of fare-wells, and the parting word in too many cases could only be spoken over the intoxicating cup. It was a rough-and-tumble time. Aldershot was full of men who in recent years had been unaccustomed to the discipline and exactitude of Her Majesty's Army, and the wonder is that things were not worse than they were.
Let us look into one of the barrack rooms. The men are just getting dinner, and are hardly prepared to receive company, and especially the company of ladies. They are sitting about anyhow, their tunics for the most part thrown aside, or at any rate flying open; but when they see ladies at the door, most of them rise at once.
'Yes, it is hard work, miss, parting with them,' says one K.O.S.B. reservist. 'I've left the missus at home and three babies, one of them only a week old. I thought she'd have cried her eyes out when I came away. I can't bear to think of it now.' And the big fellow brushed the tears away. 'It's not that I mind being called up, or going to the war. I don't mind that; but, you know, miss, it's different with us than with them young lads, and I can't help thinking of her.'
'Rough? yes, it is a bit rough,' says another as we pass along. 'I wish you could see the little cottage where I live when I'm at home, all kept as bright as a new pin. It's well she can't see me now, I'm thinking. She'd hardly know her husband. But there, it's rougher where we're going, I reckon, so it's no use worrying about this.' And, forgetting the presence of ladies, he started whistling a merry tune.
It was just 'a bit rough' in those days. But how could it be helped? Aldershot Camp had nearly doubled its normal population, and some thirty thousand troops were crowded in. And this population was continually changing. As soon as one batch of troops was despatched, another took its place, with consequences that, perhaps, were not always all that could be desired, but which were nevertheless unavoidable.
And so day by day we watched the camp gradually becoming khaki colour. At first it was khaki to-day and scarlet to-morrow, as one batch of khaki warriors left for the front and others, still clad in their ordinary uniform, took its place. But before very long Pimlico proved equal to the occasion, and khaki prevailed, and in South and North Camp one saw nothing but the sand-coloured soldiers. Then a strange, unwonted silence fell upon us; for they had gone, and we woke up to an empty camp and desolate streets, and realized that the greatest feat of the kind in the history of the world had been accomplished, and 150,000 troops had been despatched seven thousand miles across the sea.
Christian Work at Aldershot.
But we are anticipating. Let us first introduce you to a bit of Christian Aldershot during these mobilisation times. The mobilisation did not find us dozing; and the Churches and Soldiers' Homes, with their multiplicity of organizations, did their best to give to Mr. Thomas Atkins a home from home, and never with greater success.
There is no doubt that the morale of the British soldier is steadily advancing. 'They forget,' said a lad from Ladysmith the other day, 'that we are not what we used to be. It used to be that the army was composed of the scum of the nation; some folks forget that it isn't so now.' They do, or, rather, perhaps they did until the war commenced and made the soldier popular. But the fact is that, especially during the last twenty years, there has been a steady improvement, and we venture to assert that to-day, so far as his moral conduct is concerned, the average soldier is quite equal, if not superior, to the average civilian. This is due in large measure to the officers, who take a greater interest in the everyday life of their men than ever before; but it is due in even larger measure to the great interest the Churches have taken in the men, and especially in the multiplication of Soldiers' Homes.
At Aldershot there are, in addition to the military and civilian churches, which are all of them centres of vigorous Christian work, six Soldiers' Homes, viz., three Wesleyan, two Church of England, and one Salvation Army, in addition to the Primitive Methodist Soldiers' Home, now used chiefly as a temperance hotel. At these Soldiers' Homes there are refreshment bars, reading rooms, games rooms, smoking rooms, bath rooms, and all other conveniences. They are for the soldier—a home from home. Here he is safe, and he knows it. They will take care of his money, and he can have it when he likes. They will supply him with stationery free of charge. They will write his letters for him, if he so desires, and receive them also. In fact, while he considers himself monarch of all he surveys as soon as he enters, he is conscious all the time that he must be on his good behaviour, and it is rarely, if ever, that he forgets himself.
A counter-attraction to the public-house, an entertainment provider of a delightful order, a club, a home, and a Bethel all rolled into one is the Soldiers' Home,—the greatest boon that the Christian Church has ever given to the soldier, and one which he estimates at its full value.
During the mobilisation days these Homes were crowded to the utmost of their capacity, and chaplains and Scripture readers vied with each other in their earnest efforts to benefit the men. In those solemn times of waiting, with war before them, and possibly wounds or death, hundreds of soldiers decided for Christ, or, as they loved to put it, 'enlisted into the army of the King.'
Barrack Room Life.
Somehow or other the average Englishman never thinks of the soldier as a Christian, and soldier poets bring out almost every other phase of the soldier character except this. As a matter of fact the recruit when he comes to us is little more than a lad. He has been brought up in the village Sunday school, and been accustomed to attend the village church or chapel. He has all his early religious impressions full upon him. He is excitable, emotional, easily led. If he gets into a barrack room where the men are coarse, sensual, ungodly, he often runs into riot in a short time, though even then his early impressions do not altogether fade. But if we lay hold of him, bring him to our Homes, surround him with Christian influences, by God's help we make a man of him, and the raw recruit, the 'rook' as they call him, not only develops into a veteran ready to go anywhere and do anything for Queen and country, but into a Soldier of the Cross, ready to do and dare for his King.
An Aldershot Sunday.
Let me introduce you to an Aldershot Sunday. The camp is all astir at an early hour. Musters of men here and there on the regimental parade grounds, the stately march to church, the regimental band at the head. The short, bright, cheery service. The rattle and clatter of side-arms as the men stand or sit. The rapid exit after the Benediction has been pronounced and the National Anthem sung. The 'fall in' outside. The ringing word of command, and the march back to barracks, amid the admiring gaze of the civilians.
All this can be sketched in a few sentences; but we want to give our readers more than a mere introduction—a speaking acquaintance. We want them to get to know our friend Thomas Atkins before they see him out on the veldt, or amid the heat of battle. And to know him as we know him they must get a little closer than a mere church parade; they must watch us at our work for him, they must realize some of our difficulties, and be sharers in some of our joys.
Let us then get nearer to him, and in order to this, attempt to get into the heart of an Aldershot Sunday. And as the most conspicuous and handsome pile of buildings in Aldershot is the Grosvenor Road Wesleyan Church and Soldiers' Home, and it happens to be the one with which we are best acquainted, we will follow the workers in their Sunday's work.
The Prison Service.
And first of all let us visit the Military Prison. There are not so many prisoners as usual just now, and those who are there are terribly anxious to have their terms of imprisonment shortened, in order that they may get to the front—not that prisoners are ever wishful to drag out the full term of their imprisonment, but now that all is excitement and their regiments are on the eve of departure, they are feverishly anxious to go with them.
And yet it is easy to preach, for in prison most hearts are softened, and just now there are memories of bygone days that make one love the old hymns and listen with more than old interest to old truths. Of course there are not a few exceptions. For instance, you see that tall Guardsman! Guardsman, do you call him? Anything but that in his uncouth prison dress! But he is a Guardsman, and by-and-by will give a good account of himself in South Africa. See how his eyes are fixed on the preacher. How eagerly he listens to every word the preacher says! Surely there is a work of grace going on in his heart! And so next morning when the preacher and junior chaplain meet, one says to the other, 'I am quite sure Robinson was greatly affected yesterday. He could not take his eyes off me all the time. He seemed in great trouble. Speak to him about it, and try to lead him to Christ.'
Hence, when next the Rev. E. Weaver, our indefatigable junior chaplain, visited the prison, he said, 'Robinson, what sort of a service did you have on Sunday morning?'
'Pretty much as usual, thank you, sir.'
'How did you like the sermon?'
'Oh! all right. You know I've heard him before.'
'Yes, but wasn't there something that specially touched you. The preacher said you could not take your eyes off him all the time. He felt sure you were in trouble.'
'Well, sir, I was, that is the fact. I couldn't help looking at him, and I have been thinking about it ever since.'
'Well, now, you know me, Robinson. Cannot I help you? You have no need to be afraid to speak to me. What is your trouble?'
And Robinson looked gravely at the chaplain, and the chaplain at him. And then with an effort Robinson said, 'I've been wondering about it all the week. I cannot get it out of my head. Don't be offended, sir, however did that 'ere gent get inside that waistcoat?'
How are the mighty fallen! And the poor preacher who, with cassock vest, had stood before that congregation of prisoners, had after all only excited curiosity about his dress.
But it is not always so, and many a lad has been won to better ways through the ministry of the prison.
Parade and other Services.
Then follows the Parade Service, already described, and no more need be said except that the preacher must be dull and heartless indeed who is not inspired by those hundreds of upturned faces, and the knowledge that the word he speaks may, through them, ere long reach the ends of the earth.
We will not linger either at the Hospital Service or the Sacred Song Service in the afternoon, or at the Soldiers' Tea, or even at the Voluntary Service at night, which, with its hundreds of soldier attendants, is a testimony to the spiritual value of the work.
The 'Glory-Room' of the Soldiers' Home.
Let us rather pass into the 'glory-room' of the Soldiers' Home at the close of the evening Service. There is never a Sunday night without conversions. And they call it the glory-room because
'Heaven comes down their souls to greet, And glory crowns the mercy-seat.'
Ex-Sergeant-Major Moss is in charge, and as frequent references will be made to him in the following narratives, we may as well sketch him now. A man of medium height, thick set, strength in every line of his face and figure, eyes that look kindly upon you and yet pierce you through and through. A strong man in every respect, and a kindly man withal. A man among men, and yet a man of almost womanly tenderness where sympathy is required. Again and again in the course of our story we shall come across traces of his strenuous work and far-reaching influence. And in every part of the British Empire there are soldier lads who look upon this ex-sergeant-major of the Army Service Corps as their spiritual father, and there is no name oftener on their lips in South Africa than his.
He is in charge to-night, and is telling his experience. He knows all about it, has done plenty of rough campaigning in his time, but he knows also that the religion of Jesus Christ is best for war or peace. Christ has been with him in all parts of the world, and Christ will be with them. They are going out. No one knows what is before them, but with Christ at their side all will be well.
And now a Reservist speaks. He cannot pass the doctors, and has to return home; but he tells the lads how he went through the Chitral campaign, and how hard he found it to be a Christian all alone. 'It is all right here in the glory-room,' says he; 'it is all right when the glory-room is not far away, and we can get to it. But when you are thousands of miles away, and there are no Christian brothers anywhere near, and you hear nothing but cursing, and are all the time amid the excitement of war, it is hard work then. Stick to it, my brothers. Be out and out for Christ.'
And then another—an Engineer. 'I was going through the camp the other day, and I noticed that where they were building the new bridge they had put a lantern to warn people not to approach. It had only a candle inside, and gave but a poor light. On either side of me were the lamps of the Queen's Avenue, and only this tiny flicker in front. And I said to myself, "My lad, you are not one of those big lamps there in the Avenue; it's but a little light you can give, but little lights are useful as well as big ones, and may be you can warn, if you cannot illuminate."' And then with enthusiasm they sang together,—
'Jesus bids me shine with a clear, pure light, Like a little candle burning in the night; In this world of darkness we must shine— You in your small corner, I in mine.'
Then follow other testimonies and prayer, and by-and-by first one and then another cries to God for mercy, and as the word of pardon is spoken from above, and one after another enters into the Light, heaven indeed comes down their
'souls to meet And glory crowns the mercy-seat.'
This is no fanciful picture. It is an every night occurrence. The old times of the evangelical revival are lived over again in that 'glory-room,' and hundreds are started upon a new and higher life.
But it is time to separate, and with a verse of the soldiers' parting hymn the comrades go their various ways, and the blessed Sabbath's services are over—over, all except one service more, the service in the barrack room, where each Christian man kneels down by his bed-cot and commends his comrades and himself to God. In the case of new converts this is the testing-time. They must kneel and pray. It is the outward and visible sign of their consecration to God. A hard task it is for most; not so hard to-day as it was a few years ago, but difficult still, and the grit of the man is shown by the way he faces this great ordeal. Persecution generally follows, but he who bears it bravely wins respect, while he who fails is treated henceforth as a coward. This testimony for Christ in the barrack room rarely fails to impress the most ungodly, though at the time the jeering comrades would be the last to acknowledge it.
At the risk of appearing to anticipate, let me tell a story.
In a nullah in far-away South Africa lay about a dozen wounded men. They had been lying there for hours, their lives slowly ebbing away. One of them was a Roman Catholic, who had been a ringleader of persecution in the barrack room at home. Not far from him lay 'little Jemmie,' wounded severely, whom many a time the Roman Catholic had persecuted in the days gone by. Hour after hour the Roman Catholic soldier lay bleeding there, until at last a strange dizzy sensation came over him which he fancied was death. He looked across to where, in the darkness, he thought he could distinguish 'little Jemmie.' With difficulty he crawled across to him, and bending over the wounded lad, he roused him.
'Jemmie, lad,' he said, 'I have watched you in the barrack room and seen you pray. Jemmie, lad, do you think you could say a prayer for me?'
And Jemmie roused himself with an effort, and, trying hard to get upon his knees, he began to pray. By-and-by the other wounded soldiers heard him, and all who could crawl gathered round, and there, in that far-away nullah, little Jemmie 'said a prayer' for them all. Surely a strange and almost ghastly prayer-meeting that! As they prayed, some one noticed the flicker of a light in the distance. They knew not who it was—Briton or Boer—who moved in the distant darkness. Jemmie, however, heeded it not, but prayed earnestly for deliverance. The light came nearer, and the wounded lads began to call with all their remaining strength for help. And at last it came to them—the light of a British stretcher party—and they were carried to help and deliverance.
'And now,' said the Roman Catholic soldier, who, on his return from the war, told this story to the Rev. T.J. McClelland, 'I know that God will hear the prayer of a good man as well as the prayer of a priest, for he heard little Jemmie's prayer that night.'
And so the Aldershot barrack room prepares the way for the South African veldt, and the example apparently unnoticed bears fruit where least expected.
The Hymns the Soldier Likes.
Of all hymn-books Mr. Thomas Atkins likes his 'Sankey' best. He is but a big boy after all, and the hymns of boyhood are his favourites still. You should hear him sing,—
'I'm the child of a King,'
while the dear lad has hardly a copper to call his own! And how he never tires of singing!
But the Scotchmen are exceptions, of course, and when, following mobilisation times, the Cameronian Militia came to Aldershot, they could not put up with Mr. Sankey's collection. Rough, bearded crofters as many of them were,—men who had never been South before,—all these hymns sounded very foreign. 'We canna do wi' them ava,' they cried; 'gie us the Psalms o' Dauvit.' But they set an example to many of their fellows, and the remarkable spectacle was witnessed in more than one barrack room of these stalwart crofters engaged in family prayer.
But it is time we saw our soldiers depart. And first there is the inspection in the barrack square, and it is difficult to recognise in these khaki-clad warriors the men we had known in the barrack room or 'Home.' And then there is the farewell in the evening, and the 'glory-room' or other devotional room is full of those ordered South, and there is the hearty hand-shake and the whispered 'God bless you,' and then all join in the soldiers' good-night song—his watchword all the world over, hymn 494 in Sankey's collection,—
'God be with you till we meet again.'
His life is such a coming and going that he would be unhappy unless you closed every evening meeting with at least one verse, and on these occasions, when no one knows whether it will be in earth or heaven that he will meet his comrade next, it is, of course, impossible to close without it. And so night by night before each regiment takes its departure some one starts 494. By-and-by, as the train steams out of the station, it will be 'Auld Lang Syne,' but these are Christian men, and they are parting from Christian men, and so often with hands clasped and not without tears they sing,—
'God be with you till we meet again, Keep love's banner floating o'er you, Smite death's threatening wave before you, God be with you till we meet again.'
They will not forget it, these soldier lads, and as they pass one another on their long marches across the veldt, unable to do more than shout a greeting to some old friend, it will be 494; and as with rapid tread they advance to charge some almost impregnable defence, they will shout to one another—these Christian soldiers—494, 'God be with you till we meet again!'
Off to the Front.
What stirring times those were! What singing in the barrack rooms at night! What excitement in the streets of the town, yes, and what drunkenness too, making it necessary now and then to confine a regiment to barracks the night before departure. And then the march to the station, often in the small hours of the morning, the rush at the last with some would-be deserter just caught in time, the enthusiasm of the men, the cheering of the crowd, the singing of 'Auld Lang Syne' and 'God Save the Queen.' And then away goes the train, heads out of every carriage, handkerchiefs waving, lusty voices cheering, shouting, singing. God bless you, our soldier lads!
But what mean these little knots of women and children gazing wistfully after the train? What mean these sobs, these tears, this heart-break? Ah! this is another side to the picture. They have said good-bye, and they know that all of these lads will not return, and that some of those left behind are left desolate for life. God help them, our British soldiers—aye, and God help those they have left behind them!
Mr. Lowry Ordered South.
Let us glance at just one scene more before we say good-bye to old Aldershot and follow our soldier lads on their journey South. It is the farewell of one of the best-loved of Aldershot chaplains—the Rev. E.P. Lowry, senior Wesleyan chaplain. For seven years he has ministered with rare success to our troops; his name is a household word among them, they love him as they love few, and he loves them one and all. And now he too is ordered South. He is fifty-six years old, and has done no campaigning heretofore. It is, therefore, no light task he has before him, and though he has many advantages and is known to so many, yet he is quite aware he must rough it with the rest, and is prepared to undergo all hardships with his men.
It is a raw, biting morning, and the piercing wind makes the khaki uniforms that flit here and there look altogether unseasonable. On the other side of the station is Rev. Father Ryan, the Roman Catholic chaplain, in khaki uniform and helmet, looking a soldier every inch of him,—a good man, too, and a gentleman, as we Aldershot folks know well. But on this platform what a crowd there is! Men and women, old and young, soldiers and civilians, have all come to say good-bye to one man, and he moves in and out among the people saying a kindly word here and giving a handshake there. There are not many for South Africa by this train. The men left hours ago, and only a few officers who had no need to travel with their men are going down. A young lad here, the son of a Christian man, is going out hoping to get an appointment in some South African volunteer regiment, and his comrades of the Fire Brigade are here to say 'good-bye.' But the rest of us are all crowding round our best-loved padre to say God-speed.
It is a scene that will live with us for many years. See, they are running along the platform as the train steams out. 494 they shout, and bravely and with smiling face he calls out in return 494, and off they go, he to the work of his life, and we to the more humdrum but perhaps not less necessary work of the hour.
OLD ENGLAND ON THE SEA
A cheer from the distant crowds, an increased involuntary bustle on board ship, and then train load after train load of troops detrained alongside the ship that was to be their home for the next three weeks. Up and up the gangways they went in long continuous lines, hour after hour, a procession that seemed as though it would never stop. At last all are on board, and the bell rings for visitors to go ashore. The troops crowd the bulwarks of the ship, they climb the rigging, many of them like sailors. They seize every vantage point from which they can wave a long farewell to those they are leaving behind them, and then some one with a cornet strikes up 'Soldiers of the Queen' and 'Rule Britannia,' and fifteen hundred voices echoed by those on shore join in the patriotic songs. At last all is ready and the moorings are cast off. 'One song more, my lads'; it is 'Shall auld acquaintance be forgot?' and there with the good ship already moving from the dock they sing it, while handkerchiefs are vigorously waved and hearty cheers rend the air, and not a few tears are shed. And so amidst excitement and sorrow, laughter and tears, the good ship drops down the Southampton Water, past Netley Hospital—soon to receive many of them back—and Calshott Castle, past the Needles and out into the open Channel, and fifteen hundred fighting men are on their way to South Africa.
A New Feat in Britain's History.
Week after week this was the programme. It only varied in that the ship was different, and the men were of different regiments and different names. Until at last the title of this chapter had become an actual fact, and Old England, in a sense truer than ever before, was upon the sea. For it was not young England simply that was there. The fathers of our land—our greatest and our wisest generals, the most seasoned of our veterans, were there also. And there was hardly a family at home but had some representative, or at any rate some near or dear friend upon the sea.
Never had such a thing as this been attempted before in the history of the world. Other great expeditions had been fitted out and despatched, for instance, the great Armada which was beaten and dispersed by our Hearts of Oak and broken to pieces upon our Scottish rocks. But for nearly 150,000 men to be dispatched 7,000 miles by sea, and not a man be lost by shipwreck, is something over which old England may well be proud, and for which it should bow in hearty thanksgiving to God.
The men these ships were carrying were new men. Some of them certainly were of the old type—drinking, swearing, impure—though for three weeks, at any rate, every man of them was perforce a teetotaler, and did not suffer in consequence! But our army has been recruited in days past from our Sunday Schools with blessed consequences, and on board every ship there were men whose first concern was to find a spot where, with congenial souls, they could meet and pray.
All sorts of places were found. The Rev. E.P. Lowry, for instance, managed to get the use of the Lunatic Ward, and there the men met and prayed, caring nothing for the nickname of 'lunatic' freely bestowed throughout the voyage.
Religious Work on a Troopship.
The following letter from Colour-Sergeant J.H. Pearce, culled from the Methodist Times, gives us a specimen of the work done by the soldiers themselves upon these troopships, work that commenced as soon as the ship left dock, and continued to the end of the voyage. It is dated—
'At sea, but in the hollow of His hand.
'The first evening we got together all we could find, and decided to start at once, although still in harbour; so we looked out a little place under the poop, and decided after a chapter and prayer to come along again the next evening. But when I went along to see who would turn up, to my sorrow I found the devil had taken up position outside our trenches, and we were debarred from entering by a crowd playing "House." The next day I was rather sick but went up and found the devil still in possession. Brother Evans was too sick to go that evening; but Thursday, being better, he and I went from stem to stern, downstairs and up, searching for a place to meet for prayer and reading the Word. We were just giving up our search to go to our quarters and pray about it, when we alighted upon about eight of our dear brothers on one of the hatchways waiting. They had sent two of the number to look for Evans and me, so we got around a port-hole light, and read Romans v., had a few words, and a word of prayer. Evans read 604, "Soldiers' home above," and we went home to pray that the Lord would open a way.
'We were to meet to-night at the same place to report progress. I was in the meantime to ask for the use of the orderly-room. The Lord had answered by opening the windows of heaven and the heart of the officer commanding the troops, and gave us exceedingly abundantly above what we asked or thought, for this morning the colonel met Mr. Cochrane, asked him if he were the Scripture reader, and told him he would give any place on board the vessel we liked to ask for. The orderly-room was granted us, and when we got there a number of R.A. clerks were at work. I spoke to the sergeant-major and told him we did not want to be objectionable, so would come when they had finished. He said, "Take no notice of us, go on." But there was too much commotion, so I went to see our orderly-room sergeant, who let us into the clerks' room, and there we had a real glory time. We know the Lord is with you at Aldershot, for we have realized His presence there. But He is here in wonderful power. We had a conversion last night on the hatchway. A man came along and listened, and in the dark we did not detect him till he spoke; so we have to report progress. We are to meet every night for prayer, reading and praise. It would melt a heart of cast steel to have been in our little meeting to-night, as one after another of the dear fellows simply poured out his heart to the Lord in prayer and praise. You thought I liked a good innings, but why should not every blood-bought and blood-washed one be the same? Do I realize what Jesus has done for me? Then
"I must tell to sinners round What a dear Saviour I have found,"
and point to the redeeming Blood, and say, "Behold the way to God." Glorious times yesterday, about seventy or eighty at parade service. I took John i. 29, "Behold the Lamb." Afternoon Bible reading. Evening out-door meeting, about 400 or 500 men listening; then indoor meeting. A dear fellow of our regiment gloriously converted Saturday night. Took his place with us in the open-air ring last night.'
Such stories as these tell of intense devotion, of a consecration that is indeed 'out and out.' They show that every Christian soldier is a Christian missionary, and that a Christian army would be the most powerful missionary society in the world.
In many cases Christian officers were instrumental in bringing numbers of the men to Christ: among these may be mentioned Captain Thompson, of the 4th Field Battery R.A., who held services three times a week throughout the voyage, and whose loving and earnest addresses had a powerful influence upon his hearers.
Tons of literature of all descriptions were put upon the troopships at the port of embarkation. Mr. Punter, the Wesleyan Scripture reader, himself distributed six tons at Southampton. One society seemed to vie with another in thus ministering to the wants of the men. The Soldier's Testament proved a boon to many, and as our lads return from the front, many of them show with pride their Testaments, safely brought back through many a fierce fight.
In the evenings, on many of the ships, large numbers met and sang hymns. A soldier never tires of singing, and his 'Sankey' is an unfailing friend. Many a lad had thus brought back to memory days of long ago, and gave himself to his mother's God.
But, after all, the great Christian events of the voyage were the parade services. If there were chaplains on board, they naturally conducted the services. If not, the officers in some cases performed that duty, and we read in one soldier's letter that on the Braemar Castle Prince Christian Victor conducted a service, perhaps a somewhat unusual occupation for a prince!
Parade Services on a Troopship.
But men in the ranks conducted parade services also. The commanding officer would send for some godly non-commissioned officer or private, and make him for the time being the 'padre' for the ship. Nor were these devoted Christians unduly exalted by the position in which they found themselves. It was no slight acknowledgment of worth that, all untrained, they found themselves for the time being Acting-Chaplains to Her Majesty's forces. Godly Methodists like Sergt.-Major Foote or Sergeant Oates, for instance, were not the men to be spoilt by such a position. Sergeant Oates tells how the men pointed him out as the 'Wesleyan Parson,' but he tells also that being provost-sergeant he had an empty cell under his charge and that there he used to go to be alone with God. From such communings he came out a strong man—strong to resist temptation and to win men for Christ. And as for Sergt.-Major Foote, he was simply bubbling over with Christian enthusiasm—enthusiasm that did not lead him astray because it was united with a well-balanced judgment.
The best pictures we get of such parade services at sea are however from the pens of our chaplains. The Rev. E.P. Lowry gives us a vivid picture of a Sunday at sea, which we venture to transcribe from the Methodist Times:—
'This day has really in large measure been given up to the feelings and exercises of devotion. There has been no physical drill and regimental "doubling" round the deck to the accompaniment, first of the bagpipes, and then of the fifes and drums; no medical inspection of the men's feet; no lectures to officers on first-aid to the wounded; no rifle practice at the Boers in the shape of bottles and boxes thrown overboard to be fired at by scores of eager marksmen, and speedily sent to the bottom.
'Early came an inspection of the ship's crew, stewards, and stokers, numbering about 180 in all, and including Africans and Lascars, of almost every imaginable hue, all dressed in their Sunday best. Then came the muster, at ten o'clock, of all our soldier lads, in red tunic and forage cap, for church parade. Nearly the whole 1,600 answered to their names, were divided into groups according to their various denominations, and marched to their various rendezvous for worship. The Presbyterians and Wesleyans numbered nearly 500, which would make a very full parade at Grosvenor Road Church. The place assigned to us was down below on what is called the first and second decks, where the men usually have their meals, and sleep in hammocks, or on the tables, forms and floor, as the case may be. All the tinware and other impedimenta had been carefully cleared away, and so the men at once filed in between the tables. A special form was provided for the two officers who attended, and another for Mr. Pearce, who acted as my precentor, and myself. The 200 ha'penny hymn-books sent in by the thoughtful kindness of the Rev. R.W. Allen rendered invaluable aid in the brightening of the service, for they made it possible for every man to join in the singing, which was touchingly hearty and tender. Only favourite hymns would be in place in an assembly so strangely mixed, so we began with "Jesu, Lover of my soul," followed by "What can wash away my sin?" "Just as I am," and "Oh, what a Saviour! that He died for me." Nearly half the men on board are Reservists, fresh from home and home-ties, though now 4,000 miles at sea, and to them the singing of such hymns would inevitably be wakeful of all hallowed memories, and more helpful than any sermon.
'Nevertheless, I ventured to speak to them solemnly, yet cheerily, of the mobilisation order that Joshua issued to the Hebrew host on the eve of battle, when he commanded them as the one supremely essential thing to sanctify themselves. The men were reminded that character tells, above all, on the field of battle, as Cromwell's troopers proved, and that since, of all work, war is the most appallingly responsible and perilous, every soldier is doubly called to be a saint. Such was "Stonewall" Jackson, America's most victorious general, and as in his case, so in theirs, grace would not rob them of grit, but increase their store. That grace they all might find in Christ.
'We also all seemed to feel it a consoling thing to bow in prayer on that rolling lower deck for Queen and country, for comrades already at the seat of war, and for "the old folk at home," so, in our humble measure making ourselves one with that innumerable host who thus seek "to bind the whole round earth by golden chains about the feet of God." Not a man seemed unmoved, and the memory of that first full and official parade will be helpful to me for many days to come.
'The Roman Catholics were also mustered; but as there was no priest on board, associated worship was for them quite impossible, and they were accordingly at once dismissed.
'In the absence of an Anglican chaplain, Surgeon-Colonel McGill, the principal medical officer, read prayers with the men of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The captains of the various regimental companies did the same for their Church of England men; while in the main saloon the ship's captain conducted worship with as many of the naval and military officers as found it convenient to attend. At the harmonium presided Bandsman Harrison, of the Northamptons, who for the last two years has helped ever so well at the Sunday afternoon services of sacred song in Aldershot.
'After church there was an excellent gathering in the guardroom for prayer and Bible reading, when we refreshed our hearts with the thought of the glories of the ascended Saviour who is indeed "The Almighty"; and although in this singular meeting-place we have never before ventured to indulge in song, to-day we could not refrain from an exultant voicing of the Doxology.
'At 6.30, just when loved ones at Aldershot were assembling for worship, our praying men met once more; this time on the upper deck, where there soon assembled a large and interested congregation, sitting on the bulwarks or lying about in every imaginable attitude on the deck. Close by there were half a dozen strong horses that had not felt their feet for over a fortnight; every now and then piercing bugle calls broke in upon us, and the restless feet of many a man hurrying to and fro; but none of these things moved us, and the service was vigorously maintained for nearly an hour and a half. Mr. Pearce, the Army Scripture Reader, gave out the hymns; I read a chapter and gave an address as brightly tender and practical as I could make it; sundry soldiers also spoke and prayed; and a manifestly gracious impression was produced on all present. The men are eager to listen when sanctified common-sense is talked, and are just as ready good-naturedly to note anything that in the slightest degree is odd. One of our godliest helpers has a powerful voice, but sometimes inserts a sort of sentimental tremolo into his singing, which makes it distinctly suggestive of the bleating of a sheep. I was sitting in my cabin close by when this preliminary singing was started, and was not left many moments in doubt as to its unmistakable sheepishness, or lamb-likeness, for almost immediately I heard some of the young rascals sitting round put in a subdued accompaniment of "Baa-a-a." Yet none the less the song moved on to its triumphant close. And thus, amid tears and harmless mirth, we are sowing on board this ship the seeds of eternal life, humbly trusting that the Lord of the harvest will not suffer our labour to be wholly in vain.'
Or take this as a later picture from a private letter sent home by the Rev. Frank Edwards, Acting-Chaplain to the Welsh Wesleyan troops. Mr. Edwards went out at his own charge to render spiritual help to his countrymen.
'This morning we had a splendid parade service. It was held on the upper deck. The captain had a large awning put up specially for the service. A stand was then erected by the chief officer, and a few of the men draped it with flags, and I had a large box covered with the Union Jack to serve me as a pulpit. Then the men were marched up and formed into three sides of a square, of which the preacher and my choir formed the fourth side. The centre of the square was occupied by the officers.
'It was the most memorable service of my life. We opened with the hymn,—
"Stand up, stand up for Jesus,"
and the strains of that hymn from hundreds of manly voices was carried far out upon the waters. Then we had the Liturgy, and the responses came clear and strong in true military style. The singing of the grand old Te Deum was most impressive. We sang an Easter hymn with great feeling and earnestness, and before the sermon,
"Jesu, Lover of my soul."
Oh! how those men joined in the singing. It seemed to become a prayer on every lip, and the fitting expression of the thought of every heart. Its meaning was clearer than it had ever been before.
"While the nearer waters roll, While the tempest still is high."
Then came the sermon, which was no sermon at all. True, I took a text, Isa. lxiii. 1, and I had a sermon in my mind. But when I looked round at those men, and thought how we were all standing on the very brink of eternity, and how few, perhaps, would ever see the dawn of another Easter morn, I knew it was not the place for an elaborate sermon. The time was precious and my words must be few and straight. I had a good time. It was impossible to miss it. Looking round upon those men as they came pressing closer and closer, with their hungry souls shining forth through their eyes, as they listened to the old, old story of the Saviour's everlasting love, and of His mighty conquest over sin and death, why, it seemed to me that if I did not preach to them the very masts would cry out and proclaim the glad tidings. I forgot self, and time, and place, and remembered nothing but my hearers and my message. And although I had been warned not to keep them long, as they would never listen, such was the sympathy between us, and so great the fascination of the old story of Christ's love and power to save, that they listened spellbound to the end.
'Then came the last hymn "Rock of Ages," and, oh! how it rolled out, clear and strong and triumphant, vibrating through the ship and echoing over the waters, a fitting close to a helpful and impressive service.'
In such manner ended a typical Sunday upon a troopship. And only a typical Sunday, for on scores of troopships Sundays of a similar character were spent. Such sacred hours must have proved splendid preparation for the approaching campaign. And many a lad who had never thought upon the great things of eternity before came face to face with them then.
And so with marvellous celerity the English army was transferred to South Africa, and all eyes and hearts followed it. The pride of the castle and of the cottage was there; the heir to vast estates, and the support of his widowed mother's old age; the scape-grace of the family, and the one on whom all its hopes centred.
The Chaplains of the British Army.
And with them went the best that the Church could send. A noble band of chaplains has our British army. Men like the venerable Dr. Edgehill, the Chaplain-General—the soldier's preacher, par excellence. Men like the Rev. A.W.B. Watson, who nearly killed himself by his acts of self-sacrifice on behalf of the men in the Soudan campaign.
Distinguished clergymen, Presbyterian and Wesleyan ministers, Army Scripture readers, agents of the Soldiers' Christian Association—all wanted to go; and the difficulty was not to find the men, but to choose among so many.
And so men of war and men of peace, soldiers of the Queen and soldiers of the King of kings, found themselves together on the shores of South Africa, sharing each other's dangers, privations and fatigues, all of them loyal to their Queen, and each of them doing his work to the best of his ability.
And the prayers of Christian England were with them night and day. What wonder that through the army went a wave of Christian influence such as had never been felt before.
And then from the Colonies they came. Australia and Canada sent their choicest and their best. From the dusky sons of the British Empire in India came representatives also. South Africa itself had its own goodly tribute to offer. And with them all came Christian workers—chaplains from Australia and Canada; missionaries by the score in South Africa, ready to do everything in their power for the soldiers of the Queen.
And so it came to pass that the whole British Empire was represented on the South African veldt. And the prayers, not only of Christian Britain, but of the whole Empire, ascended to Heaven as the prayer of one man for our soldier lads across the sea. Never has the sentiment of Tennyson's beautiful poem been so translated into fact before, for in very deed the whole round world was every way
'Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.'
The months that witnessed the welding of the British Empire into one great family witnessed also one great effort for her soldiers, and one glorious chain of prayer for their conversion. What wonder that hundreds, if not thousands, turned to God!
TO THE FRONT
The two most important ports of disembarkation A were Capetown and Durban. East London and Port Elizabeth necessarily came in for their share of the troops, but that share was only small.
It was therefore at Capetown and Durban that Christian workers specially prepared to receive our soldiers and do all that was possible for their comfort ere they departed for the front. These towns had already thousands of refugees from the Transvaal upon their hands. Many of them were absolutely destitute. They had left the Transvaal at almost a moment's notice, and large numbers had only the clothes they were wearing. But the generosity of the colonists knew no bounds, and gladly they gave of their abundance and often of their poverty to help their poor distressed brethren. Daily relief was granted where needed, and all things possible were done for their comfort.
South African Generosity.
And now the coming of the army gave fresh opportunity for the display of generosity. Not only were the soldiers received with hearty cheers, but lavish gifts were showered upon them. Flowers, fruits, tobacco, dainties of all kinds were handed to them as they departed to the front, and in many cases sent up after them.
A gentleman from 'up country' wrote to Capetown to ask when any troops would be going through a certain railway station, and he would undertake to supply with fruit all troops passing for the next two months.
At Christmas a number of ladies at one of the stations up the line had all sorts of good things for the men who had to travel on Christmas Day. Another gentleman accidentally heard that a certain train was going to stop at the railway station nearest his house, and hastily collected twenty-four dozen new-laid eggs for the men to have for breakfast! Such Christian kindness as this appeals powerfully to Mr. Thomas Atkins, as it does to most men, and he deserved all that South Africa could give him.
The Soldiers' Christian Association in South Africa.
At Capetown the Soldiers' Christian Association was specially active. This enterprising and successful Association was inaugurated seven years ago as the direct result of a series of recommendations submitted to the National Council of Young Men's Christian Associations. It has its branches in most military centres and is exceedingly popular with the men. In connection with this war the S.C.A., as it is familiarly called, has taken an entirely new departure. It has taken a leaf, and a very valuable leaf, out of the book of the American Young Men's Christian Association. That enterprising Association did a great deal of tent work during the late war with Spain, and such work proving of the greatest value, the S.C.A. has followed the same course during the war in South Africa. At first there was considerable difficulty in getting permission from headquarters; but at last it came, and on Saturday, Nov. 11, 1899, Messrs. Hinde and Fleming sailed. A further band of seven workers accompanied Mr. A.H. Wheeler, the General Secretary of the Association a fortnight later, and on their arrival they found that a general order had been issued to the following effect—'Permission has been given to the Soldiers' Christian Association to send out tents and writing-material for the troops. Facilities are to be accorded to the Association to put up tents at fixed stations, as far as military requirements will permit.'
How well the work of the Association has been done has been told in the organ of the S.C.A.—News from the Front.
'Eight tents, fully equipped and capable of seating two hundred and fifty men, made of green rot-proof canvas, and ten smaller ones made of the same material for sleeping purposes, besides four iron buildings to take the place of tents in the colder districts, have been sent out from the mother country The tents have been stationed at Wynberg (No. 1 General Hospital), Orange River, Enslin Camp, Sterkstroom, Dordrecht, Kimberley (after the siege), Bloemfontein, Ladysmith (after the siege), Dewdrop Camp, Arcadia, Frere Camp, and other places. It was Lord Roberts' special wish that two of the iron buildings should be erected at Bloemfontein and one each at Kimberley and Ladysmith.'
Lord Roberts himself opened the first S.C.A. tent pitched in Bloemfontein, and the late Earl of Airlie, whose death none more than his gallant lads of the 12th Lancers mourn, opened the tent at Enslin. These tents became the Soldiers' Homes, and are free to men of all denominations. In them stationery, ink, and pens are all free; and there are books to read and games to play.
Occasionally they have been put to other uses, such as hospital depots, shelters for refugees, and temporary hospitals. Generals and their staffs have been quartered in them for the night, and, in fact, they have accompanied the British soldier to the front as his 'home from home' wherever he has gone.
But to return to the work of the S.C.A. at Capetown. When this work began it was found that there was no post-office at the south arm or jetty where the troops disembarked, and thousands of the troops were proceeding to the front without the opportunity of posting the letters they had written, or sending home the money they had received during the voyage. With his usual carelessness, 'Tommy' was leaving his letters with any one he saw on the jetty, and even confiding his money to be sent home by any chance passer-by.
The S.C.A. got permission to undertake this work and soon had an amateur post-office in full working order. In this way thousands of letters reached anxious friends at home which might otherwise have been delayed for weeks. And more than this, thousands of pounds in money were received by the workers and safely transmitted home, one regiment alone, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, committing to the care of the S.C.A. workers no less than L800. Large quantities of writing-material and religious literature were also distributed amongst the troops before they proceeded on their long and tedious journey up country.
[Footnote 1: Our Soldiers.]
Work Among the Refugees.
It will be remembered that when the war broke out the missionaries were, with very few exceptions, compelled to leave the Transvaal. The General Superintendent of Wesleyan Missions in the Transvaal District, the Rev. Geo. Weavind, had been so long resident in the country as to be able to take up his rights as a burgher. He therefore stayed to look after his few remaining people, and four other Wesleyan missionaries remained by special permission with him. For the rest, the missionaries were scattered: some to Capetown, some to Durban, some to obtain appointments as acting-chaplains, or officiating clergymen; but all of them to work in some way or other for the Master, to whose service they had given their lives.
At Durban, similar work was done. The Transvaal Relief Committee (a sub-committee of the Durban Town Council Relief Committee), with the Rev. Geo. Lowe as chairman, did splendid work among the refugees, of whom at one time there were 21,000 in Durban alone. This relief work was splendidly organized and most effective.
The Sisters Evelyn and Miriam, who organized much of this work, were Wesley deaconesses employed in South Africa. Sister Evelyn Oats was resting in England after five years' most exhausting and successful work, but hurried back to South Africa on the first news of the outbreak of war, and was soon hard at work among the refugees. Sister Miriam had been employed at Johannesburg, and remained there until nearly every one had gone, and she was left alone in the house. And then she also left and found her way to Durban, where her nursing skill was of the utmost value among the poor women, homeless and destitute, in the hour of their deepest need.
The rate of relief was one shilling per day for adults, and sixpence for each child under fourteen; and the utmost care was taken in the distribution of the money. Funds were most generously provided, but it was a great relief when an application for 1,500 stretcher-bearers came from the front, and thus the congestion among the men was rendered less severe How eagerly the poor fellows accepted the offered employment, and the drill hall was in a few minutes crowded with those eager to go!
Welcoming the Troops at Durban.
At Durban also the heartiest of hearty welcomes was given to the incoming troops. In connection with the Transvaal Relief Committee there was a commissariat department for the purchase of bread and fruit, etc., and a Welcome Committee to receive the soldiers as they came.
At first the idea was only to provide bread and fruit for the men on landing, but it was soon found, as at Capetown, that the men had letters to post and money to send home. It was also found that the men wanted some one to write letters for them, and this work also was undertaken, young ladies gladly giving of their time to this work; and thousands of friends by their assistance heard of the arrival of their dear ones at Durban.
Christmas cards were also freely given to the men, who wanted in this way to send Christmas greetings home; and, in fact, Tommy Atkins had hardly been so spoilt before—not even by some good ladies in England—as he was during these eventful weeks at Durban. The letters and messages sent home were in many cases of a most touching and tender character, and once more Tommy Atkins proved himself to be anything but an 'Absent-minded Beggar.'
As at Capetown, money in large sums was entrusted to the workers to send home, and quite a large number of watches were handed over for the same purpose. In this work ministers and members of all Churches took part. The military authorities cleared as many difficulties as possible out of their way, and all who took part in it found it a labour of love.
There was no time to do much direct spiritual work at either Capetown or Durban. The troops were hurried to the front as fast as possible. But whenever it was possible to speak a word for Christ that word was spoken, and the kindly act was a sermon in itself.
Thus were our soldier lads welcomed by our children across the sea. And by their kindness to our men they have forged another link in the chain of love which binds the colonies to the homeland.
'Britannia's piccanini,' as Natal loves to call herself, has proved worthy of the old mother; and the old mother who is making such sacrifices for her children in South Africa will not forget that they are striving hard to show themselves worthy of her care.
WITH LORD METHUEN
To Lord Methuen was given command of the Kimberley Relief Column. He had with him the Guards, the Highland Brigade, and several of the finest infantry regiments in Her Majesty's army. A great task was allotted to him, but he was considered equal to any responsibility. He has been freely criticised for his conduct of this part of the campaign. It has been stated that he was prodigal of the lives of his men by direct assaults when he might have accomplished his purpose by sweeping flank movements, as Lord Roberts did afterwards. But then Lord Roberts had cavalry, and Methuen was sadly deficient in that arm of the service; and how to make such turning movements without sufficient cavalry, no one yet has been able to tell. However, it is not for us to enter into any criticism or defence of a British General.
What concerns us most for the purpose of this book, and what we rejoice to know, is that Lord Methuen was a humble and sincere Christian, who did all that lay in his power to further the spiritual work among his men. What this means to a chaplain or Scripture reader at the front can hardly be told. This we do know, that the direct assistance of the commanding officer often makes all the difference between rich success and comparative failure.
Christian Work at De Aar and Orange River.
The rallying-point for the Kimberley Relief Column was, in the first place, De Aar, the junction where the line to Kimberley connects with the line to Bloemfontein. In course of time, De Aar became the great distributing centre of stores for the forces on the way to Kimberley and Colesberg. Here the Army Service Corps held sway, and enormous were the stores committed to their care.
But at first, as we have said, De Aar was the rallying place for our troops, as they moved up from Capetown, and here it was that they got their first sight of the Boers. As they placed their pickets and sentries round the camp for the night, a Boer woman was heard to say, 'The rooineks are so afraid that their men will run away, that they have had to put armed men round the camp to keep the others in.' That was her way of interpreting the duties of British sentries!
Here it was that Christian work among the troops began in real earnest, and Sergeant Oates obtained permission from the leaders of the Railway Mission to use the Carnarvon Hall for Soldiers' Services. The colonel heard of it and put the service in orders, so that without any pre-arrangement on the part of the promoters, Sergeant Oates obtained the attendance of all the Wesleyan soldiers in De Aar at the time.
By-and-by they moved up to the Orange River, 570 miles beyond Capetown. Here they found that the station-master was a nominal Wesleyan, and he most kindly gave them the use of his house for religious services. Still, they were without chaplains, and what, perhaps, was, in their opinion, quite as bad, without hymn-books! Sergeant Oates found the name of the Rev. E. Nuttall, of Capetown, on a piece of dirty old paper in the camp. He did not know anything about him, or even whether he was still in Capetown, but he felt moved to write to him for those precious hymn-books. So he read his letter to the lads, and they 'put a prayer under the seal' and sent it off. The station-master at Belmont, who was going 'down,' promised to do what he could for these singing soldiers, who were without their books, and so even in worse state than preachers without their sermons; and, strange to say, letter, station-master, and Rev. E.P. Lowry appeared at the Rev. E. Nuttall's house almost at the same time! With Mr. Lowry came Mr. A. Pearce, Army Scripture Reader, from North Camp, Aldershot. He remained at Orange River while Mr. Lowry moved on with the Guards, to which Brigade he was attached.
By this time the troops were ready for the advance, and the chaplains were with their men. Rev. Mr. Faulkner was the senior Church of England chaplain. The Rev. James Robertson and the Rev. W.S. Jaffrey represented the Presbyterians, and the Rev. E.P. Lowry was the senior Wesleyan chaplain.
The Battle of Belmont.
And then came the battle of Belmont! From Orange River the troops had been compelled to march, and had their first taste of the African sun in the greatness of his strength. The legs of the kilted men were blistered as though boiling water had been poured over them, and all but the old campaigners in every regiment suffered acutely. Belmont was reached after dark; the troops were without over-coats or blankets, and the night was bitingly cold. But they lay down anywhere, glad enough to stretch themselves upon the ground or seek the friendly shelter of a ditch. Here they lay unmurmuringly—members of the proudest aristocracy in the world, noblemen of ancient lineage, quite ready to sleep in a ditch or die, for that matter, for their country.
Before two o'clock in the morning, they were aroused, and marched out to attack the stronghold of the Boers. And nobly they performed their task. But let a Christian soldier—our old friend Sergeant Oates—describe the battle.
A Sergeant's Account of the Battle.
'On the 23rd November (Martinmas Day), we marched out early in the morning, and at daybreak found ourselves facing the Boers in a formidable position. All was so still during our march to this place. While marching along, a young goat had got parted from its mother and commenced bleating mournfully in front of us, and although I am not superstitious, it made me feel quite uncomfortable, as it did many more. What became of it eventually I cannot say, but I think the poor little thing got roughly handled, if not killed.
'We were not long before we came within rifle range, and then the bullets began to fly about our ears as we advanced towards the Boer position. We pressed on; first one and then another kept dropping out, and shouts of "stretcher bearer" were heard very frequently. Nothing except death would have stopped our men that morning, so determined they seemed. On we went, and faster and thicker the bullets came, spending themselves in the sand at our feet. At last we reached the kopje, and rested at the foot a short while, and then up we went. Lieutenant Brine and myself reached the top in advance of the others. As soon as we popped our heads over the top, five of the Northamptons popped their heads over the other side, facing us with their rifles, at the present, and it was hard to convince them we were friends, so excited were they. We were not allowed to remain at peace long, for evidently some one had spied us. Ping, ping, came the Mauser bullets; swish, swish, the Martinis. We soon got to rather close quarters and were able to do some good shooting. I was still close to Mr. Brine, and we had been talking some few minutes, when some one spied him and he had two or three narrow escapes. He moved to what he thought was a safer place, and had about four shots, which all told. He gave me the range, and was just taking aim a fifth time when a Martini bullet pierced his throat, and he fell to rise no more. That was the first death I saw, and I felt somewhat sick. Soon, however, we charged, and up went the white flag; but it was the most difficult piece of work I ever saw, trying to stop our men in the middle of a charge. However, they were stopped in time, and instead of being killed, the remaining Boers were taken prisoners. The battle over, we returned to camp, and then came the sad duty of burying our fourteen dead comrades. There were not many dry eyes, but I venture to say there were many thankful hearts.'