Salvation Army (General Booth)

General BoothWithin ten years of his first sermon at Mile End, William Booth had established 26 flourishing stations and his followers had spread the word throughout the country. Known at first as the Volunteer Army, Booth changed it to the Salvation Army in 1878, when his most valued aide, George Railton, objected to being called a volunteer. 'I'm a regular or nothing,'' he argued.

Military terms came to be used. The Salvation Army fired a 'volley' and 'manned forts and citadels'. There were 'siege operations' against the Devil, converts 'taken prisoner', and they did not pray but did 'knee drill'. It was his fervent followers who thought up the smart uniforms, the tambourines, and even William's title - the General.

In the quiet cathedral city of Salisbury, Charles Fry offered the services of himself and his three sons to accompany the singing of songs in the market place. They all played brass instruments and unwittingly was born the first Salvation Army Band.

Counter Attack

Not at all sure about the rowdy songs that the first Salvationists began to sing, William finally approved, saying: 'Why should the devil have all the best tunes?'

'Hold the standard high - let us tell the world of blood and fire,' was Booth's rallying cry on New Year's Day 1879; and a year later on Boxing Day, 26 December, the first issue of The War Cry was printed. Top organiser George Railton and seven Hallelujah lasses 'laid siege' to New York; William's eldest daughter Kate, a magnetic preacher, 'opened fire' in France; and Salvationists shouted their 'Hallelujahs' in Australia and Canada. In September 1882, a task force headed by Major Frederick Tucker, who had renounced all to follow Booth, set off to wage Salvation war in India.

The publicans and brothel-keepers launched a counter-attack. For more than four embattled years, Booth and his disciples were reviled and stoned. Eggs were thrown - generously provided by local publicans - and pepper thrown in their eyes. At Gravesend, drunken seamen sent ship's rockets searing towards a crowd of singing lasses. At Whitechapel, the crowd roped Army girls together and threw live coals at them. Booth shared all the humiliation and dangers of his disciples. 'Don't rub it off,' he said, when some hooligan spat at him. 'It's a medal!'

After a running fight through the streets of Sheffield, he lined his followers on the platform of the hall, their tunics torn, eyes closing, faces bleeding, and said: 'Now's the time to get your photographs taken.'

Police and magistrates often proved just as vindictive. A tradesman's wife was sentenced to one month's hard labour for displaying The War Cry in her window. At Worthing, where the police turned a blind eye to the formation of a vicious, hostile 'Skeleton Army', troops had to be called out. Booth just brushed it all aside.

Fine Work

Gradually the bands, the tambourines, the singing, the fervour, the uniforms - all began to bring colour and warmth into the hearts of people whose lives had been utterly drab and purposeless, who had come to feel that the churches were only interested in the well-to-do.

The Salvationists did fine work in the slums bringing soup and salvation, converting and rehabilitating many beggars, criminals and vicious folk, and gradually won the goodwill and practical support of people in high places including Queen Victoria and the Princess of Wales.

In 1885, Bramwell Booth helped expose the shocking traffic in young girls. Young girls over 13 years lacked any protection and they could be sold for 100 in any brothel, even profitably exported to the Continent in ventilated coffins, a trade that was worth 8 million a year. Booth's soldiers raised a petition of 393,0000 signatures and Lord Salisbury's Government passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act which raised the age of consent to 16 years.

Depressed trade during the late eighties brought strikes, unemployment and bloody police clashes. In the five-week dock strike of 1889, the Army supplied 195,000 cut-price meals. Booth forestalled the Government by twenty years when he opened a labour exchange in Upper Thames Street.

The Army provided rescue homes and Prison Gate Brigades to help ex-prisoners. The lasses of the Cellar, Gutter and Garret Brigade lived in Whitechapel's filthy tenements caring for old folks and tiny children.

In America, President Cleveland received a group of Salvationists at the White House but the town of Boston, governed by Irish liquor-dealers, only allowed Sunday marches in total silence. On his first visit to America Booth launched a whirlwind campaign from New York to Kansas City impressing spellbound audiences; but only slowly did the Salvationists' Christian example of caring for the sick and needy begin to turn the tide.

Loss of Catherine

Catherine Booth found she had a small painful swelling in her breast. Cancer was diagnosed and surgery recommended. She delayed, eventually consented, but it didn't check the disease. The Booths rented a small villa at Clacton in sight of the sea that she loved, and on 4 October 1890 she died in William's arms with her family around her.

Shortly after, Booth's book In Darkest England and the Way Out became a best-seller. It exposed the grave 'unmentionable evils' of the time and suggested radical remedies such as planned emigration, a missing persons bureau, a Poor Man's bank, and legal aid for the poor. Critics scoffed. 'A childish impracticable Utopia,' they said.

Booth simply dismissed them. Like all men of genius, Booth saw one simple and obvious thing - the horror of Victorian England. At the top was all glitter and opulence: below was a cesspool of squalor and starvation and vice. The rest of society looked on poverty as a sin - the result of irresponsible and feckless living.

General Booth was never much concerned with the rich; they had their cardinals, bishops and curates. What interested him was the lost and despairing horror of the poor. After many spirited battles for freedom of worship by the Army, other countries were now prepared to give Booth's ideas a sporting chance. Shelters were opened in Brussels and Copenhagen. The Governments of France, Holland, Germany and Australia saw what could be done and financially assisted the Army. The Army even 'opened fire' in Tokyo where thousands of prostitutes renounced their calling.

To a hero's ovation, William Booth returned to New York in 1895. Carnegie Hall was packed to hear him tell of his 'Darkest England' and he held 340 meetings in 86 cities. The Salvation Army had assumed a unique position in America through its slum work and the help provided for striker's families. Seven Salvationists even set out from Skagway, Alaska, to Dawson City, scene of the gold rush, and served hot Christmas dinners to 300 shivering men who had staked and lost their all.

Tirelessly driving himself supervising his global corps, Booth became a much-respected international figure. He opened the US Senate in 1898 with a prayer and King Edward VII shook him by the hand at Buckingham Palace in 1904. Travelling widely, he found no country too remote, no people too barbarous, following the paths his soldiers had opened up. On a visit to Palestine, he kneeled outside the Garden of Gethsemane to kiss a leper's hand.

Received by Royalty

General BoothEven when well into his seventies, the old General (pictured right) undertook motor car tours of Britain, galvanising audiences and holding them spellbound. There were trips to Stockholm, Melbourne, Johannesburg, Jerusalem and Tokyo. Though his eyesight was failing he wouldn't give up his travels. He met King Haakon in Norway and was received by King Gustave of Sweden.

His sixth motor tour of Britain was cut short when he lost the sight of his right eye. Dimly able to write his own name through the cataract in his left eye, he toured Europe in the following Spring. In the May he filled London's Albert Hall and made perhaps his greatest speech: 'While women weep as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, I'll fight; while there yet remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight - I'll fight to the very end.'

An operation on his left eye was not successful and he was left completely blind. On Sunday 18 August he lost consciousness and grew steadily weaker. He died three days later.

'The General Has Laid Down His Sword,' was the simple message displayed in the window of International Headquarters. He was 83 years old. At the three-day lying in state, 150,000 people filed past the old warrior's casket. 40,000 flocked to his funeral at Olympia Exhibition Hall where Salvation Army Officers knelt by the casket, along with thieves, tramps, harlots, the lost, and the outcast.

Royalty too. Queen Mary came along with her Lord Chamberlain, Lord Shaftesbury, and because Her Majesty had arrived unannounced without warning, she had to sit at the rear of the hall next to a prostitute. She heard the prostitute say: 'He cared for the likes of us.'

The casket was borne to Abney Park Cemetery through silent masses lining the streets, followed by 10,000 uniformed Salvationists and forty Army bands. Around his grave were lain wreaths from the King and Queen, Queen Alexandra, Kaiser Wilhelm, and the American Ambassador Whitelaw Reid.

The New York Times claimed: 'No man of his time did more for the benefit of his people.'

Sherwood Times