James' Story

James believes one good turn deserves another 

man talking to female SA officer

James is now retired after a successful business career. But his childhood was marked by terrible experiences and dreadful hardship. And it was then, when he was just a boy, that The Salvation Army changed the course of his life.

James was born out of wedlock as the result of an affair between his mother and another man. Back in the 1940s being born illegitimate was a terrible badge of shame. His mother’s husband refused to acknowledge him or have him in the house. His birth father finally offered to give him a home, but he was a hard-hearted and selfish man who later admitted that he only did it to get the 55 shillings a week the foster agency paid him for the boy’s keep.

If The Salvation Army hadn’t fed me and kept me warm, I don’t believe I would be alive today

Where James lived could scarcely be called a home. He was treated appallingly. He was made to sleep in a shed at the end of the garden and given very little to eat. He was made to call his half-brother and half-sister ‘Master’ and ‘Mistress’. If he didn’t do what he was told, he was beaten.

Every so often, James was forced to move out altogether because his father didn’t want James to be around when other members of the family came to stay. For weeks at a time he had to sleep rough on the street and beg for scraps of food.

The chance meeting that turned James’ life around.

It was while he was homeless that James met The Salvation Army. On Christmas Eve, he saw a Salvation Army van in the street, distributing food to rough sleepers. The lady in charge saw James shivering in the bitter cold, so she gave him some blankets to keep him warm. She also gave him six slices of bread. He ate two that night and saved the other four for his Christmas dinner.

James went back to the Salvation Army van every day for two weeks where he was given chicken soup and as many slices of bread as he could eat. He told us: ‘I had never ever seen such kindness and it gave me hope that my life would get better.’ By the end of the second week, his father’s visitors had gone and he was able to go back to living in his shed.

Despite his terrible start in life, James was a resourceful boy. When his father refused to pay for his school dinners, he took up a paper round and got a job sweeping up in a shop to pay for them. He worked hard at school – and, even though he was working night shifts at a laundry to pay for food and clothing, and sometimes fell asleep in the classroom, he eventually won a place at university. It was the start of a career that took him to senior posts in the nuclear energy industry.

Yet James has never forgotten what The Salvation Army did for him. We were there for him when he was starving, cold and friendless. ‘If The Salvation Army hadn’t fed me and kept me warm, I don’t believe I would be alive today,’ he told us. That’s why he has decided to leave a gift to The Salvation Army in his Will.  

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