Salvation Army Pays Tribute To Its 1st World War Volunteers

published on 5 Jul 2014

One hundred years after Britain entered the First World War, The Salvation Army has paid tribute to all those who gave their lives and served in the conflict, including thousands of volunteers who supported servicemen behind the front lines and on the Home Front. 

Members of The Salvation Army worked in dangerous conditions on the Western Front on both the Allied and German sides, and also across other parts of Europe. The Church and charity encouraged every one of its members to get involved in the war effort in some way, including volunteering in roles away from direct combat.   Salvation Army ambulance crews collected the wounded from No Man’s Land between the German and Allied trenches and transported them to hospital or helped to repatriate them back to their home countries.    In the UK, the Church and charity bought the first motorised ambulances of the war, nicknamed ‘pain cars’ by soldiers, with money from fundraising.  

A Salvation Army hut in Bulford Camp, in England.

Steven Spencer, Archivist from The Salvation Army said: “We set up huts and field kitchens along the Western Front serving hot food. Many acted as sanctuaries where soldiers have a cup of tea or could write home to loved ones, and have time for quiet contemplation away from the trauma of the battle lines. One hut handed out around 2,500 pieces of paper a week.”    The huts were often huge temporary tents or wooden structures with kitchens, dining areas and reading and writing rooms. They were made as homely as possible with tablecloths and flowers on the dining tables. The huts that became famous on the front lines were also located at army bases where soldiers were being trained to fight.    

The legendary 'Doughnut Girls' came from The Salvation Army in the US. They began cooking doughnuts for US soldiers using molds from old shrapnel.   Field kitchens were often very close to the front lines and run by women, who became known as the Doughnut Lassies, because they were short of supplies they created doughnuts from flour, sugar and fat. Doughnuts and apple pies were served to US troops, while in the huts egg and chips were the favourites of British soldiers, and meat pies were loved by Australians.     Salvation Army chaplains were working on the front lines providing pastoral support to servicemen from 1915, but it was only when The Salvation Army was officially recognised as a church in the UK in 1918 that the first four British chaplains were appointed. Three Victoria Crosses were awarded to Salvation Army members.   On the Home Front, The Salvation Army ran homes, located at ports and railways stations, which were resting places for servicemen and their families providing accommodation and food.    The war effort was also helped by an army of volunteers, including young adults and children in Salvation Army 'Nests', who knitted clothing for soldiers on at the front including jumpers, hats and socks. The soldiers’ clothes quickly wore out in the difficult environment. Canteens were created to help support the workers in the factories creating the weapons required for war.   Care parcels were sent to soldiers and to Prisoners of War. A parcel might include clothes like a new shirt, underwear or socks, chocolate, soap, paper and envelopes, a handkerchief. A note of  support and encouragement was often included. A ‘stranger bureau’ was set up to help support the finding of missing soldiers. Public kitchens also fed many people who could either not afford to eat or did not have time to cook.     Lieut-Colonel Melvin Fincham, Secretary for Communications for The Salvation Army, who is attending a service of commemoration at Westminster Abbey on Monday 4 August 2014 added: “Salvation Army volunteers played an important role in helping to make the lives of soldiers better in providing home comforts, food and pastoral support. There were many acts of bravery in the war, and we pay tribute to those who fought, lived and died, including those members of The Salvation Army who worked tirelessly to offer practical support to everyone in need.”   For more information on the history of The Salvation Army visit here