World War I: Retired Corps Sergeant Major John Stanyard explains how Salvationist James Finn won his Victoria Cross

published on 4 Jul 2014

Retired Corps Sergeant Major John Stanyard, from Kettering Salvation Army Church, at Bodmin Museum, explains to presenter Sue Radford how Salvationist James Finn won his Victoria Cross.

The article below was written by Retired Corps Sergeant Major John Stanyard and looks at The Salvation Army's position in World War 1

In 1899, 15 years before the outbreak of the First World War, The Salvation Army was working in 38 countries, promoting the concept of internationalism.  

No thought was given to the problems the Movement might face if nations where the Army was at work went to war with each other.  

But the outbreak of the Boer War that year saw, for the first time, Salvationists living and working in countries that were at war with one another.  

With some Salvationists subject to military service, William Booth did not feel it appropriate to declare that the Army was a pacifist organisation. But he also felt it was not appropriate that he should tell them to take up arms.  

Instead he decided that each Salvationist should decide within the private confines of his or her own conscience whether they would offer for military service or not. However, he was keen to stress that Salvationists were called to fight the ‘holy war’ first and seize new initiatives for God and the gospel by ministering to the souls of the fighting forces.  

At the outbreak of the First World War The Salvation Army’s official policy was to refuse to pass judgment or make formal comment of any kind on the warring parties. It feared that any other stance would put its internationalism at risk which could lead to the persecution of Salvationists in other lands, with the prospect of the Army’s work being banned in those countries.  

In a letter published in The War Cry on 3 August 1914, General Bramwell Booth urged his readers to ‘pray for the Salvationists in every nation, not only for the men who must go out to fight, but for their dear ones left behind, and for all our comrades’.  

The Boer War had also seen the start of the Army’s work with the military. William Booth had appointed Lieut-Colonel Mary Murray to work among British troops in South Africa. The very first Army centre was set up at the Estcourt camp, Natal, on 12 February 1900.  

By 1914 the organisation had centres spanning the globe and permanent military homes in Portsmouth, Aldershot, Chatham, Devonport, Harwich and Portsea. In August 1914, British Commissioner Edward Higgins sent Mary Murray, along with a small party of colleagues, to the Western front.