World War I: We Remember those who lost lives and commemorate our volunteers

published on 31 Jul 2014

One hundred years ago on Monday 4th August 1914 the UK and Ireland entered the First World War. While we remember those who lost their lives and fought in the conflict, The Salvation Army also pays tribute to its volunteers who supported servicemen on the frontlines and on the home front. The Salvation Army felt it was its duty to help those who were fighting.   

Thousands of Salvationists worked in dangerous conditions on the Western Front on both the Allied and German sides, and also across other parts of Europe. Allied Salvation Army ambulance crews collected the wounded from No Man's Land and transported them to hospital or helped to repatriate them back to their home countries. In the UK, The Salvation Army bought the first motorised ambulances of the war with money from fundraising.  The ambulances were nicknamed 'Pain Cars' by soldiers.   

The Salvation Army Hut at Dibgate Plain   We set up huts and field kitchens along the Western Front serving hot food. Many acted as sanctuaries where soldiers could have a cup of tea or could write home to loved ones (one hut was giving out 2,500 pieces of paper for soldiers every week), and have time for quiet contemplation away from the trauma of the battle lines.

The huts were often huge temporary tents or wooden structures with kitchens, dining areas and reading and writing rooms. They were as homely as possible with tablecloths and flowers on the dining tables. The huts that became famous on the frontlines were also located at army bases where soldiers were being trained to fight.   

Field kitchens were often very close to the frontlines and run by women, some of whom 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. When The Salvation Army was officially recognised as a church in 1918, we were then able to send out our first four chaplains who worked on the frontlines to provide pastoral support. 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 providing accommodation, food and a place to sit, relax, read, sing with comrades during leave. Families could also stay if they were heading to see loved ones injured, or to meet up with them while on leave. The Salvation Army often conducted station patrols at busy train stations. Soldiers were often found stranded there after missing connections when on leave or returning to camps. They would be found trying to sleep in the station and taken to a Home.   

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, whose own 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.  

Soldiers leaving for war were often worried about the family they had left behind. Often they asked a Salvation Army officer (church leader) to look in on their family. Visiting the homes of servicemen was a weekly task undertaken by many Salvationists. It was a source of comfort to many servicemen according to their letters. This was expanded to include counselling for widows.  

A free will writing service was available for servicemen before they left for war. To ensure that if the worst happened, loved ones would be able to inherit with ease.   

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. Enquiries were helped by using the network of Salvationists and the Salvation Army newspaper The War Cry.   

Public kitchens were set up to help feed people. A good meal could be bought at cost to feed the family. This became necessary for a variety of reasons. For example, some parents did not have the time to cook full meals for their families due to the hours they were working for the war effort. Food was becoming harder to find and to afford. Towards the end of the war, bread was becoming scarce and it was recommended that only the poorest should buy it.  

Whenever there was an explosion – for example, at a munitions factory, or because of an air raid – from zeppelins or aeroplanes, there would be an emergency response from The Salvation Army. People who were made homeless were fed and shelter was found. Practical help was offered – from moving saved possessions to carpentry for repairs. During raids shelter was offered in halls with concrete floors. The public kitchens meant food could be given in a timely fashion both to the community and to the workers dealing with the emergency.   

For more information about the history of The Salvation Army visit The Salvation Army's International Heritage Centre website for pay them a visit.   Photos of our work in the First World War can be found here