When I was a teenager standing on the kettles, it was quite common for men who were about the age that I am now to speak about their gratitude to The Salvation Army for its service in the First World War. I don’t remember hearing about any big things that the Army did but about a lot of little things. A donut. A place to rest. A letter written on their behalf. What was so special about these little things?
Every war is cruel and every life lost in war is a tragedy. But the First World War stands by itself in the wholesale senseless loss of life as military leaders on both sides flung their troops into hopeless assaults. The numbers are staggering. It was during this war that men invented new ways to kill each other. The airplane dropped bombs and machineguns strafed. The tank was invented so that now hulks of metal lumbered toward fragile human bodies. The machine gun was refined so that it mowed a path through men who fell before it like wheat before a scythe. Gas choked the life out of many, blinded many more, seared the gentle tissue of the lungs with poison.
Although the United States was more protective of its troops and used them with far less callousness than our European counterparts, it was still a savage battlefield. When the war ended, it produced little more than bitterness and a seething rage that flared up in a wider war a generation later.
Amid the cruelty and senseless brutality a donut becomes a sacramental offering of peace. A quiet place to relax is a haven from the storm. A letter written home reminded men that the war was not the ultimate reality, that the blighted landscape before them would be replaced by the green, green grass of home.
Those Salvation Army lassies that crossed the ocean to serve were no safer than the troops who charged to their deaths. They saw the unthinkable but kept the rolling pins moving. They heard horrifying stories yet continued to sing of hope and salvation. Though many were barely out of their teens, they became mothers to boys with a gentle touch and reassuring word.
The First World War vets owed a lot to The Salvation Army lassies. And this Salvation Army standing today continues to owe an inestimable debt to them today. We thank God for their willingness to sacrifice all to serve in the most hellish of places.