The Bible on Salisbury Plain
Ten Thousand Soldiers join the Carry-your-Bible Movement
Transcription of Article In the Christian Messenger by E. Wakefield Magill
A remarkable Bible revival is in progress among the soldiers quartered on Salisbury Plain and elsewhere. Already more than ten thousand of the troops on Salisbury Plain alone have joined the Pocket Testament League, and have agreed to carry a Testament with them and to read a chapter daily, and over three thousand have declared their acceptance of Christ and enlisted under the banner of the King of Kings.
The movement began some time ago, when Charles M. Alexander, the well-known Gospel song leader, accompanied by two soloists, a pianist and a representative of the Pocket Testament League, spent five days travelling from one Y.M.C.A. marquee to another on the Plain, holding Gospel meetings. From the beginning the meetings were a great success. The soldiers crowded into the marquees, and when the tents were filled they let down the sides and the men stood outside during the service.
The meetings began with the presentation to each soldier of the Pocket Testament League edition of the Gospel of St. John, containing hymns, pictures and stories. Using the Gospel as a hymn book, Mr. Alexander led the men in singing appropriate hymns. The men quickly caught up the new choruses, such as “I am included,” and “Good-bye, God bless you,” while they rang out lustily the familiar strains of the “Glory Song,” and “Tell mother I’ll be there.” Now and then the famous song leader called upon one of the soloists to sing a hymn such as “My mother’s prayer,” or “Will the circle be unbroken?” Again Mr. Alexander would stop the soldiers in the midst of a hymn and give them a straight talk on the manliness of living a clean Christian life.
At the opportune moment the idea of the Pocket Testament League was explained, and the men were told how during the last six years the movement had swept round the world, and hundreds of thousands of all classes from one end of the world to the other had been enrolled in the League by making it the rule of their lives to carry a Testament with them and to read at least one chapter daily. Special Testaments with waterproof covers, weighing only two-and-a-quarter ounces, published by the Pocket Testament League Headquarters, 47, Paternoster Row, were offered to any soldier who wished to join. It was clearly stated however, that in order to secure the Testament he must first sign a League Membership Card, and then sign the pledge in the Testament he received.
The eagerness of the men to make the promise and join the movement was astonishing. At one tent, when those who wished to become members were asked to come forward, the soldiers literally stormed the platform in their eagerness to join. At another tent over three hundred soldiers were enrolled in a few minutes. At still another there was not time to give out the Testaments that night, so the men were asked to present their membership cards, and secure the books at the marquee counter next day. Early the following morning a stream of soldiers asking for Testaments began, and still continues.
During the closing days of the meetings conducted by Mr. Alexander thrilling scenes were witnessed as the soldiers were asked not only to join the League, but to yield their lives to God. One night, over a thousand men were crowded into a tent. Over three hundred joined the Pocket Testament League, and at the close of the service one hundred and ninety two soldiers, in the presence of their comrades, rang out after the song leader the words, “I accept Christ as my Saviour, my Lord and my King.” The editor of a London journal who was present declared it was a sight he had rarely seen equalled.
Bishop Taylor-Smith, the Chaplain General of the Forces, when asked for a word of encouragement to the men whose lives had been influenced, wrote: “ My dear Mr. Alexander, I rejoice to hear of the blessing received on the Plain. May you see greater things than these, because of Christ’s position and power. Give to the brethren from me Hebrews xiii. 20, 21. Believe me, yours always, J. Taylor-Smith, Bp., C.G.”
The Bible revival on Salisbury Plain did not end with the visit of Mr. Alexander and his party. The movement continued to spread among the men from tent to tent, and the demand for Testaments increased.
Mr. Henry J. Lane, a business man who has worked day and night in one of the Y.M.C.A. marquees on the Plain as an honorary worker enrolling soldiers in the League, and leading them to a decision for God, sent to the League Headquarters in London a letter giving a graphic account of the Bible revival among the troops, He wrote:
“After a visit from Mr. Alexander and his party, the Lord manifested His presence in a remarkable way. Until then there had been few decisions for Christ, sometimes one and never more than two a day. After the abovementioned visit and the introduction of the Pocket Testament League, there came upon the soldiers at great desire to hear the Word of God. As it was told out men were gripped by the power of the Holy Ghost, and hour after hour they came to the counter and with bowed heads confessed Christ. On one occasion a group of thirty were listening to the Gospel when the speaker asked who would volunteer for the service of Christ. Immediately a non-commissioned officer, about six feet in height, who was on the outside, put up his hand and said, ‘I will, sir,’ at the same time pushing his way to the front. Within a few seconds twelve others joined him. No sooner had these been dealt with and prayers offered, than another group came forward. Thus it continued until the ‘last post’ sounded and the soldiers hurried away to their lines.”
A few weeks later the Bible work among the soldiers had aroused such widespread interest that Mr. Lane and Mr. A. J. C. Thomas – who has witnessed an almost equally wonderful work in a neighbouring marquee – were invited to London to tell about the spiritual movement among the troops.
To a group of editors of London journals who had gathered to hear the story, Mr. Lane told how the work began, and of its remarkable influence on the morale of the troops. He said:
“For weeks we have had a stream of men coming to join the Pocket Testament League, and at the same time accepting Christ so rapidly that I could not deal with them in ones or twos, but I had groups of eight and more. This has been done in the tent while the latest comic song was being sung. These men listened as intently as if there was no other sound or voice to be heard.
“A merchant of Exeter was there in the marquee one day, also the Wesleyan chaplain. They purposely stood at the back where I could not see them, just to see what was taking place. The merchant said this: ‘If I had read it in a book, or heard it from the lips of anyone, I would have discounted fifty per cent, and would not have believed the rest.‘ The chaplain said that he had never hoped to witness such scenes or feel the power of God as he did then. Directly the little book was opened and the Word was read the whole expression on the men’s faces was changed, and they became deeply concerned, and the result was that applications for the Testaments became so numerous that we could not supply them all. Men were bringing their chums all day in dozens. One man would get a Testament, and I said, ‘Let the others know you have a good thing,’ and the next day, time and again, the remaining number in that tent would come and join, and the demand was so great that at no time have we had sufficient Testaments, though I thank God we had a grand supply, but we have never had sufficient to meet the demand. The soul winning has coincided with the supply of Testaments. It is an extraordinary thing. I have tried to introduce another line of things, but that has failed. In no cases have we had any difficulty in leading souls to Christ from morning to night when we have had the League Testaments behind us.
“ An officer came in who was not a Christian man, nor had he very much sympathy with Christian work. He said: ‘What are you doing here? Extraordinary things are happening in the lines. Men who used to curse and swear I hear reading and praying. What is it you have got? We showed him the Testament; he did not take it, but still we had his testimony. One is struck by the fact that non-commissioned officers have been influenced by their men. One came to me and said, ‘When I came here the tent was a hell upon earth. Language was so dreadful and behaviour so wretched that we could not get to sleep. When some of them came in we got up out of their way. Everyone has joined the Pocket Testament League, and now there are hymns and Bible readings. The attitude of the rank and file has changed.’
“ A sergeant came to me and said: ‘I’ll tell you what has brought us here. I have about the roughest section in our battalion, a tough lot of men. They have to be carried home from the canteens drunk, and have given the non-commissioned officers untold trouble. Now they have all joined the Pocket Testament League, and they came to me this morning and said : “ ‘ Sergeant, you see what we done, and isn’t it time you did the same? ‘ ” ‘Well, I couldn’t stand that, so before I went to drill I had to come here.’ He accepted Christ.
“ Some of these men have done a thing that some of us would hesitate about doing. They have gone straight back to their ungodly companions and have besought them to turn from their evil ways and get a Testament and start right; and in tent after tent all the men take it in turns to read a portion every day, and sometimes they sing a hymn. I have had three or four of these men bring a chum up to the counter, and they are asked if they have given their hearts to the Lord. Then they stand with bowed heads while I offer a prayer, so that everyone within sound of my voice knows what is going on. I have seen a group of men who were at first disinterested become attracted by the sound of praying. When the first group have been attended to there is another waiting. This has gone on until one has been absolutely exhausted in pointing men to Christ. It is such a blessed thing. What is being done in these two marquees can be done in every marquee in this country by the agency of the Pocket Testament League. I want to thank God for the Pocket Testament League. This was His purpose and way of working. I would not be true to our God and Father if I did not say that the Pocket Testament League in His hands has already brought twelve hundred men to Christ, and over four thousand to promise to read a portion of God’s word every day.
“Last Saturday there was a line waiting just like a theatre. They waited patiently for their turn to come to yield themselves to Christ. I was forced to adopt the plan of dealing with them in groups, but the work amongst these men has just ebbed and flowed with the supply of Testaments. I have never dreamed of seeing such marvellous things in my life. I believe that the Pocket Testament League Work would evangelise the British Army, both at the Front and at home, if men would go out trusting God to use it.”
Mr. Thomas, in describing his work told how he takes the soldiers who apply for Testaments into a quiet corner of the tent, one or two at a time. They sit down at a table and sign their names in the Testament, agreeing to join the League. Then he shows them how to become a Christian, has prayer with them, and sends them out to openly confess Christ. In a few weeks he and his workers have enrolled over one thousand four hundred men in the Pocket Testament League, and over six hundred soldiers have yielded their lives to God. Mr. Thomas verified Mr. Lane’s statement that the tide of revival ebbed and flowed with the supply of Testaments.
If this story interests you, pray that the Bible revival may continue to grow and increase among the soldiers on Salisbury Plain, and that it may spread throughout the British Army and Navy.
Christian Messenger 1915/44