The Cross and Flag: World War I Experiences – By George Ridout

Chapter 1


When the war between Germany and America broke out I was on the Theological staff of Taylor University. With the declaration of war there was great excitement, and for a few days it was a difficult matter to hold the students down to their studies, particularly the young men.In addressing my Bible class one morning I told them that I believed the war would only be a question of a few months, now that America had entered upon it. I was greatly mistaken. The foe was much stronger than we gave him credit for. At that time I had not the slightest idea of ‘becoming in any way connected with the war, save as a citizen, but one night with several other professors of Taylor University I attended a meeting at Marion, Indiana, where speeches were made and the war situation impressed upon us. I got a different view of matters that night.

For quite a considerable while I felt a great burden of prayer on my soul as though something was pending, I knew not what. I think I know the reason now. The Lord was getting me ready for a line of service and suffering such as I had never passed through before.

The fact was, that for some time I had been feeling that the world was in an agony and that the Lord would not hold us guiltless if we lived snug lives and comfortable, paid our taxes and did a few other decent things like respectable Christians and let the other fellows do the suffering and endure the agony and we, like the Levite in Luke 10, pass by on the other side. I felt that in a crisis like the one that is now on us with hundreds of thousands of our boys from our Sunday schools and churches and camp meetings going across the sea to fight for a safe and righteous democracy for the world, that an opportunity was afforded Christian men and workers and evangelists and preachers to pitch in and help save our boys from going to the devil, and put up bars and build fences around them of prayer, and moral and, religious influence and by every means possible do the utmost to save them physically, morally and spiritually.

The YMCA had opened doors by which many ministers could go to the war and do their bit in a moral and religious sense, and when passing through Chicago in December, 1917, on my way to a meeting in Michigan, I went before the Central West Committee who were selecting men for overseas service. It seems as though it pleases the Lord to favor me with an immediate acceptance and I went on my way to await the call.

When we offered ourselves to the work it was with no limitations and no strings; it was for immediate service and for the duration of the war. We felt if this thing was worth going into it was worth going into all over. And why not? John S. Inskip was Chaplain in the Civil War, and Hedley Vickers and General Gordon, though soldiers, were eminent Christians, and Captain Webb, of early Methodism, was a British soldier! If a million of our young men were giving themselves absolutely to fight for flag and country why should not many Christian ministers give themselves whole-heartedly to work for Christ on the field and out on the firing line among the troops, — to protect morally, socially and physically the boys whilst in camp and to pray with them and preach to them the mighty Christ, and when the battle wages hot and the wounded and dying are all about you to point them to Jesus, comfort and console them and do everything possible to save soul and body.

In our meeting in Michigan with Rev. G. W. Gordon, we had many adversaries — especially from the weather man. Snow storms and frost are no helpful accompaniments of a revival meeting. It was impossible for many to attend, but we continued over Sunday. When we came to our closing service we were beseeched to stay a few days longer. We promised to stay until Wednesday and make that an all-day meeting. Wednesday came and a good day of blessing it proved to be. As we sat down to supper a message came to the parsonage — I was wanted at the telephone. I said at once, “That means France.” I went to the phone. It was a message from my wife that a call had come summoning me to New York at once.

That night in the church I attended my last revival meeting in America, and before daylight next morning was on my way to Detroit to catch a train for home.

Christmas day I ate dinner with my family, and at 3 o’clock I took the train for New York, there to take steamer for France. Many things had to be gotten together before departing. My uniform and outfit, and especially my passports. Before going you pass the most scrutinizing inspection of Washington for your passport, and England and France must pass on you too, before they let you in one of their ports.

After everything on shore was adjusted the most perplexing movement was to get on board ship and, having gotten on board, it was about as difficult to get off — the only possible thing that could accelerate the exit would be a German torpedo. In that event you got off as best you could, without having to hand out your passport or take an affidavit that you were not a spy.

The voyage across the Atlantic, when I crossed, was anything but pleasant; dangers and perils met you on every hand and particularly so when you neared the war zone. The last three days on board we dare not move without our life belts. We bore them with us as we sat down to eat, and wherever we went, and slept at night without undressing, and with our life belts close at hand. The good ship “Auronia,” of the Cunard Line in which we sailed, made many a voyage in safety, but eventually the Hun submarine got her later on in the season and she sunk to her grave in the bottom of the sea.

What joy and delight there was on ‘board when the Navy destroyers met us! It was a great relief and everybody breathed a sigh of relief now that those faithful watch-dogs of the British Navy were at our side and would stay by us till we made port. We had six ships in our convoy, and the destroyers of course had, been notified by wireless of our coming. They scoured the seas for miles all around us for the piratical submarine. They never relaxed for one minute their vigilance. They bobbed up and down here and there and everywhere. Woe betide the submarine that would show itself in our vicinity just now.

Here let me stop long enough to speak a word of admiration for the incomparable British Navy. What wonders it has achieved: It blockaded Germany and bottled up the Germany Navy, preserved the British Empire from invasion, enabled the British Empire to wage war in ten different parts of the world, increased its tonnage from 2,500,000 to 8,000,000, steamed, in one month 8,000,000 miles, destroyed 150 submarines, transported 20,000,000 men, 2,000,000 horses, 25,000,000 tons war material, 51,000,000 tons of oil and fuel, and 130,000,000 tons of food. Brought food for its 46,000,000 inhabitants of Great Britain, for its 8,000,000 soldiers,and for the 75,000,000 inhabitants of Italy and France. The U. S. Navy became part of this great sea power,and of course contributed immensely to its achievements.

Our ship was loaded with troops — soldier boys from all the States were going forth to the great adventure across the seas. Also, there were many officers. I was talking one night in the cabin to a Major of the Regular Army. He had spent many years in the service and had traveled in many parts of the world. One thing that struck one about his conversation was that a man to become a good soldier must give up everything, he must abandon the idea of money and other like things, and must give himself absolutely to his profession. So Uncle Sam is preaching today a tremendous sermon on consecration. He is stretching an altar rail from Maine to California, and the boys are coming hundreds of thousands-yea, millions and they are offering upon the altar of patriotism themselves and all they have and are money, business, friends, bright prospects all go! Behold, on the other hand, with what hesitancy Christian people consecrate themselves to their Lord. How unwilling they are to place all upon the altar and give themselves without reserve to Jesus and His cause.

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We Land In England

After a night at Liverpool we went up to London, the great Capital of England, and the seat of the British Empire, and what a country is England!

Many years ago one of German’s poets wrote these lines on England, and no doubt, Schiller, as he wrote the lines in reference to the Spanish Armada meant every word of it.

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To England

Blessed island . . . Queen of the seas . . .
Who wrought for thee the precious jewel that makes thee queen of all the lands?
Hast thou not wrung from proud kings the wisest of constitutions–
The Magna Charta that makes citizens of thy kings and princes of thy citizens?
Thy proud sea power, has thou not won it from a million rivals in the sea fight?
To whom dost thou owe it, ruddy-faced people of this earth:
To whom else but thy spirit and thy sword?
From above God Almighty saw the proud live pennons of thy enemy,
He saw thy destined grave . . .
“Shall,” quoth He, “thy Albion perish, thy race of heroes be destroyed,
The last rock bastion against oppression fall to earth,
The defense against tyrants be annihilated in this hemisphere?”
“Never,” He cried, “shall Freedom’s paradise, the shield of all that is worthy in man perish!”
The British Empire is world-wide in its control — embracing Canada, Newfoundland, Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Suez Canal and the Red Sea, Aden in Arabia, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Cape Colony, Natal and. Sierra Leone, ruling over 450,000,000 souls.

When war broke out England only had a little army of 160,000. She raised an army of 7,500,000 and lost in killed alone over 800,000 — five times as many as constituted her original army. Her casualties during the war were 750,000 more than the U. S. A. entire expeditionary Force in France, her total casualties being 2,500,000.

Emerson’s tribute to England reads good to us these days:

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I see her not dispirited, not weak, but well remembering that she has seen dark days before; indeed, with a kind of instinct that she sees a little better in a cloudy day, and that in storm of battle and calamity she has a secret vigor and a pulse like cannon. I see her in her old age, not decrepit, but young, and still daring to believe in her power of endurance and expansion. Seeing this, I say, All hail! Mother of nations, Mother of heroes, with strength still equal to the time; still wise to entertain and swift to execute the policy which the mind and heart of mankind require at the present hour, and thus only hospitable to the foreigner, and truly a home to the thoughtful and generous, who are born in the soil. (1856).