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

Chapter 16

Preaching the Gospel in Germany

At this writing I am in Germany working with the troops of the Army of Occupation. For a few days, including Sunday, I was with the Rainbow Division. At the present I am with my old Division with which I spent seven months, including the five months I was on the battle lines with them. I am particularly pleased that on the home stretch I have ‘been put with the famous Third again. It was my old Regiment, the 38th Infantry, that Pershing in his report said, “Wrote one of the most brilliant pages in military history.” It was my lot to be with them when they were writing that chapter. It happened July 15-16, and looking at it now it looks like a perfect miracle how that one Regiment held the Germans as they attempted to cross the Marne — held them after the 125th French had retired; held them through terrific odds and succeeded in throwing three German Divisions into confusion about ten times their number. I remember what a time we had down at the old Chateau where battalion Headquarters were attending the wounded as they were brought into us from the nearby hill and the river bank where the German hordes were trying to break loose upon us. I remember Captain Burleson in charge of our defenses at the Chateau that day and night, how he told me that he had the place bristling with machine guns and every man at night standing with bayonet fixed. I can recall his expression as he said, “We were to fight to the last man,” and I can recall, too, how he shook his head in doubt as to the final issue when I asked him “How things were looking.” It must be confessed that for twenty-four hours, at least, things did look rather black for us. If the Battalion had not held the lines the Germans would have got us — there would have been no help for us, as our retreat would have been completely cut off. That was one time when I looked either death or capture right in the face. It all depended on into whose hands we tell if the enemy got us. Some officers would have commanded the wiping of us all out. Red Cross or YMCA insignia did not count for much with some Germans, when things fell their way, but thank God, the 38th Regiment did not know how to retreat or run away and they determined to stick it out and they did. They held the lines! They held all day and all night. They held until reinforcements came. They saved the situation!I must confess that it is a genuine pleasure to get back to that 38th Regiment. At present I am with the 4th, but neat week I shall move up to headquarters of the 38th. I expect to have a good time preaching the gospel to them. At one time last August this Regiment was out to rest for nearly three weeks, and during that time on Sundays we had intense religious interest. Sunday nights we had old-fashioned evangelistic meetings and the interest was so keen that I felt if I could open a protracted meeting for ten days there we would have had hundreds turn to Christ — the fact was the battle they had been in had brought them face to face with death and eternity and they remembered God and began to pray. A Hebrew Sergeant said to me one day: “I tell you a lot of us have prayed more the past few weeks than ever before in our lives, and, as for me, I am a different man.” Strange, too, to relate that this man, a Jew, came to all our religious services and requested the privilege of joining our Regimental Church! In the 38th Regiment I met an Asbury student — Benson by name — a good fellow and a true-blue Christian soldier. He had been studying for the ministry when the war broke out but did not play the shirker — he made a good soldier. Many talks did we have together, and it was a great pleasure to have him in the services to lead in prayer and otherwise help. I believe Benson came out of the fight without injury. The last time I was with him he and I were dodging German shells up the Argonne as we went in search of Regimental P. C. to see Colonel Adams. I hope Benson will get back to Asbury to finish his studies and I am sure his experiences on the battlefield will make a stronger man and preacher out of him.

Well to return to Germany! I came from Paris to Metz and then into Coblenz, the headquarters of the American Army of Occupation. I stayed over a Sunday at Metz to preach at the Y. M. C.A. In the morning I went to the service at the Cathedral. It seemed a pity that such a magnificent church should not be devoted to real religion instead of religious mummery. As I sat there I thought of Martin Luther coming back and ascending that old pulpit and preaching to that crowd of hungry, needy people out of the blessed Word of God the unsearchable riches of Christ. I could almost hear him rebuke the priests adorned in their gaudy glittering robes and saying: “Here! here! Give this people bread, not stones; give them the gospel, not Latin phrases; give them real prayers, not mummery. Lift up your voices, O ye priests, and declare comforts to the mourners, consolation for the sorrowing, cleansing for the unclean, pardon for the sinning through a Savior crucified and risen again for our justification! Away with your empty forms and lip service; rend your gaudy garments in sincere repentance, turn your hearts toward God and lead the people to the “Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.”

The land that gave Luther birth needs his life again to turn the hearts of the people in these days of their defeat and misery and sorrow over millions of heir fathers and sons slain in battle, towards the God whom Luther knew and preached as the Mighty Savior and Justifier.

Outside of the Metz Cathedral, close to one of the entrances, is the statue of the Prophet Daniel, but the hideous feature about it, it has the Kaiser’s head on it — upturned mustache and all. The story is that the Kaiser had poor Daniel’s head taken off and his own placed there instead. Think of the monstrous travesty! What a piece of monumental assumption! And what a libel on beloved Daniel! I presume the French who now are in charge of Metz will let that thing stay there as a testimony to the crazy William, who assumes at times, to be the special ambassador of the “Most High” Whilst he was engaged in the mast murderous business that the devil ever put a potentate to do.

After leaving Metz I came next to Coblenz, the headquarters of the American Army of Occupation. This great German stronghold, with its immense fortress across the River Rhine, is now in full charge of the Americans. Whilst at Coblenz I had a singular experience. There came on my soul a great agony of prayer, and in order to get alone where I could talk to God, I went down one night and there on the banks of the Rhine I had one of the most gracious seasons of prayer I have had since I came in the army. I felt that over in the homeland somebody had been praying for me and God had turned the praying now into my own soul, and my soul was refreshed and comforted and strengthened as I breathed out and talked out to God my yearnings of soul for myself and for the soldiers among whom I was going to put in a month of special work.

Last Sunday I preached to troops of the Seventh Regiment, morning and night. Especially at the night service did we have the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit present and I felt my heart go out very freely as I preached Christ and salvation through grace Divine.

During these days of the Occupation the army is giving a great deal of attention to the ‘soldiers’ recreation, entertainment, education, etc., and we have many more opportunities of meeting the men in groups and assemblies. The men seem hungry for the religious services when Sundays come and we are putting much more emphasis upon the religious program.

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Last Days In France

After coming out of Germany, having finished my itinerary lecturing and preaching to my old Third Division along the Rhine, I came back to Paris to arrange my affairs preparatory to going home. While in Paris I met Bishop Anderson, who is the Bishop in charge of the French work in connection with our Methodist Episcopal Church, American-French work. I also met Bishop Harris, of Korea here — the old missionary veteran of the cross, was now on his way to Jerusalem. His face was lighted up with holy gladness as he talked of Palestine being now free and the holy places no longer under the Turk. He reminded me some of old Simeon of the gospel who when he saw the Christ child was satisfied and said: “Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace …. for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

General Allenby and the British Army seemed to have been God’s chosen instruments to bring about this event of world-wide religious significance — the deliverance of Jerusalem and the setting free of the land made sacred by a thousand Biblical events and the life and ministry of our Lord Himself.

Another man I met in Paris was Rev. E. W. Bysshe, who is superintendent of our Methodist work in France. He has been in France over ten years during which churches and orphanages have been planted in many parts of France. Dr. Bysshe will be known to many of the old friends of Taylor University and also Peniel, Texas. Bishop Burr sent him to open up work in France over ten years ago, and, now the work under him has grown so that he must have several men come to his rescue and help superintend and push the work of Methodism in France. A great door of opportunity is opening up in France for the spread of the gospel. France has had Protestant churches for centuries, but the work has become formal and cold and the great need now is for a movement with the old-time power and the fire of Pentecost about it.

After getting my clearance papers in Paris, I came down to Marseilles and spent a couple of weeks in the Riviera — that portion of France where possibly that much misunderstood term (among our soldier boys at least) “Sunny France,” originated first. Washed by the azure waves of the Mediterranean and sheltered by the mountains and hills that come down from the Alpine ranges and smiled upon by the cloudless skies and sunned nearly all the year round, this section of France is where nature exhibits her charms in beautiful flowers and foliage, her bounties in luscious fruits and the exquisite and picturesque in landscape, coast and sea. “Tres joli” is the favorite French expression for the beautiful. We would say all this country of the Riviera is indeed “tres joli” — very beautiful indeed — truly, I think, as beautiful a bit of country as can be found in Europe or anywhere upon the earth. All this section had been opened by the American Army as a leave area to our soldiers and it has afforded thousands of them the opportunity of their lives to visit this part of Sunny France and to visit historic spots where the great Cæsars and Hannibal, Constantine and the latter kings and conquerors, including Napoleon, fought some of their battles, overcame their enemies, conquered territory, hung out their banners, built their towers and strongholds and lived out their short days.

Nice is a city famous for its beautiful situation on the Mediterranean, for its flowers and gardens and villas, its vines and palm trees, and its tiled houses of yellowish White. It is famous in history. It dates from B. C. 530, so that it was a city many centuries before Christ was born. It was here, A. D., that the great council of Nice was held and the Nicene creed formulated by which the Divinity of Christ was made an important and emphatic article of the Christian confession of faith.

I spent just a day or two at Nice as I felt I was on duty, and with Sunday so near I moved on to Monte Carlo where the program for the Sunday was completed and I went on to Mentone where I preached in the Theater of the Casino to our soldier boys. I continued at this place over two Sundays as Religious Director. It was a matter of great interest to me to be located at Mentone for more than a week. I had read of this place a great deal in connection with the great Spurgeon’s life. It was at Mentone he used to come When tired and ill — he was a great sufferer as well as a great preacher, and it was at Mentone that he died. Frequently he preached when at Mentone. At his hotel he would hold morning prayers for those who wished to attend, and frequently as many as forty would be in attendance. Sometimes he held parlor services which brought, of course, always a capacity audience. One evening in one of the homes they held a reception for him. It was attended by people of all creeds — high church people and low. During the evening exercises Spurgeon was called upon to speak a few minutes. He told very simply the wonderful leadings of the Lord in regard to his Tabernacle work, his orphanages, etc. His hearers were deeply moved and at the close of his address a high church clergyman with tears in his eyes exclaimed, “Let us pray,” fell upon his knees and gave forth the most hearty thanks to God for the message they had heard.

Mentone was also a place of great interest to me because of an orphanage there which is being carried on under the auspices of our American Methodist Episcopal Church. Before arranging for my hotel, I made a call at the orphanage and met the Directress, a very devout, educated Swiss lady of the Swiss Protestant Church. She addressed me first in French and then dropped into English. She was pleased to see an American preacher and took pleasure in showing me through the orphanage. Before leaving I said something about securing a hotel and then she said they had a room fitted up for visitors, and if I chose I could hold that room during my stay in Mentone. I was delighted because there is nothing that gives me more pleasure than to be with the children. I had a good time there with those French boys and girls and became known to them as “Uncle George.” Some of the children were war orphans. One little fellow, Emile, was one of five children in a family up in Alsace whose home the Germans destroyed and killed father and mother. I took the children out on several excursions to the great amusement of the soldiers who would remark as I passed by with my children, “You have a large family, sir.” To be sure the children had some extras while Uncle George was there, and when I left them and said “au revoir” for the last time some of them clung to my neck and wet my cheeks with their tears. They wanted to sing at evening prayers, “God be with you till we meet again,” but I restrained them from it. I did not want to make my going away too sad for them. Two of those children, George and Suzanne, must be sent away to a Sanitarium in Switzerland if we will save them from tuberculosis. I have partly promised to raise $300 each for them. One year there will probably dispel the danger that now awaits them. Their poor mother died of tuberculosis while their father was at war.

While on the Riviera I visited Monte Carlo — Europe’s famous gambling resort. This place and Monaco is a little principality all of itself, separate from France, though in France geographically. The Prince of Monaco owns and controls the place, but they all say his rule has been most kind and generous. He is a noted scientist and navigator. On his yacht, the Princess Alice, he has gone around the world time and again and has contributed immensely to scientific knowledge in the realm of navigation — the deep seas, currents, etc. He has built a wonderful museum at Monaco in which the wonders of the great deep are represented by all kinds of specimens — possibly this is the finest aquarium in Europe.

Bath Monte Carlo and Monaco are wonderful beauty spots, veritable gardens of paradise with associations, however, of the most wicked, because here amid all this beauty of shining shore and gardens gorgeous and palm tree and foliage superb there is carried on one of the most seductive and nefarious occupations — the gambling business. It attracts people from all parts. Ladies adorned in their silks, gentlemen in their broadcloth, the rich with their expensive liveries, come here to try the sport, and then some come here with dreams of riches under cover of a few hundred or a few thousand francs. They enter the game, the wheels go around which bring to them loss and disaster, and sometimes suicide. There is a point which we passed up on the high wall which is known as “suicide point.” You look from the dizzy heights below to jagged rock and ocean. Many a poor soul who tried the wheel of fortune only to find misfortune, ended it all, as they say, by throwing themselves into the sea from this and other suicide points.

I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of Methodist pastors (French) on the Riviera, Rev. L. D. Martin, at Cannes, and the pastor at Grasse. A very interesting Protestant work has been in progress at Cannes under the direction of Pastor Martin. He is a Swiss minister and married a good woman with consecrated money. This gave him the chance to do lots of good. tie built and maintained largely at his own expense, a fine tabernacle for evangelistic work at Cannes, where he has preached to large congregations. He has been feeling the need of giving up the responsibility of the work with his declining health and recently turned his three churches over to the Methodist Episcopal Church of U. S. A. The Conference was held there in March with Bishops Anderson and Henderson in attendance, and some who were there told me that many a meeting was of the old-time Methodist kind in which many rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Coming back to Marseilles to take my steamer to America, I found that I would have to wait patiently my turn, and this held me here for over ten days more. Marseilles is the second city in France; Paris stands first. It is also the greatest seaport on the Mediterranean. The very ends of the earth come together here. It is the gateway to the East. All nations seem to be represented here. There were many soldiers of France here waiting to go back to their homes in Morocco and Algiers, in French Africa and China, in Madagascar and other French possessions to the ends of the earth.

In 1721 a terrible plague broke out at Marseilles carrying off half of its population. It was during this plague that a noted doctor in order to give science some new facts on the symptoms and nature of the disease voluntarily contracted the plague, and as long as consciousness lasted he noted down his symptoms and data. Through his sacrifice the doctors were enabled to better combat the disease.

I spent Good Friday at Marseilles. In the afternoon I went up to the Notre Dame de-laGarde Church which is a church built upon a rocky promontory south of the harbor entrance. It is Catholic and dedicated to the Virgin. An immense gilded statue of the Virgin surmounts the belfry and this tower is the last thing visible to the sailor as he puts out to sea and the first thing he sees as he comes into port. The church holds special interest to the sailors Who frequent Marseilles. Many of them in return for escape from the perils of the deep when they return to port, send some token of gratitude to the church-sometimes it takes the shape of a miniature ship, and many of these are seen suspended from the ceilings.

From this church a wonderful panorama opens before you. The great city lies beneath you; its red tiled roofs on yellowish white houses give a pleasing variety of color and makes a triking picture. To me the sight of that great city with its sins and wickedness made me think of Jesus as He beheld Jerusalem and wept over it. I have walked the streets of Marseilles and saw its teeming multitudes. I have seen its gilded saloons filled with drinkers; its brilliantly lighted theaters, alive with people and its churches shut up tight at night — its Protestant churches shut tight nearly all the time, except for its formal services once or twice on the Sunday, and I have thought what a city to have a live central gospel mission in, brilliantly lighted every night, open all day long for Christian service, and every night the year round for wide-awake gospel meetings!

At last the day arrived for boarding ship. I was slated to go by the S. S. America, a large ship carrying 2,500 troops, but they needed a transport secretary who could also be a Chaplain for the S. S. Sophia, which was to sail with 1,200 troops. She was a smaller and slower steamer, but duty before pleasure has always been my motto, so I consented to change to the Sophia so as to help out the transport work. We had a very fine company on board made up of casuals largely who were excellent people to work with.

After a sail of over two days we came to Gibraltar, that wonderful Rock which guards the gateway to the Mediterranean, and that great British Citadel. We tarried there three days, then we sailed again and in twelve days we arrived in New York, May 9th. Oh, it was glorious to see the U. S. A. again. Glorious to see home again and family and loved ones. After our sixteen months absence, thank God, we are safe home again!