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

Chapter 2

A London Air Raid

I had been in London twice before — in peace times. It was a visibly different London now with the war on, but with all its sufferings, limitations, restrictions and such like it was truly remarkable the courage and spirit manifested by the people. Of course it was not the London of twenty years ago — at night everything had to be darkened, food was somewhat scarce, sugar was at a premium, meat was a rarity, bread was limited, butter none at all. Everything was put on a war basis.

We were not there long before we had, a taste of the horrors of war. We were sitting in the Hall of the YMCA when the secretary came in and addressed the audience thus: “An air raid is pending; you are requested to keep your seats. We will inform you if there are other instructions.”

An air raid! I had read about air raids, had imagined them — here I was thrust right into the midst of one so soon! I went to the door with the purpose of going out but it was forbidden that anyone should be on the streets during a raid. I at length went out with an officer who had to report for duty at a certain hour. I went with him as far as the Police Station, and there I got in conversation with a friendly policeman who invited me down in the subway to see a sight. I went down, and what a sight! A mass of humanity had gathered there from the nearby alleys and tenements, and crowded the subway. There were old men and old women, young mothers with nursing babies, young men and young women and little children. Some were weeping, some shivering with fear, some fainting, some hysterical, some laughing, and, I suppose some praying. Up in the sky a terrible battle was going on, and from the sky the bombers hurled the deadly bombs that meant destruction and death. The anti-air craft guns from the ground were pouring their deadly shells at the enemy planes above, but in the dark the shooting was largely at random.

That night there were two raids. After the first was over I went back to my hotel and was getting ready to retire when another alarm was heard. I went out and this time there were visible signs of the damage wrought by the enemy. Just down a short distance from my hotel was a great building on fire — the bomb had done its deadly work, it had hit the roof of this big printing establishment and went clear through the building to the cellar where over a hundred people had taken refuge. The majority of them were killed, the building set on fire, and for awhile pandemonium reigned. The firemen got busy trying to put out the fire and they finally conquered. The great building was a wreck but they had saved adjoining buildings from destruction.

There was a kindly-hearted Episcopal clergyman in London who made it his business, when air raids were on, to go out and tit to comfort the distressed in his parish. This night he himself met his death.

This war has developed forms of destructiveness men never dreamed of. Science has been harnessed to the Red Horse of War and been turned into an instrument of fruitfulness extreme.

London has had many troubles and dark days. War has cast its shadows upon this great city many a time. It has felt the blast of the war king for centuries past, but never perhaps, has war’s dreadfulness come so close to her as in this crisis.

London was a treasure-house during this war. She had to bury many of her treasures. London has the greatest Museum in the world, but during the war it had to be shut up and its priceless manuscripts and books, brought down from the distant past, had to be hidden where the incendiary bomb could not destroy them. London has the most wonderful Cathedral in the world — Westminster Abbey — portions of that, during the war, was closed to visitors because of the priceless relics of ancient days housed there. Many of the statues in public buildings had to be sand-bagged to preserve them in case of air raids.

The London police have a great organization during the war, and no stranger is allowed to come there or go away without their consent. They ‘have on their records my history, my photograph, my address, etc. They could lay their hands on me at any time if I did contrary to their regulations.

One thing I was constantly reminded of as I traveled about those European countries, how important a thing it is to have a good record and to so live that you can stand the strictest kind of scrutiny. I was reminded too that how one stands abroad depends greatly upon his record at home. It further impressed me with the fact that every man’s record is being kept in the sky, and the day of Revelation is going to be a hard day on those who neglected to keep on good terms with Headquarters.

London is the city of John Wesley, and on Sunday morning I went to old City Road Chapel and worshipped in the church where the saintly Wesley preached and conducted his great Conferences with the early Methodist preachers. City Road Chapel keeps the same shape or form of building as in Wesley’s days, but the interior has ‘been embellished and beautified by the gifts of money from Methodists from all over the world. The old pulpit from which John Wesley preached is still there. It was a pleasure to stand up in it. Outside in the church yard are the graves of John Wesley, Adam Clarke, Jabez Bunting, and many other famous Methodist worthies. On the tombstone of Adam Clarke, Methodism’s greatest Commentator, was this inscription: “A man of remarkable mental vigor; almost unparalleled industry and of expansive and varied learning. A Christian of deep and steadfast piety, firmly attached to the essential doctrine and discipline of Wesleyan Methodism.”

In the afternoon we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral to worship. The service was strictly ritualistic as was to be expected. They have here the most famous boy choir in the world — the little fellows are taken in charge very young and then devote themselves entirely to the one thing of fitting themselves for singing fit for the King — and very frequently they sing before His Majesty because upon all State occasions such as National Thanksgiving, National humiliation and prayer, etc., St. Paul’s is made the State Church and Royalty attends. Their music on Sunday afternoon was beautiful, especially the Anthem, which embraced Hayden’s, “The Heavens are Telling.” The preacher gave a good gospel message from Paul’s words, “I have fought a good fight.”

London has some fine Methodist movements; the chief one being the ,Central Mission Westminster. It is an immense structure devoted to great religious enterprises. On Sunday evening we attended a great gospel meeting there, which was packed to the galleries with a congregation of perhaps 3,000 people. Rev. Dinsdale T. Young, of Wesleyan Methodism, was the preacher. One thing we noticed particularly was the way those Methodists sang the old-time hymns, and sang them through — not two or three stanzas but the whole hymn. One of the hymns is a hymn of my boyhood — I have not heard it sung in many years. Let me give the first stanza:

O God, of good the unfathomed sea!
Who would not give his heart to Thee?
Who would not love Thee with his might?
O Jesus, Lover of mankind,
Who would not his whole soul and mind,
With all his strength, to Thee unite?

They sang the whole five stanzas. The sermon was one to make a camp meeting shout over. In fact at times the preacher was interrupted with “Hallelujah,” “Praise the Lord.” It reminded me of old-time Methodism truly, and the preacher was one of the most scholarly and renowned preachers of English Methodism. Preaching about the finished work of Christ he said, “They say that it is old-fashioned to preach that now. Well then, this preacher is old-fashioned and shall continue to be. What if I should be called to the Bar of God and, instead of preaching the whole counsel of God, I should be charged with trying to please the people.”

A visit that we made at Westminster Abbey revealed many newly interesting things though we had made previous visits to this most historic Abbey. One very curious thing called to our attention was a door on the north side which is known as Demon’s Door. It was the custom always to open this door during the progress of the service and keep it open so that the demons who might be inside should be driven out doors by the power of prayer and worship within. We thought that we knew not a few churches in the homeland where such a north door would be very handy if it was within the realm of possibility to drive the devils out through it.

London has a great history religiously. It was in this great old city that some of the most wonderful events in church history have occurred. Here in London the word of God has been sounded forth to the ends of the earth. It was here the great Spurgeon preached for many years the pure gospel, the echoes of which went throughout the whole world. It was here the Wesleyan revival began, and here at City Road was the great headquarters of the Methodist Movement which swept through the British Isles like flames of holy fire, purging and purifying the nation, and which later crossed the Atlantic engirding the American States in its arms of power and revivalism.

But oh, shades of Wesley! What things have transpired since thy day, John Wesley of old London’ The very nation and people among whom Wesley went to obtain a sample of pure primitive Christianity and where he says he found the very best type of Christians, have changed their God! The God of War has supplanted the God of Grace and Glory. The word of God — the old Bible — has been thrown aside for the new learning and the new culture, and in consequence the whole world has been thrust into an abyss of woe such as was never known in all the annals of time.

Sad indeed it is that the Germany of the Moravians who taught John Wesley the way of salvation and the Germany of Martin Luther, who was God’s instrument in bringing on the great Reformation and rediscovering to the Church the great doctrine of Justification by faith should become obsessed by lust of power and conquest like the Huns and Attila of old the “scourge of God” among the nations — the truce-breaker and defiler, the hated among the nations for her rapine and carnage, her bloody deeds and frightfulness.