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

Chapter 20

Some Interesting People I Met During and After the War

First let me mention my friends Crawford and Skinner, who were fellow travelers on the same steamer with me in crossing the Atlantic. Mr. Crawford was a wonderfully redeemed man from New England of Scotch-Irish extraction. He was full of life and had the root of the matter in him. He has been engaged for some years in boys’ work and out of his own deep experience has developed a very interesting lecture on “Educated iron.” Mr. Skinner comes from New York where he has been in the construction business. He is a foremost Christian worker and has been closely identified with the John Street Noonday Prayer Meeting. He was the kind of man that the YMCA could have used to great advantage in their religious department but he was given work in the construction line and fell into the hands of a divisional secretary who cared comparatively little about the religious side of the work. Many a valuable man like Skinner was taken no advantage of, but was sidetracked to jobs that men with no religious talents could have carried.

Mr. W. H. Danforth, a big business man from St. Louis, Mo., had charge of our Third Division YMCA work; in fact, he organized the work and went with the Division through the three fronts — the Marne, St. Mihiel and the Argonne. He was a prominent Christian worker of St. Louis and superintendent of a big Sunday school there. He came to France and worked and toiled night and day to put things through. He paid his own expenses and did not take a dollar for his services. He knew how to handle his men, and the YMCA work in his division was one of the best organized in France. I said good-bye to Mr. Danforth in the Argonne just as we were about to move on to the front line. He had to go back to the U. S. A., to engage in the November drive for money. I am sure the experiences in France will make him of still greater use to the church in St. Louis, especially in his relations to the boys who come back from the army.

The man next in command of our Third Division YMCA was Richard C. Shreve, of Rochester, N. Y. Shreve was a big-hearted and big-handed man. He also gave his services without expense, paying his own bills. I think he was without doubt one of the bravest, most courageous and tireless workers I met in my travels. I have seen Shreve on shell-torn roads at night with shells shrieking through the air, in his Ford going on up front delivering goods to his men for the “boys.” I have seen him on the roads, driving on when it looked positively suicidal for a man to risk his life so, but Shreve knew no fear and never seemed to get tired. He snatched sleep when he could and ate when he found time. I think one of his most heroic acts was at the Battle of the Marne. No ambulances could get up to us Monday of the battle because of the shells that kept coming all day, but on Tuesday morning Shreve was up to our dressing station first thing with his YMCA truck, for the wounded. In one of his trips back to Courban he was told of over forty American wounded who had been captured by the Germans. They had also captured two ambulances and carried off the drivers. Shreve volunteered to go in and bring back the wounded if he could get some soldiers to go with him. Several volunteered, including Captain Daniel (Surgeon). When they came close to where the wounded were the Captain and soldiers did the shooting — the German guards disappeared. Shreve loaded up his truck and the two captured ambulances with the wounded and brought them all back to safety and to the hospital.

Another man of fine parts was Mr. J. R. Simpson, of United Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, Pa. He was a man of strong Christian principles and stood by them. To him the Sabbath, even in the army, meant something, and he didn’t believe in running his canteen open wide Sun, days as well as week days. He was a good personal worker, a man who read his Bible and prayed but at the same time stood good with his men and never spared himself in serving them. He went all through the war with the Third Division, also went into the Army of Occupation with them. I spent a Sunday with him in Germany. On Sundays he put through a good religious program and in every way was serving his country and his God faithfully.

Another man who helped me a good deal in my work with the Third Battalion was Joe Ferry. He had been a Lieutenant in the Salvation Army in Boston and when he joined the army he took a job as cook with Company M. Joe was a good singer and was just full of Salvation Army songs. In my services Joe would always be on hand to lead the singing. Sometimes Corporal Wade, Joe and myself would sing together in the meetings. Wade was a good, solid Christian fellow and kept his testimony true all through the war.

Another fellow was Benson, who studied for the ministry at Asbury College. He came later in the Second Battalion where I got acquainted with him. He was a good, earnest Christian fellow, not ashamed of his Lord, and I was always glad to see him in the meetings. In my last talk with him in Germany I urged him to get in the way of going back to College to finish up his preparation for the gospel ministry. His war experience will make him all the stronger preacher 1 believe.

A Chaplain that I grew very fond of was my dear friend and brother, Dr. George P. Horst, pastor of Presbyterian Church, Portsmouth, O. He was a Princeton man and held a prominent pulpit in Ohio. I seldom enjoyed fellowship with any man more than with Horst. He came to the Regiment just the day before the Battle of the Marne broke out, and therefore had his baptism of fire all of a sudden, while others of us came to it gradually. We were together right up to the Argonne. For a while we shared our pup tent together and very often at night as we laid down to sleep we would sing together some good old hymn. Dr. Horst never failed to preach the real gospel every time he held services. At De Mange for three Sundays we carried on real, old-fashioned evangelistic campaigns and on the last Sunday night before going into the Argonne front we held a communion service in an old French schoolhouse and Dr. Horst baptized twelve men.

When down in the Riviera I met a most interesting character. He was certainly a great mixture. He was born in America of Greek parents, was a Greek by nationality, he lived in Constantinople for many years and knew Turkish thoroughly; he had been a soldier in the British army in the capacity of interpreter. So he was American, Greek, Turkish, British, all in one and was then living in Nice, France, and knew French. Thus he could speak English, Greek, Turkish, French, and I don’t know what else. I got into a most interesting conversation with him as we waited for our train. He was thrilled with admiration for Constantinople, which was to him almost the same as his native city as he had been practically brought up there. He gave me the story of his nation — the Greek’s entrance into the war over the head of the King Constantine and his Pro-German Queen, but he was especially charmed at what the British had done in setting Constantinople free.

“What is going to become of Constantinople?” I inquired.

“Oh,” he said, “It will be an International city.” Then he expatiated upon the charms of that city. Especially was he charmed at the prospect of the Cross taking the place of the Crescent on St. Sophia. He was a Greek and belonged to the Greek church. It is to be hoped that when the change comes something more evangelical than the Greek church will take hold of that great church.

My conversation with my Greek friend accentuated my interest in Constantinople and St. Sophia, that great church, and I read with renewed interest some facts about the city.

Napoleon, when considering the question of giving Constantinople to Alexander of Russia, exclaimed, “Constantinople! Never, it means the empire of the world. It has a history as wonderful as Alexandria, Carthage, Athens, Rome. It stands with Jerusalem unique in history and destiny. She has been called the “Queen of Cities.” Emperors lavished their wealth upon her. Dean Stanley, writing of the city, says: “It is impossible to look down from the Galata Tower on the complication of sea and land, island and mainland, peninsula and promontory strait and continent and not feel that the spot is destined to be what it seems more and more likely to be both historically and politically, the Gordian knot of the world.

Constantinople is called after Constantine the great Christian Emperor who founded it after the Council of Nice in 326. Tradition says he was mysteriously guided in marking out the limits of the city. He said: “I must follow till He who leads me stops. He replaced the heathen temples with Christian churches, Saint Sophia being the chief and greatest. Constantine’s purpose was to make, Constantinople more imperial than Rome, more brilliant than Athens, more Christian than Alexandria and Ephesus. Upon a lofty column he inscribed these words of dedication:

“O Christ, Ruler and Maker of the World, to Thee have I now consecrated this obedient city and this scepter and Power of Rome. Guard it, Deliver it, from every Harm.”

The golden age of the Byzantine Empire continued from 530 to 1453 when the Turk and the Mohammedan seized the city. But the Mohammedans however, did not destroy the beautiful St. Sophia; they simply washed it all over with rose water and then dedicated it a Mosque. Beautiful beyond description is this church. It has precious relics from the Holy Land, ivory doors, priceless mosaics, colored marbles and columns from the temple of Ephesus and from Rome, flashing jewels, crystal carbuncle, sapphire, costly stones, porphyry bronze, gold and silver Stamped on each brick were the words, “God is in the midst of her.”

And now, thank God, the British having set free Jerusalem, have set free Constantinople. Where the Crescent and the bloody sword of the Turk predominated now will the Cross and the gospel have free course and be glorified.

War is horrible! It is to be hated and driven from the earth, but it seems at times as though the great God employs such a dreadful instrument as war to break chains of oppression, to burst fetters with the rust of centuries upon them, to open doors of truth and freedom and righteousness and to bring on a new day and age to oppressed peoples.