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

Chapter 7

The Story of John Grace of the Army

When the war broke out John Grace was in school preparing for his life work as a minister of the gospel. He was the only son of his mother and she was a widow, but she was a very devout woman and she sacrificed much to give her boy an education and ‘fitness for life’s work and battle. John was a good boy, he had experienced the saving grace of God in a great revival held in Philadelphia by a noted evangelist, and after his conversion John showed by his changed life to his comrades in the machine shop in which he worked after leaving school, that divine grace keeps a fellow clean and straight, makes him a good workman and a thorough man. John, sometime after his conversion, felt called to devote his life to the ministry and, though to obey this call meant the surrender of a good job and good wages, he yielded to his conviction and started in to prepare himself for the ministry, but very soon the war broke out and believing in the righteousness of the cause, he believed it was his duty as a patriot to offer his service to his country and not try to escape the draft under the plea that he was a divinity student. At the same time he felt that he could do more good if he should be attached to some branch of the army where he could aid the sick and wounded, so he joined the medical department. He was resolved that he would not surrender his Christian principles in the army; that he would not hide his colors, that he would seek to be a true soldier of Jesus Christ as well as a good soldier for his country. So when he went into the camp he looked around for an opportunity to serve his Master’s cause. The camp was situated at a place where there were no religious services as chaplains were very scarce and there was nobody officially present to look after religious matters. So he sought out a few fellows of like mind with his own and they thought out a plan for religious activities. There was an old church building up in the town which was not in use, and they went around and saw the trustees and secured permission to use this building for religious service. They then went to the commanding officer and secured his consent. The first Sunday the interest was excellent. Officers came, soldiers came and two splendid services were held, and thus for many Sundays John Grace brought to his camp and his comrades the gospel, and it proved a great blessing.

But the pathway of John Grace’s soldier life was not always an easy one. He had to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, and often was he subjected to the scorn and the scoffs of the scorner. On one occasion he had to undergo a very severe test. A number of fellows one night took the wrong direction, and upon evil bent went into the forbidden house where bad women lure and destroy, and whilst there the military police raided the place and the soldiers, found there were summoned to appear next morning before the Colonel. Some one in the crowd gave the name of John Grace and the next morning his Sergeant said to him” “Grace, you are wanted at the Colonel’s this morning.” Grace expressed his amazement by saying, “Wanted at the Colonel’s? What for?” “What for?” said the Sergeant. “Weren’t you with that bunch that got raided down town last night?” Grace’s reply was, “Why, no, I was not there, I was in my quarters early last night. If I am to report at the Colonel’s, I don’t know what for, but all right, I will go.”

The Sergeant looked at him square in the face, and to Grace’s utter surprise he said: …. Grace, you needn’t go, I will go to the Colonel and will answer for you. I have been watching your life and I am sure that you wouldn’t be found in such a place as that joint they raided last night.”

The Sergeant was an old army man, not given to much indulgence with his men, gruff and stern, and this was the first time Grace had ever received any special favor at his hands, but it brought to John Grace fresh assurance that his life in the army was telling for God, and ever after this he and the Sergeant have been the best of friends.

A further evidence of the worth of Christian young men in the army is found in the fact that John Grace so conducted himself before his superior officers and gave such repeated exhibition of manly and Christian conduct that he was granted some privileges commonly denied enlisted men. One thing, perhaps more than another, that ingratiated him with his chiefs was his unselfishness and his readiness to help the other fellow. For instance, when Private Johnson got badly hurt and laid in his billet where it was almost impossible for him to sleep John Grace, knowing his condition, reported as usual to his quarters and turned in but he was concerned about his suffering comrade and, unknown to those sleeping around him, he quietly crept out and went over and spent the night with the hurt soldier attending to his needs and alleviating his sufferings. Grace had no thought that anyone had observed this action of his, but someone had knowledge of it, because a few days after a sergeant remarked in the presence of some officers: “Well, if it hadn’t been for Grace spending the night caring for Johnson he might have died.”

Those repeated acts of kindness and unselfishness on John Grace’s part and his all-round Christian conduct won for him the esteem of his comrades and the confidence of his officers. John had upon his heart to minister if he could, to the boys who were in the “Mill” or camp prison. There were not many, it was true, but Grace thought that perhaps he could do some good to them. So he applied for permission to visit them. He received the following written permit:

To the Officers of the Guard:

Private John Grace, A. C. No. 7, has the Commanding Officer’s permission to visit prisoners in the Guard house in the performance of his, duties. L. F. F., First Lieutenant U. S. Police Officer.

Related as John Grace was to the medical corps he, of course, had duties to perform in connection with the hospital, but he was not satisfied with mere duty. He wished the privilege of visiting the sick in hospital when off duty and of doing some little acts of kindness as well as dropping a word of religious comfort or admonition or invitation, giving a Testament, a tract here and there, praying with some fellow who needed comfort and help. It was a question in John’s mind as to whether he would be granted this privilege or not and it was with some hesitancy he requested it, but it was readily granted as the following permit will show:

“Private John Grace, (M.D.,) has permission to visit the hospital wards from 7 to 7:30 p. m. whenever he desires. — Major C. M. Surgeon.”

When I met John Grace it was in camp where things were unavoidably crowded and the men were billeted in all kinds of places. I met John coming down the street with a bundle of hay under his arm and he remarked to me, “I am going to make me a bed. Come up and see my quarters.” I went in through a narrow door which led to a crooked stairway very dark. Up on the attic floor were the beds of some eight or ten soldiers and here was where John and I had a good heart-to-heart talk on religious matters and things of common interest. In that old attic room we bowed in prayer together and prayed for one another and the work of the Lord among the boys of the American Expeditionary Force.

I came from that room thankful that young men of John Grace’s disposition are found in the Army. They are as salt, as exemplars, as lights. They have to stand much temptation. Of course, they have environments not at all conducive to religious life but it is often amid untoward surroundings that the strongest Christians are built.