The Nineteenth Letter of the Alphabet! - Salvation Army Canada


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    The Nineteenth Letter of the Alphabet!

    Retrospective #17 September 26, 2017 Randy C. Hicks
    “The letter ‘S’ found on the Salvation Army uniform means one thing and one thing only!...
    “The letter ‘S’ found on the Salvation Army uniform means one thing and one thing only!...

    I don't remember the exact date. I can't recall if I was a Lieutenant or a young Captain. I do remember that the event was held in my home town and at my home corps. It was part of a congress weekend and was a meeting just for men. (The women were meeting at another location in a neighboring town).

    I bumped into him in the crowded porch before the service started. It was unavoidable. Although the man could see a little - legally he was blind and didn't notice me in the cloud of black uniforms surrounding him. (The ones we insist are really navy blue! - They’re black! Get over it!) He was a well-known Salvationist and something of a “character.” You have to know that where I come from “characters” were/are described as eccentric, odd and unusual. They often possessed a high, even if irregular, intelligence. This man was known for his creative grasp of poetry especially of the rhyming couplets variety. He was also known to walk great distances and if you were driving in the direction he was headed and stopped to offer him a lift, it is said that his response often went like this: “No thanks…I'm in a hurry!”

    So, there I was and there he was. I took responsibility for our accident and apologized for bumping into him. Standing with open tunic and visible guernsey he brushed it off and simply said “This is some day for the nineteenth letter of the alphabet!” Obviously puzzled I sheepishly responded with a questioning “The nineteenth letter of the alphabet?” Now taken aback, by my gross ignorance, he reiterated rather adamantly “The nineteenth letter of the alphabet ol’ man! Ess! Ess! Ess! (S, S, S) the letter Ess! (S)”

    Now, while he did not say this, the tone of his expression clearly implied “Buddy you're some stunned!” With three hundred plus men, nearly all in uniform, it was indeed “some day for the nineteenth letter of the alphabet!”

    I had never thought to commit to memory the numerical place of each letter of the alphabet and like many a humbled man, I thanked him and walked away, counting on my fingers “A, B, C, D, …S!” S IS the nineteenth letter of the alphabet!

    We’ve likely heard the following definitions (some said in jest of course) for the two “Esses” on our Salvation Army uniforms:


    “Smiths Sound!”

    “Some Stunned!” (Ouch!)

    “Saved to Serve!”

    “Saved to Save!”

    “Soup, Soap, & Salvation!”

    I remember a dear old retired officer/teacher who was a real stickler for things historical. This interpretation would be most upsetting to him and were he within ear shot, he wouldn't hesitate to interrupt with something like this: “The letter ‘S’ found on the Salvation Army uniform means one thing and one thing only! The ‘S’ is for ‘SALVATION!’ That's it! No ‘Serve,’ no ‘Save,’ and no ‘Soup or Soap!’ Just SALVATION!


    From the Victorian Web: In 1878, when William Booth was dictating a letter to his secretary George Scott Railton, he used a phrase “The Christian Mission is a Volunteer Army.” His teenage son Bramwell heard it and said: “Volunteer, I’m not a volunteer, I’m a regular or nothing!” (Gariepy 9) This prompted William Booth to substitute the word “Salvation Army” for the “Volunteer Army,” which became the new name of the Christian Mission. The last of the Christian Mission conferences, held in August, 1878, adopted unanimously the new military programme of The Salvation Army.

    What does the word “Salvation” mean to you?

    For over one and a half centuries the nineteenth letter of the alphabet has made its mark all over the world!


    Who knew?

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