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Nov11MonSalvationist Peter Houghton bravely served God and others in the trenches of the First World War. November 11, 2013
Peter Houghton was a young Salvationist from Galt, Ont., who served in the trenches of the First World War. This excerpt from R.G. Moyles' new book, Glory! Hallelujah!: The Innovative Evangelism of Early Canadian Salvationists, shows the impact Houghton had on those who fought alongside him. Originally recorded in the March 4, 1916, issue of The War Cry, the story is told from the perspective of a fellow soldier as he recovered from wounds in a hospital in London, Ont.
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Peter was a member of The Salvation Army. We expected he'd be a kind of joy-killer in the trenches. Beneath his uniform he wore a red flannel shirt with the letters “S.A.” on it. He carried a small Bible in his tunic.
But Peter didn't turn out to be a joy-killer. We soldiers are a rough lot, but he mixed with us like a brother. When we swore he had nothing to say about it. Only he didn't swear. When we gambled, Peter preached us no long sermons. Only he didn't gamble. When we stole each other's clothes, he had no remarks to make about morals. Only he left the other guy's duds alone. Peter preached only by example.
Peter prayed every night. We thought he'd quit it when he got to the trenches. I'll never forget our first night. The water was well over our ankles.
In this water was a mess of discarded equipment, decayed food and dead rats that the boys killed with their rifle stocks. Peter flopped down on his knees, folded his dirty, powder-stained hands together and asked God to save us from fire and sword, from the pestilence that flieth by noon-day.
I remember that Peter had just got to the part about fire and sword, when a shell cut a blazing path of scarlet through the blue-black of the trench and lit up Peter just as though he were kneeling by the big drum back on the street corner in Galt. Peter never stirred, but stayed right there soaking up the water in that foul, stinking trench. He never stirred when the boys twittered.
Every night Peter prayed. He cared no more for jeer than he did for an enemy bayonet. We knew all the time that Peter was brave, but we didn't think he was quite as brave as he turned out to be.
Peter folded his dirty, powder-stained hands together and asked God to save us
Peter never let a married man, or a man who had a mother back home depending on him, go on a ration party if he was free to take his place. Peter would serve on equally dangerous listening patrols, or gruesome burial parties, any odd time he was asked to—and lots of times when he wasn't.
Peter's face had a kind of beam that seemed to cheer you up. You felt when you looked at Peter's face that somewhere men weren't killing each other. Peter's face gave you a new heart.
But it was at the second battle of Ypres that Peter showed the stuff that was in him. [You know] all about that fight, the long charge over the fields and the charges where we locked bayonets with the enemy. Peter was there up front all the time. He fought, but he never cursed.
In that particular charge we found we were up against machine guns. A machine gun mows men down as a scythe mows down hay.
Peter fought no more that day. Instead he volunteered to the far more dangerous task of going with a stretcher over that shell-swept field and gathering up the wounded, whose groans we heard all around us.
People back home think of stretcher-bearers as in some way exempt from the fire. But they aren't. They are more exposed to it. They go out in the open spaces where the worst of the hell is and pick up the wounded men. They wear no insignia, no cross, no red band, nothing to distinguish them.
I went forward into more charges that day, and I can't tell in detail about Peter's coming and goings across that field of fire. But I know he got dozens of wounded men out of that hell, and into the dressing station.
He did so much and risked so much that day that we cheered him when he came back to our trench. He was mud-stained, drenched to the skin from hauling men across that dirty ditch which divided the field, bloody from head to foot where the wounds of those he saved had gushed over him like fountains, but his face shone with the beam that seemed to light up the whole man.
Peter just smiled kind of modest like, and went to work making the wounded and dying men in our trench easier.
Peter got the Distinguished Conduct Medal for what he did. The best part, though, is what happened when we made Peter take his turn for a snatch of sleep in the dugout.
Peter dropped down to his knees in the soggy stream of crimson in the bottom of that foul ditch, and when he had finished about the fire and sword, the pestilence that walketh at noon-day, and all the rest of his usual evening prayer, something unusual happened. No one snickered.
Glory! Hallelujah! is available through Supplies and Purchasing, 416-422-6100; firstname.lastname@example.org; salvationarmy.ca/store.