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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Martha Chippendale M.B.E.

The grey-haired, red-tabbed general leaned back in his chair, a broad smile instead of the usual disciplinary frown on his face. Now there's a woman!' he chuckled.

The aide bent forward respectfully to catch his remark.

'I tell you my staff worries would be much fewer if only I had a Chippendale on this headquarters,' he went on.

The rest of the staff smiled a shade wanly. Another of the general's little jokes ! Of course, there was no denying that this Chippendale person was a goer. If all Salvation Army folk were like her, no wonder they got things done. Her combination of utter frankness and disarming tact were positively irresistible. Not that she played upon her femininity. Too much good sense for that. Her strong suit was that she knew her stuff and could put it over. That won her a respectful hearing everywhere.

Who then was this Chippendale for whom even the embattled War Office had lost its terrors?

In his 'Rough Islanders' H. W. Nevinson has described the bleak plateau ' which can be seen from the height of Undercliffe stretching away north-east beyond Otley toward Harrogate. Martha Chippendale's birthplace lies on this high round, about equally distant from both Leeds and Bradford. Sixty years ago Yeadon was an isolated townlet whose tall mill chimneys scattered smuts impartially upon the washing which hung below, according to the direction of the wind. The breezes which blew across from Ilkley Moor were pleasantly cool in summer, but, early on a dark winter's morning, they were anything but welcome—as Martha was soon to learn.

Her father worked in the mill, as did her brother, as had her mother before her. Custom and necessity dictated therefore that she should follow suit. Before she had reached her eleventh birthday, she was a half-timer — that is to say, one day at school, the next at the mill On mill mornings she started work at half - past five, and not even the shawl wound tightly about her shoulders, nor the trot into which she broke to get inside the gate before the buzzer sounded, could save her fingers from going so numb that she could hardly feel to piece together the broken threads as they showed amid the couple of hundred spinning bobbins she had to watch.

And woe betide the piecer who was not quick on the job! A box on the ears from the spinner was the usual way of smartening the wits. Nor were the morning hours alone in their almost inhuman demands. The power loom was merciless in its regularity. Mill machinery never grew tired. The last half-hour of the day demanded as much attention as the first—so that by six o'clock in the evening Martha's eyes and arms and legs were so weary with watching, mending and standing that she longed for nothing more than a good meal and the blessed oblivion of bed. Economists maintain that the living standards of the working class improved considerably during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Martha's first weekly wage, however, was half a crown.

Life was uniformly drab for these mill girls. The men had their pigeon flying, whippet racing or rabbit coursing, but there were no organized recreations for their womenfolk. Playing fields, youth clubs, keep-fit classes were unknown. An occasional magic lantern in the chapel hall or a Saturday night's ' penny reading ' were the only alternatives to the public-house—the last refuge of the bored, the vicious and the idle. But not even this hard school of repetitive labour could quench Martha's desire to become a first class weaver. While still in her early teens, her alert and determined mind mastered the intricacies of the box-loom of that day, for which full time adult work she received fifteen shillings a week.

Into the dead level of this unexciting world came a detachment of The Salvation Army. Their primary colours made an instant appeal. Their Flag was yellow, red and blue ; their singing was bright and rhythmic ; their voices were free and full-throated ; their view of life was Scriptural and consequently simple. Man, destined for fellowship with God, was estranged from Him. There was, at the very centre of human personality, this fundamental disharmony. Intended to say 'yes' to his Creator, man took a perverse delight in saying ' no,' thus widening the gulf between himself and his God designed destiny. Through Jesus Christ, however, this shattered relationship could be restored. Man could be set on his feet with his face toward his true end. This was a theology which agreed with daily experience, and which working folk could therefore understand.

Mart, as she was known in the mill, had hitherto thought of religion as an affair of a particular day and place. In Yeadon, as in most parts of Victorian England,church going was largely a matter of sober faces and stiff Sunday clothes. The good were good and the bad were bad, and the one rarely crossed the line to mingle with the other. An elder in his blacks in the bar parlour was as rare a sight as a man in his corduroys in the pew. But in the musty theatre, the only public building of any size in the place, where Mart attended her first indoor Array Meeting, she saw men in work, stained overalls and women wearing their aprons and shawls. The proceedings were informal, yet not aimless; the speaking was colloquial, yet not irreverent. Plainly the followers of this new and lively expression of the Christian faith were not required to adopt a special tone or pose when addressing God or speaking about Him. The utter naturalness of these new-comers fascinated Mart. With them religion and life were one.

The first Salvationists who came to Yeadon had tramped over from a neighbouring town, intent on spreading 't' good news'. To begin with, meetings were held at irregular intervals, but more organized efforts were to follow. One autumn morning the mill hands, on their way to work, were surprised by outsize posters bearing the announcement:


The bill was typical of him who was to come. Elijah Cadman was a strong stocky man who had begun to work as a chimney-sweep before he was six years old, graduated as leader of a gang of corner boys known as the Rugby Roughs, but who, after conversion, offered his services to the Rev. William Booth, head of The Christian Mission, as The Salvation Army was then called.

At this particular time, Cadman had the whole of Yorkshire for his parish, and his attack on Yeadon was conducted with his usual native wit and abounding energy. As a result, a permanent hall was secured and Martha, despite her father's warnings, became a regular attender. Mr. Chippendale belonged to no place of worship himself, though his wife went to the chapel and his children to the Sunday school. That, in his opinion, was all that could be expected or even desired of any respectable family. The children were therefore gathered in the kitchen and grimly forbidden to have anything to do with so low down a lot as went to The Army.'

Martha tried to find some middle ground between obedience to her father and her own conscience by attending chapel in the early evening and then scuttering off to The Army where the Meeting began later. But this divided allegiance could not last for long. One evening she got saved, and the conversation and prayers which followed kept her till an unusually late hour.

Outside the front door her brother was waiting.

'Wherever have you been ?' he asked, She told him.

'You're for it, then. Father's waiting!' Chippendale senior was not a deliberately cruel man, but he had a smouldering temper which the family took care not to rouse. Mart had known him turn her and her mother into the street in one of his drunken rages. For one wild moment she thought she would pitch a yarn—any old yarn to save the situation. Then her head cleared and her nerve steadied. To his opening question she answered: 'I've been to The Army, father, and I got saved.'

'I'll have no Army here,' he retorted—and with that he fell on the girl and thrashed her so unmercifully that the following morning, when she left for work, one eye was still closed, her face was a study in colour, and her body had not ceased to ache from the weight of the blows which had been showered upon her.

The weaving shed was not the place to allow such an appearance to go unnoticed, and a pitiless stream of questions played upon the young girl. Mart went on working. She did not know ,how to defend herself, so took refuge in silence. Then came the thirty-minute breakfast break at half-past eight. Usually Martha never bothered to say any Grace-before-meat,' but this time she bent her discoloured face over her tea can. There was an amazed silence—and then more ribaldry.

'Mart's joined 'em all right.'

'What price Hallelujah Mart ?'

'And what a face to show for it!'

'Mart, dearie, who were you with last night?'

'Where's your poke bonnet, my love ?'

This raillery increased to such a pitch that Martha began to wonder whether she would be able to stick it out. But the six-o'clock buzzer sounded at last, and the girl hurried along the cobbled pavements to have a hasty tea so as to be back at the Army Hall in time for the evening Meeting. There, amid the fellowship of warmhearted comrades, she found the strength and solace she sorely needed.

Mart confounded all the self-appointed prophets in the mill by the growing strength of her new-found convictions. Her dress, her Army badge—most of all, her behaviour, showed that a real change had taken place in her life. As might be expected, she was eager to learn more about the Bible. Even Sunday-school attendance had left her woefully ignorant, and when she heard a text given out she hardly knew where to look for it. Of course, if it was a saying of Jesus, she understood she had only the Gospels to search; if a verse of a Psalm, only the Psalter. But beyond these slight clues, she was utterly at sea. She had never so much as heard of Cruden and his laboursaving concordance. So, in the attic by the fading light or, if night had fallen, by the gleam of a single candle, Martha had to go through her Bible verse by verse in search of a phrase or a sentence she might have heard quoted in the Meeting. ' Dogged does it ' had to be her motto.

Nor did her father ever abandon his bitter opposition to her going to The Army. Some mischief-maker aroused his wrath with a tale that his daughter had been seen singing in an Open-Air Meeting. When the girl reached home that night there was the look on his face which she had grown to dread. Again the question : ' Where have you been?' Again the inevitable answer: 'To The Army, father.' Mart turned to avoid him as he rose to his feet—but too late. A blow caught her with sickening force full on the cheekbone and sent her reeling down the steps which led to the wash-house. The next thing she knew was that her mother was bathing her injured face.

'Do stop going, Mart,' Mrs. Chippendale pleaded. 'You only upset your father.' But Martha grew only the more determined, and shortly after, by a strange providence, her father had a stroke which reduced him first to invalidism and then caused his death.

Meanwhile she had begun to cherish a secret ambition to become an Officer in The Salvation Army. From the first, women had held an equal place with men in the Movement. Many of The Army's most devoted and capable Officers and Soldiers have been, and are, women. The first Salvationist Martha had seen leading an Open Air was a woman. The first Captain at Yeadon was a woman and had made an ineffaceable impression on her young mind. The previous dream of being a top ranking weaver faded before this, new vision splendid.

Again there was opposition at home. The upward path was never smoothed in advance for Martha. Even to attend the Meetings had cost her black looks and beatings. To gain permission to wear the uniform had been a struggle. To help the work further by holding children's Meetings on Sundays and week-nights was looked upon with additional disfavour. But to leave home to become an Officer was the crowning folly. Girls left home, in Mrs. Chippendale's opinion, only to get married and set up a home of their own. Why on earth any child of hers should want to exchange a steady job at the mill for the uncertain mercies of an Army Officer's life passed her understanding!

Martha pleaded. 'Don't you see, mother, I must go if God is calling me.'

'Go then,' was Mrs. Chippendale's last word. 'Go, if you wish. But remember, if you do, you need not come back again.'

With that grudging consent in her ears, Martha had to say her good-byes. Her mill friends crowded round to see her off. Their sneers and scoffs had long since given place to a genuine respect and affection for one whose religion had made her the friend of every one in the shed in trouble. Many of the girls had steadied up under her influence. Quite a few had joined The Army. They were all sorry she was going. But there was no help for it. Martha was making that choice for herself which every adventurer for God has to make—whether his name be David Livingstone or Joan of Arc or Howard Somervell. He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.' So it was farewell to the moorland air and the unsophisticated ways of Yeadon, and instead the raffish West End and pitiable East End of London in the 'naughty nineties.'

A period of training was followed by appointments at twenty-two Corps in the United Kingdom, at most of which Martha was in charge. This was no soft option. When in command of a centre of work of any size, Martha had to conduct (with another Officer helper) three if not four indoor Meetings each Sunday, attend three Open Airs, lead two, if not three, adult week night Meetings, supervise sundry children's Meetings on Sunday and again during the week, visit the congregation, inspire her own Soldiery, conduct their weddings and funerals, dedicate their children, beside being at the beck and call of every one in need in the neighbourhood. The cost of all this work had to be met, and the Commanding Officer was the person responsible for seeing it was met.

Martha could take it, however. Her willing heart and sturdy body were wedded to this work she loved, and, under God, she won many men and women to new and better ways of living. Her speech was always sensible and often racy ; her clear singing voice, though untrained, rarely failed to attract and hold a crowd, and more than once got her out of a tight corner.

One evening she and a helper had gone into a public-house to sell War Crys. The men in a small drinking bar at the end of a long passage locked the door and tried to make maudlin advances. Mart kept her head. Gentlemen, I am going to sing you a song ', and with that she turned to some verses printed on the back page of the paper she was selling. The men were silenced by the sweetness of her tones.

'Sing us another,' they cried.

'I will, on condition you unlock the door.' She kept her word, and they theirs.

As Ensign Chippendale, Martha was in the flood-tide of her work at Oldham when she was appointed to the Naval and Military League. At that time, the closing days of the Boer War, this section of The Salvation Army was in its infancy. A single canteen, a rest room and a hall seating not more than a hundred people were the sum total of our property in the garrison town of Aldershot. But Martha had faith in small beginnings. She never forgot how unpromising her own early days had been. The routine on Salisbury Plain was vastly different from anything she had known before, but human needs everywhere were basically the same. Martha gave herself to her new work and within twelve months proved herself to be so much at home in it that she was appointed second-in-command of this growing department.

With characteristic method, Martha determined to know all that could profitably be known about the fighting services. The same determination which had gained for her a thorough knowledge of the Bible, now enabled her to master the soldiers 'bible' the King's Regulations. Her knowledge of naval and military law became encyclopaedic. It astonished even those whose duty it was to be versed in such matters.

In the Army and Navy alike she won her way by her fearless sincerity. She learnt to swarm up a rope ladder on to the main deck with the same ease with which later she would hold a Meeting with half a dozen Leaguers in an ammunition passage. Yet she never became 'mannish.' She had too much of a mother's heart for that. Should a ship be coming into port in whose complement were men about whom Martha was anxious, she would wait at the dock gates and then steer them safely past the harpies and sharks who seem to regard sailors as their special prey. More than one rating had, cause to thank her that he got home on his long leave with his pocket-book intact.

But all that was typical of her attitude to the men she had been appointed to serve. Nothing was too much trouble. More than once a man who sought her advice turned out to be a deserter. She would never condone the offence, but, having advised and prayed with the runaway, would take him to the nearest railway station, buy his ticket, wire another Salvation Army Officer to meet him at his destination, and then beg his Commanding Officer to treat him as generously as possible.

Nor did she limit her help to Servicemen. To give one instance among many a man had fallen out with his wife, had left his home, and then had thought better of it and wished to be reconciled. Martha was equal to the situation. She wrote to the wife asking her to be at home the following afternoon; she wired the husband to come along at tea-time. Wise counsel smoothed one disturbed spirit; an invitingly spread table and a welcome cup of tea made the other feel he was wanted, and Martha's own blessing sealed the reunion. It sounds simple enough, but the world is not too full of people with both will and wit to unite in renewed harmony a complaining husband and an offended wife.

The European War found Martha at the height of her powers. Long experience had made her wise in handling human nature, and more than twenty years with the Forces had won for her an assured place in the hearts of all ranks. Between 1914 and 1918 she helped more men than she could count. 'My " S's,"' she used to say jokingly, 'stand for a shirt and a shave.' She knew that soldiers back from the front line required more than pious counsel. Brother Body needed comfort as well as Brother Soul. She could provide both, and in such natural fashion that the inarticulate Tommy, whose habit it was to close up like a clam at the least hint of a pi-jaw, listened to Martha's shrewd advice, delivered in broad Yorkshire accents, with gladness.

Early in 1914 the War Office had agreed to allow Salvationists to register as such on enlistment, and later this was followed by permission for Salvationist servicemen to join in all Army processions, and to speak, sing or pray in Open Air Meetings. Martha happened to be in Aldershot the night this news came through. The march that night contained more than forty khaki-clad Salvationists, Martha at their head.

Her pride and pleasure were justifiable; her men were no cissies. One such was a Marine who was on H.M.S. Cressy when she was torpedoed in the autumn of 1914. Jumping into the sea, he had reached a floating spar when another of the ship's company swam up and grasped it also. When it became plain that the spar would not support them both, the Marine asked his companion in distress to promise he would dedicate his life to the service of God and his fellows: The pledge was given, whereupon the Marine let go. deliberately swam away, and was drowned.

Such heroism Martha humbly wore as God's crown upon her work. No other human reward did she desire, but further recognition was to follow. In the 1918 birthday honours list, Brigadier Chippendale, as Mart by this time had become, was gazetted a Member of the Order of the British Empire. With a beloved friend, she went on the appointed day and joined the line of those who were to be decorated. At last her turn came to stand_ before the raised dais, and King George V, in a few well chosen words, congratulated her upon a life-time's service. Martha was the first woman Salvation Army Officer so to be honoured, but none deserved it better. The same bravery with which she had endured the blows of an angry father and the same determination which had enabled her to triumph over the stolid opposition of an uncomprehending mother had won for her this reward. 'I have suffered for my religion,' she used to say, 'but it has all come put right.'

The Brigadier worked on until Easter, 1926, when she planned a quiet holiday at Yeadon. Had she a premonition that the end was near, and did she wish to die among her own folk? She was perfectly well when she left London, by early Easter Tuesday morning she was with her Lord.

The wind from the Yorkshire moors which had once whipped about the shawl and skirt of an eleven-year-old girl on her way to work now played around the Flag and bonnet that rested upon her coffin. The mills were all closed and the pavements were lined with silent crowds to pay tribute to what Yorkshire calls a 'gradely lass'.

The simple Army procession moved from the Hall to the cemetery. The solemn words of committal were read. The immortal Christian hope was clearly announced again. Then the muted notes of the Last Post, sounded by buglers from Pontetract Barracks, died away on the air. Martha had finished her course.

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