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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Mary Murray O.B.E.

Mary Murray was in the front line when but a few weeks old, and an evacuee before the word was invented. One evening, at an Indian hill station, she had been bathed and was lying in the arms of her ayah, when a soldier burst into the room with the news that tribesmen were surrounding the lonely post. He snatched up the baby, and with the ayah ran the child to a refuge in the hills.

For a month wee Mary was hidden there, tended and guarded by her two devoted servants, a British Tommy and an Indian nurse, first of many hundreds of men and women whose devotion was to be won by this daughter of the regiment!

For generations there had been warriors in her family. Her mother was a Malcolm ; her father became General Sir John Murray, K.C.B. When, during the Indian Mutiny, a group of Indians came. to Sir John with their picks and spades and said, ' If you will lead us, we will fight for the British,' he formed what was known for some years as ' Murray's Jhat Horse' and later became a well-known Bengal regiment. A great-uncle, who was Admiral of the Fleet, is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, and one forebear was appointed Napoleon's guardian at St. Helena. Such was Mary Murray's heritage!

During those days of the Mutiny, when grave and imminent danger threatened one fort, all women and children were ordered to evacuate. As they left, Mary's mother noticed that their departure lowered the morale of the troops; so without hesitation she gathered her children around her and turned back to the fort. Her courage and cheerfulness brought new life to the tired soldiers.

Mary was born some years after these stirring events, but grew up in the cantonment, well used to military life. In her teens she spent some time in Belgium, where her schooling was continued, returning to India a tall, handsome girl. Her father decided that she must learn to ride. With some trepidation she mounted a horse, but the animal bolted and her friends, watching helplessly, expected disaster. Mary, however, held on and regained control of the frightened animal Soon she was riding with her father at the head of his regiment on military parades.

At the age of seventeen Mary Murray first awakened to spiritual things. One day in church, unable to hear the sermon, she  amused  herself by reading the vows she had taken at her Confirmation. She might never have seen them before! Startled at the bonds she appeared to have embraced, she walked out of the building.

The following day the chaplain called to ask whether she had been taken ill, as she had left the church so abruptly. 'No !' she replied, handing him her prayer book. 'I was reading this, and as I have no intention of giving up the world and all its pomps and vanities, I have made up my mind to act no more lies. Some day, if I find that there is a personal God, not merely a First Cause, I will serve Him. Until then, I've finished with church!'

In vain the chaplain tried to persuade her. For eight years she refused to attend a church service and checked every desire to pray; to pray, she felt, would be dishonest and superstitious.

Mary Murray's favourite hobby was painting. Later in life, when burdened with much responsibility, she found relaxation with her brush and easel. She was, too, a most popular member of her fashionable circle, a graceful dancer who had many admirers. Two of these, when she returned to England, travelled on the same ship, so anxious were they to win her affections. Both were disappointed. Perhaps already in those early days, though a rebel against religion, she had some intuition that a great work lay ahead of her.

Soon after Mary's arrival in England she came across a group of people at a street corner, listen. ing to a man who was telling how he had been a slave to alcohol, having sold his children's shoes and the blankets from their beds to get more drink.

'But now I have given my heart to God,' he added, 'my children are well clothed and I have a home of my own.'

Mary Murray was galvanized into action. She pushed through the crowd to ask the astonished man what was his name and where he worked.

The following day she appeared in the office of a cement works, where a shrewd-looking business man courteously asked what he could do for her. A pretty young lady was an unusual caller. More unusual was her request:

'I am anxious to ask you about a man who is making extraordinary statements at the street- corners. He says that he was a drunkard who used to sell the shoes from his children's feet and the blankets from their beds to buy drink, and that he was dismissed by you. Now, he says, he is saved and has a good home, and you have taken him on again. Is this true?'

'Well — ahem — madam,' replied the proprietor, uncomfortably, 'I don't usually discuss the affairs of my employees. But actually I did dismiss the man you have heard, and he is taken on again. He was a bad lot, but he has done well since he joined The Salvation Army.'

'But what has done it?' Mary persisted.

'I'm sorry I can't help you there, madam,' the manager replied.'I don't know'.

'But we ought to find out,' cried the girl, 'for a power like that would alter the whole world'

Mary did not find out that day. Her life, in fact, seemed to go on much as usual. Shopping, dancing, theatres and her art filled her days. But all the time she was pondering over the power that had changed the drunkard.

While walking home one day, she prayed: 'God, if You are real, do for me what You have done for that man.' No heavenly vision came to her, but from that hour she knew the power of God to be a living force in her life. Mary Murray had found in Jesus Christ all that her young heart craved, a Saviour, a Guide, a Counsellor, and a Friend.

Two weeks later she went to her first Salvation Army Meeting. She was interested but not impressed. At the close the Captain asked her whether she was converted.

'Yes,' was the answer.

'Then why didn't you give your testimony? asked the Captain.

'Oh, no! I couldn't do that,' Mary replied in dismay.

All the rest of the day she thought over the Captain's words, but she felt that she would rather lose all the peace of heart she had found than speak in public.

During the night she awoke and it seemed to her as if God had hidden Himself from her. When she rose in the morning, she put her very new Bible away and began again a life of gaiety, accepting many invitations from her old friends. A sigh of relief went round the family.

But a week later, when friends were dining at her home, towards the close of the meal Mary suddenly got up and, muttering some excuse, dashed to her room, to seize an evening cloak and hurry out to find The Salvation Army.

As she entered the Hall, she was struck by the sordid appearance of the building, the badly painted walls, the battered seats. But a woman was speaking of what God had done for her, and as soon as she sat down Mary Murray was on her feet. All eyes gazed at her expensive cloak and evening dress, and her bare head. But she was beyond caring, and spoke of the work of God in her heart. As soon as she was finished she sped out of the Hall.

Slowly Mary began to realize that it was God's will that she should become a Salvationist. Her natural feelings strove against the idea; she dreaded the publicity, and the attitude of her friends. But her logical mind insisted. In The Salvation Army she had heard men and women speak of the power which she had found in God. She had seen bad men made good, sad hearts gladdened, God becoming real to folk. God had spoken to her through a Salvationist. She must enlist!

She asked a policeman where was The Salvation Army's recruiting office, and was directed to where the Officers lived. A few weeks later Mary went to Headquarters for an interview. In the small room she entered sat a country lad who also wished to become a Salvation Army Officer. He asked whether she, too, wanted to be an Officer.

'I'm sure I don't know,' she replied. I want to work, that's all.'

'Well, you had better buy one of these,' he said, affectionately patting a concertina. They won't take you unless you can play something!

Mary Murray's heart sank, and when she was told she must see Mrs. Bramwell Booth, she sadly wondered whether this was because she had no concertina!

Mrs. Booth, during the interview, expressed her fear that Mary was too delicate for the work. 'But come on trial,' she said.
The applicant promised to start on the following Monday.

'Well, have you been accepted this time?' her people asked when she returned home.

'No,' she replied reluctantly. 'I am to go up on approval.' Whereupon a chorus broke out: 'What utter folly! What madness to go when you are not even wanted!'

On the Monday morning, in heavy rain, Mary Murray set out for Hackney. So ignorant was she of the East side of London that, to use her own words, she might have been going to Siberia!

The Women's Social Headquarters in Mare Street, Hackney, was a dreary looking house. Vigorous knocking brought to the door a young girl, who exclaimed, 'We can't take in any more cases to-day!'

But Mary Murray quickly pushed her box, which a man had carried for her, into the doorway, and followed it.

'Why have you come?' asked the guardian of the door.

'I was told to come,' was the reply.

'Who are you?'

At the moment,' Mary declared, 'I am goods on approval!'

After this the girl shot down the staircase, whispering hoarsely through the banisters, ,Stay where you are!'

Mary was wet, hungry and already homesick Why had she come? Why stay where evidently she was not wanted? Then her hand closed over a small framed text a poor Salvationist friend had given her. She recalled that it said 'Walk in the Light of the Lord.'

The street door opened and a file of young women, in Training for Social Work, entered. Their leader, seeing Mary, apologized for having forgotten that she was coming and welcomed her. And so Mary Murray, daughter of the British Army, joined the Army of Salvation.

Her Training days were hard. She had never soiled her hands with rough work, now she had to scrub as well as pray.

She visited the poor, marched the streets or stood in the open air, preaching the Gospel, in all kinds of weather which more than once made her long for India's sunshine and warmth.

By and by Captain Mary Murray was appointed to Midnight Work' in Piccadilly, where she and other Officers patrolled the streets between eleven p.m. and two in the morning, getting to know the girls who were in need of help.

On one occasion she tried to lead a girl away from a man whose evil face, seen under the fitful glare of the gas lamps, Made her shrink with horror. As the Captain pleaded, he swore, and tried to drag the girl off. When Mary laid her hand on the girl's arm, the poor prodigal burst into tears and promised to go with her rescuer. Seeing that he was losing his prey, the man leaped in fury upon the Salvationist and struck her in the eye. From the effects of that blow Mary Murray never recovered; long afterward the eye had to be removed, and in the latter years of her life she was almost blind.

All this, however, was but preparation for Mary Murray's life work. The Naval and Military League of The Salvation Army was in its infancy. Soldiers and sailors were getting converted. Who better fitted to serve their interests than Mary Murray, who, Adjutant in The Salvation Army, in 1899 was appointed Assistant Secretary of the League.

When the Boer War broke out and troops were hurried to South Africa, General Booth despatched Adjutant Murray to Cape Town to discover what could be done by his Army for the troops at the front, what part a woman could play in such a work, how to conduct the work in an efficient and economical manner.

This was the beginning of the vast activities now carried on under the sign of the Red Shield in many parts of the world.

Mary Murray's party consisted of ten Salvationists, who set out in pairs to follow the fortunes of different regiments. They held official passes entitling them to draw rations and move with the troops. They were to assist the sick and wounded and look after the spiritual welfare of the men.

Mary Murray and her helper, Elizabeth Hurley, pressed on into Natal. They spent many days within sound of the guns at Ladysmith, writing to relatives about or on behalf of servicemen, visiting hospitals and camps, and at night supplying hot cocoa to sentries. The men soon learned to know and appreciate them.

One night, when it was raining in torrents and pitch dark, Mary Murray and her companion set out over the lonely veldt with a large jug of cocoa and a lantern. When they reached the bank of a shallow but swollen stream the lantern went out.
They knew that somewhere in front of them was a sentry, with orders to shoot. The stream was at their feet, and the precious cocoa had still to be delivered.

'Picket! Picket!, called Mary, hopefully. 'You don't expect him to reply, do you?' asked her practical companion as, seizing the cocoa, she stepped into the stream. Mary Murray followed, and when they reached the further bank a voice shouted, 'Halt! Who goes there?'

'Hot cocoa!' answered Hurley.

The password was accepted. In a few minutes cold, rain-soaked men were filling their mugs with hot cocoa.

Later in the campaign a marquee arrived for the Salvationists, who flew over it a banner inscribed : The Salvation Army Soldiers' Home. It had not been put up an hour before a row of sleeping men was stretched across the floor, men who had been uncomfortably cramped in their bell tents. Others were writing at the solitary table or enjoying the rare luxury of sitting in a chair!

Only three dozen chairs were available, and there was much amusing competition who should use them. The fortunate ones carried their chairs while buying their tea, lest some one else should appropriate them!

Day after day the tent was filled with men. They read, wrote, obtained refreshments, or just slept. At half-past seven each evening Mary Murray would rap gently on the table, which meant: 'Pipes out! Caps off. Take your seats on the floor. Get ready for the Meeting.

The men were very ready to obey, but often the crowd was so great that even the Salvationist leader had barely room to stand. She conducted many a Meeting with one arm round the tent pole, to keep her upright in the crush! The average nightly attendance was over 500. On the still night air the old hymns rang out from this great choir. And it was no uncommon sight to see a row of men kneeling in front of their com- rades giving themselves to God.

When the Last Post sounded, 'Good-nights' were said, and the tent emptied.

A remarkable understanding sprang up between the troops and this general's daughter. They were not afraid to put her to the test. Once she announced that she would hold special Meetings once a week, in a small bell tent, only for those who were trying to live a Christian life. Eight men arrived for the Meeting, but when they started to pray, strange noises disturbed the company. Adjutant Murray opened her eyes, to see men's heads appearing close to the ground all round the walls of the tent. Her evening congregation had decided that they would not be shut out, though they could not come by the ' front door ' as Christians.' It was her first and last attempt at Meetings for `Christians only'.

Mary Murray and her tents moved with the troops. She worked under shell- fire. She was always finding new ways of service.

When among a new company of men notices were distributed that Meetings would be held nightly in the Salvation Army tent ; for several evenings no one appeared, then one man came. A congregation of one is not very inspiring, but the Officers held a Meeting with him.

The next night again there was only one man a different one. This happened for several evenings, there was never more than one in the congregation but always a new face ! And each evening the Meeting was held.

One morning two corporals approached shyly. 'We have come to apologize,' said one.

'What for?' asked Mary Murray.

'Well, you see,' they said, 'we have been finding out what you both were like. Now we're all coming to the Meetings.' The one man congregations had been sent as scouts.

It was never easy to get Mary to talk about her work, but when, later, she told this story, she said, 'Had we considered it not worth our while to do our best for one man, what disappointments would have awaited us! As it was, our little "Hall" thenceforward was packed nightly.'

As the weather grew colder, porridge was supplied at 6 a.m. It became as popular as the Meetings. Officers and men used to look in for it each morning.

The bell tent in which the two women-Officers lived was always pitched some distance from the marquee in which they worked. When the last 'Good-nights' were said, they would light their lanterns and start on their journey home. A bell tent is not an easy thing to manage, and often when they arrived 'home' at the end of the day, they would find that every cord had tightened to board like stiffness, and the only way in was by crawling underneath. Or they found their canvas beds full of water; or a dust storm had arisen and their few belongings were decorating the veldt.

Sometimes, just when they had made themselves comfortable in one place, and cow-dunged the floor of their tent, they would hear that camp was being struck, and so on they moved again. Their tent might have to be pitched in long grass, and before they could sleep the two women would kneel on the ground and try to reduce the vegetation with table knives!
Washing day was a problem. Sometimes a Kaffir was secured to wash the clothes at the river ; sometimes they had to manage themselves. But the great difficulty was the ironing. They had to manage without an iron, and yet look smart!

Mary was a General's daughter, and she was never beaten. Each article was folded, damped and tied in a blanket ; then the bundle was laid in the doorway so that every one who entered had to walk on it. Thus was the ironing done. They even had supplementary devices, such as slipping a bundle of handkerchiefs on the chair of a corpulent visitor!

After the relief of Ladysmith the two women Officers moved, on again with the troops. Challenged, as they boarded a troop train, with: 'Passes all right?' they had no need to answer, for a soldier cried, 'Of course, the Sisters go everywhere!'

One night, as they were preparing to sleep, a message reached them from the Commanding Officer. 'There are two men out on the veldt about four miles back. I want you to bury them.'

Summoning a burial party, they started off on the long lonely walk through rugged, hilly country. The only sound they could hear was the ring of the picks as the men dug the grave. In the darkness Mary prayed and read the committal service over two of the thousands of her comrades, the soldiers.

She was always looking for opportunities. One day, hurrying home to her tent, she noticed a soldier looking depressed and lonely. She was very tired, but stopped to ask, 'Can I do anything for you? To-morrow is mail day, perhaps I can post a letter for you in the village?'

'No, thanks,' was the reply, 'I never write home. We fell out years ago.'

So Mary Murray sat on a bank and talked to the man, who finished by writing something on a slip of paper torn from her notebook, which he asked her to post. The incident was forgotten until twenty years later, when during the Great War a reservist made inquiries regarding her. 'If you see her,' he said, 'tell her that letter reconciled us.'

In due course Mary Murray followed the troops over the border into the Transvaal. Volksrust was but a handful of houses on the veldt, a stone railway station and a tiny church and chapel. All around them were trenches and soldiers, though the Dutch inhabitants were carrying on as usual, children playing, biltong hinging from the rafters, and women baking in the open with their Dutch Ovens.

Here Mary secured the use of a tiny corrugated iron house, which a military officer christened Salvation Cottage. Every night Meetings were held, and in a few days the little room was packed. After one particularly big jam,' Mary asked one of the soldiers if he had enjoyed the service. 'Yes, Sister, very much,' was the reply, 'But I have been sitting on nothing !' As late arrivals pushed in he had been squeezed further and further, till he had completely lost his foundation!

Night after night men were found seeking Christ. Even here Tommy's sense of fun would out. Some of the tents took to flying flags of truce ; they had surrendered to the Sisters! Others posted sentries warning their mates: Booth's guns were about to open fire!'

Veldt campaigning over, Mary Murray returned to the Old Country, where she was placed in charge of The Salvation Army's Naval and Military Work. All her thoughts and energy were put into the building up of this. In seaports and military towns Homes for servicemen were opened.

When the Great War began, the activities of the Naval and Military League were multiplied. Its leaders, Mary Murray, who had come to The Salvation Army in evening dress, and Martha Chippendale,  who had come in clogs and shawl, were beloved of all the servicemen. In many parts of the world they read letters sent to them by their 'Colonel' Mary Murray, reflecting a sturdy religion worthy of a soldier's daughter right through. She imparted this sturdiness to the servicemen, and saved many from yielding to temptation. Soldiers' wives found their way to her office, and her bright presence and understanding mind did much to lighten the burden of those dark days. Her whimsical humour, too, often saved a difficult situation.

In August, 1914, Mary Murray crossed to Belgium and actually watched the Germans marching into Brussels. She was able to leave, however, and return to England. The Salvation Army's work with the expeditionary force was organized by other Officers. She herself was always struggling with weakness of the body. Heart attacks would seize her, but she refused to give in. The thought of death had no terrors for her. When one day she heard of the passing of a comrade who had suffered much, her face lit up as she said, 'I'm so glad, so glad! How happy she must be now!' Heaven was very near and dear to Mary Murray.

To the end of her life, though retired from 'active service', she went on with her work for others. When she could not see to write, a friend wrote her letters for her. Wherever need was, there was she—to help if possible.

In a little flat at Hurlingham, close to the river Thames, she spent her last years. During the Munich crisis, evacuation from London was suggested, she being over seventy and almost blind. But Lieut.-Colonel Murray refused to go. She would be needed, she declared, to look after soldiers!

Two months later, rifle shots rang out in a soldiers' salute, and the Last Post was sounded for her.

Perhaps she is still looking after soldiers. Who better fitted to stand on the other side and welcome her men as they answer the call, than Mary Murray, General's daughter and soldiers' friend?

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