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Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Salvation Navy by Fred Crowhurst

The SS Iole
There seemed no limits to the evangelical enterprise shown by early day Salvationists. Within seven years of the name change to The Salvation Army, coastal vessels were bringing the gospel to seaside towns and ports, A War Cry report in 1886 stated that a Salvation Navy of some thirteen vessels was sailing around our coastal waters. A North Sea corps reported that on one occasion the ships flying the Army flag were lashed together so that their crews could take part in the meetings. Some years earlier during Christian Mission days, hundreds of members hired a vessel for a day out between Sunderland and Middlesbrough. The report in The Christian Mission magazine states that even the ship's Captain found the Lord on the voyage!

John Cory, a Welsh industrialist, donated a 100 foot long, three masted steam yacht to the Army named the SS Iole. Flags that flew from the masts included one that carried the message 'Are You Saved?' Another bore a monogram S.N. (Salvation Navy), The mission of the crew (shown below) included boarding of vessels to distribute Bibles and other literature. There is a beautiful picture of the Iole in the Horridge (Salvation Army) Museum In the North of England a fishing vessel named War Cry was bought with money saved by the owners since they had given up smoking and going to public houses. This growth inspired the Army to propose the forming of co-ordinated Salvation Navy brigades.

In 1886 a sensational event took place at Plymouth when William Booth stepped aboard the Iole to present Army colours to the crews of the Salvation Navy fleet of a dozen vessels that were at anchor in the Sound. Hundreds of waving Salvationists lined the two decks of the steamer Smeaton, which followed the Founder as he reviewed his fleet. Brass bands were also on board to witness the historic event. Enthusiastic crowds lined the shores of the famous Hoe.

This was the first attempt to recognise the work of the many Salvationist sailors and fishermen. Sadly, within a few months the flagship vessel Iole broke its back on a sandbank in the Humber estuary. Thankfully there was no loss of life,

The idea had quickly spread overseas, In Sweden in 1884 a steamship parade attracted 4,000 people to the meetings, It became a regular summer activity as steamships flying the Army flag, and with brass bands on deck, made their way to islands and fishing centres for evangelistic campaigns. In Norway, a 'Viking fleet' was set up to evangelise the small communities in remote areas, The Katarina (Catherine Booth) carried out lifeboat activities for over thirty years and rescued thousands of people and hundreds of boats,

Across the Atlantic, the good ship Glad Tidings plied the coast of Labrador, its Salvationist crew holding meetings with Newfoundland fishermen at every opportunity, The 32 ton Salvationist also put out from St Johns to carry out similar work. In the same year the SS William Booth carried the message of salvation to ports on the. Great Lakes. Many years later after the 2nd World War, another 60 foot motor vessel named William Booth carried out vital transport work for the Army in remote areas of Alaska.

South Africa and Japan also saw the start of waterway evangelism. In Japan, hostels for sailors were established in Yokohama and Kobe. Nearly 6,000 men found accommodation in those two places in only one year. Australia and the Pacific Islands also established river work and many people were converted.

Back into Europe, the Army in Holland exploited the use of boats for evangelism, One such motor vessel was called De Febe, It carried a tent, chairs, instruments, song sheets, in fact everything necessary for campaigns, which continued until the outbreak of war. Alongside was a floating hall known as The Ark which eventually served as a military home. The Ark found a new lease of life for Rotterdam 7 Corps meetings when their own building was blitzed. The German occupation forces later commandeered it.

In France, a barge moored along the river Seine, La Peniche, housed thousands of homeless Frenchmen over many years. It operated until the early 1990s. For her tireless efforts here, Major Georgette Gogibus received the Order of the Founder in 1958.

The most recent use of vessels has occurred in Bangladesh. When a cyclone hit the country, a steam launch bearing the Red Shield logo travelled the treacherous waters between Dacca and the southern islands, bringing relief.

The Salvation Navy would surely have been greatly approved of by our Lord, As everyone knows, his first choices of followers were Galilean fishermen, Probably the last Army group of gospel seafarers was the Grimsby Fishermen's Brigade who visited Birmingham Citadel in 1923 and caused a big stir as they emerged from New Street Station to march up Corporation Street in their oilskins and with a lifeboat they had brought with them. The Citadel was packed for all their meetings.

Recapture again the Plymouth Review as reported in this War Cry extract 1886:
"The SS Iole dipped flags by way of salute; which the other boats returned, making a very pretty scene, The fleet of eleven ships was then made fast to a steam tug. Led by the SS Iole, the ships sailed round the Sound, the SS Smeaton bringing up the rear, and in full view of the thousands of people who had assembled all along the shore to witness this Salvation Review, not of ships of war with murderous guns and machines of death, but of vessels manned by men full of love and armed with the power of God."

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