Doughboy Center

The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces






The Salvationist stands ready, trained in all necessary qualifications in every phase of humanitarian work, and the the last man will stand by the President for execution of his orders.

Evangeline Booth, National Commander, April 1918

Presented the Great War Society

The popularity that came to The Salvation Army as a result of its overseas work during World War I was greatly out of proportion to the quantity - though not to the quality - of its service. [The entire overseas assignment of officers was 241 men and women, with supplemental workers bringing the total to about 500 individuals. These were backed-up by 268 members in the United States.] In France the Salvation army won the affection of the doughboy and the gratitude and respect of the whole nation, yet the spirit of those Salvationists who went to France was no different from those who stayed in America and ran slum nurseries, homes for destitute men and women, or other similar programs. But the eyes of the nation were turned to France; the thoughts of the nation were with its men on the battlefields; and there millions of Americans learned of the spirit of the Salvation Army for the first time.

The Salvation Army won its recognition during World War I for its work overseas. A happy choice for director of war work in France was Lieutenant Colonel William S. Barker, who left New York with Adjutant Bertram Rodda on June 30, 1917, to survey the situation in France. Armed with a letter of recommendation from Joseph P. Tumulty, President Wilson's secretary, Barker was received by the American Ambassador to France, who arranged for him to see General Pershing.

Evangeline Booth
Meanwhile, in the United States, preparations were underway to follow the boys overseas. Evangeline Booth, National Commander of The Salvation Army, borrowed $25,000 to finance the beginning of the work, and later another $100,000 was borrowed from International Headquarters. Financial support for Salvation Army war work was slow at the beginning; but, as the Commander said, "It is only a question of our getting to work in France and the American public will see that we have all the money we want." {Eventually, over $12.5 million would be contributed for their work.]

Colonel Barker cabled from France to send over some lassies. Commander Evangeline Booth was greatly surprised but, having confidence in Barker, she included some carefully selected women officers in the first group sent to France. The work of the "Sallies" justified Barker's wisdom in making the request.

The first group of Salvation army officers to join the AEF left New York on the "Espagne" on August 12, 1917. Six men, three women, and a married couple formed the party of eleven, all from the Eastern Department. A second party of eleven, that sailed on September 13, was composed mainly of officers from the Western Department. Each Salvation Army officer accepted for war service in France was carefully screened. It was determined at the beginning to restrict the number to be sent overseas and to keep the quality of the highest. Not one hint of scandal was ever associated a Salvation Army lassie in France, although in nearly all cases the girls were subject to a constant adoration from thousands of homesick boys that might have turned their heads.

The Salvation Army in France first went to work in the area of the First Division. The first party landed in France on August 22, 1917, and work on the first hut began on September 1st. The first "hutment," as it was called, was a long sectional building, 40 by 150 feet, with ten windows on each side. It had a staff of five men and six lassies, all of whom were musicians, who gave concerts and conducted song services in addition to operating the canteen. The Salvationists conducted Bible classes, but their building was available to other denominations or fraternal orders. In it Jewish services were held, and on one occasion the Loyal Order of Moose conducted an initiation. A clothes-mending service was provided by the girl officers.

This first hut would multiply phenomenally by a factor of 400 over the next fifteen months. The tiny group of Salvationists and co-workers would set up that number of huts, hostels and rest rooms, all as nearly like home as human ingenuity could make them, some right at the front lines.

It was the doughnut, however, that caught the doughboy's fancy. To learn how the doughnut we now know came to be, visit the Doughboy Center's feature article:

Doughnut! The Official Story

Although the doughnut became the symbol of The Salvation Army in France, pies and cakes were also baked by the lassies in crude ovens, and lemonade was served to hot and thirsty troops as well. It was not only the delicious home cooking but also the spirit with which it was served that captivated the men. The simple secret was that the Salvationists were serving not only the soldiers but God, and they brought to mind thoughts of home and of the people there. At The Salvation Army hut the men could not only bring their uniforms to be mended; they could also bring their problems to share. As buttons were sewed on, a brief message of help was offered.

Soldiers in France frequently had more money that opportunities to spend it. To discourage gambling and the purchase of wines and liquors, and to aid families in the United States, The Salvation Army officers encouraged the soldiers to take advantage of the Salvation Army's money-transfer system. In those pre allotment days soldiers would give their money to a Salvation Army officer, who would enter the sum on a money order blank and send it to National Headquarters in New York. From there it went to the corps officers nearest the soldier's home, who would then deliver the money in person to the soldier's family or relatives. Often cases of need were discovered through these visits, and other Salvation Army services might be made available to help those in distress. The money-transfer plan also worked in reverse on occasions when friends sent money to soldiers overseas.

One of the things that the American soldiers marveled at was the fact that the Salvation Army followed them right to the front. The women as well as the men went where the troops happened to be, and often were in danger from shells and gas.

Enthusiasm for the Salvation Army spread like wildfire through the AEF in France, from the lowliest doughboy to General Pershing himself. The stories of the work of the Salvation Army in France first reached America through the letters of the men "over there," and then through the stories of war correspondents. A special correspondent of the New York Times wrote:

With the American Army in France -

When I landed in France I didn't think so much of the Salvation Army; after two weeks with the Americans at the front I take my hat off to the Salvation Army. The American soldiers [also] take off their hats to the Salvation Army, and when the memoirs of this war come to be written the doughnuts and apple pies of the Salvation Army are going to take their place in history.

Received with an attitude of skepticism in the fall of 1917, the Salvation Army soon became the most popular organization in France. There were other agencies at work, and with these... there was no open competition and much cooperation. On one occasion when a Salvation Army canteen ran out of supplies with a long line of soldiers still unserved, a YMCA truck drove up...and continued serving where the Salvation Army truck had left off.

Many newspaper articles attest to the Army's popularity. As one paper editorialized:

Few war organizations have escaped criticism of some sort, but there is, so far, one shining exception, and that is the Salvation Army. Every soldier and civilian who has been brought into contact with its workers sing their praises with enthusiasm. Wherever they have been they have "delivered the goods" -- they have proved 100% efficient as moral and material helpers.

Financial support for the Salvation Army's war program came with a rush. A plea for a million dollars, endorsed by President Wilson and Secretary of War Newton Baker in December, 1917 was soon answered. In 1918, the Salvation Army joined the YMCA, YWCA, War Camp Community Service, National Catholic War Council, Jewish Welfare Board, and the American Library Association in a United War Work Campaign to raise $170 million of which the Salvation Army was to receive $3.5 million. This drive was underway when the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

Salvation Army war work in [Europe] did not end with the armistice. Hospital visitation and nursing aid continued after the war, as did other services for the troops in France and later in occupied Germany. The Salvationists were frequently given a commission to get a watch repaired or to buy a Christmas or birthday gift for some loved one. They furnished paper and pens and urged soldiers to write home. They helped the troops returning home by sending telegrams announcing their expected return date and time and even helping families re-unite at busy docks.

Sources and thanks: Sources: Susan Mitchem, Director of the Archives at Salvation Army Headquarters, provided all the content and photos. MH

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