A long time ago I wrote a piece entitled ‘the religious round’, based on the period of my youth when I was completely incensed by the behaviour of our vicar. At that time my mother forced me to go to church on Sunday, she didn’t care what the religion was, as long as it was a religion. My mates joined me in my search to find some religion that fulfilled my ideas of fairness. The first one we went to was the Salvation Army; the four of us were greeted with enthusiasm, probably because we were an unusual contribution to the day’s proceedings. They seated us in the front row, in front of a brass band, and you can imagine the joy that the four of us had listening to the band and watching them play.
Of course we all knew about the Salvation Army, every Sunday there would be a small group of them going from road to road, in the most horrendous weather, playing and singing hymns we all knew. They would be there for 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour, then either move further down the road, or go to another. These people were and still are dedicated, selfless, and generally in the lower income group, practising what they preach. During WW2 they could be found in every port, on many railway stations, and in towns close to encampments. We were on convoy, on a quick turnaround basis; shore leave was minimal, but after a few pints, we drifted along to the Sally Ann Canteen for a meal, totally different from what we were used to on board ship. These canteens across the country were a source of comfort and warmth, if only for a brief period, and most servicemen were grateful to those who gave up their time to keep these places open.
Even in this throwaway and one-time affluent world, it is interesting that the Sally Ann is still functioning in the way it did, supported by similar people. Every Christmas we get the appeal for toys for the underprivileged children, and the work they do in cardboard city is unbelievable. Religion per se seems to be on the backburner, and it is unsurprising when so much mayhem is laid at its door. The Salvation Army is the least pretentious of all the religions, and from my irreligious standpoint, I feel it to be the one that portrays in every way, the basis of its own teaching.