“I PROMISE YOU NOTHING!”
When President Wilson declared war against Germany on April 7, 1917, Americans were psychologically unprepared to participate in the “war to end wars,”
Evangeline Booth(USA National Commander 1904-1934) summoned a Salvation Army National War Council and created a National War Board to meet the needs of American soldiers. She appointed national, territorial, and provincial war secretaries so that the entire Salvation Army was placed on a war-service basis.
The Army set up service centres, hostels, adjacent to United States military camps. But Evangeline wanted to do more than serve military in the United States. “American boys are going to France,” she said. “We must go with them.”
She sent Lt. -Colonel William S. Barker to France to find out how The Salvation Army could best serve the American troops. Barker found that American Expeditionary Forces, upon landing in France, did not go to the front at once.
Soldiers who had expected to be participating in great battles found themselves drilling in mud from morning to night. An epidemic of homesickness spread through the troops.
Barker cabled: “SEND OVER SOME LASSIES.” Evangeline determined to send only the very best. “I felt it was better to fall short in quantity than to run the risk of falling short in quality,” she stated. ” Quality is its own multiplication table. Quality without quantity will spread, whereas quantity without quality will shrink.”
The first group of 11 officers (a married couple, 4 single women and 5 single men) sailed on August 12, 1917. Evangeline charged them: “You are going overseas to serve Christ. You must forget yourselves, be examples of His love, willing to endure hardship, to lay down your lives, if need be, for His sake. In your hands you hold the honour of The Salvation Army and the glory of Jesus Christ…. Anyone failing will be shot! She concluded, “I promise you nothing. I don’t know what you will get into, it may be life, it may be death; it may be sickness, it may be loss – I promise you nothing!”
By October, 1917, ensigns Helen Purviance and Margaret Sheldon had been appointed to the First Division, at Montiers-sur-Saulx. After 36 days of steady rain, with a blanket of depression hanging over the whole area, they agreed that “we ought to be able to give them some real home cooking, “but supplies had run out and were difficult to buy locally. The only things they could purchase were flour, sugar, lard, baking powder, cinnamon, and canned milk. “What about pancakes?” “No good cold, or without syrup.” “Doughnuts?”
the ‘Lassie’ who fried the first doughnut in France
The first doughnuts were patted out by hand. A small wood fire was coaxed in a low, pot-bellied stove. A frying pan was used and the first doughnuts were fried “seven at a time.” The tempting fragrance of frying doughnuts drew the homesick soldiers to the hut, and they lined up in the rain, waiting for a taste. The word went around. “If you’re hungry and broke, you can get something to eat at The Salvation Army.”
refreshments in the trenches
The doughboys noticed that Salvationists catered to their needs rather than hobnobbing with officers. As instructed by Evangeline, none went near an officers’ mess. They trudged through the sticky mud to the chow line to get in line with their “boys.”
The doughnut girls saw death frequently. During major engagements, they often worked in field hospitals. Soldiers who had died during the previous twenty-four hours were buried each afternoon. Sometimes only a few people could be present.
USA Doughnut Girls – Ansauville c.1918
The girls would always attend the burials, singing, praying and leaving wild flowers at the graves. Off to one side, the Germans were buried. When the simple services for American soldiers were over, the girls would say, “Now friends, let’s go and say a prayer beside our enemy’s graves.”