Bramwell Booth–Companion of Honour
Conclusion of a two-part article.
Read Part One
by Frances Dingman –
Since William Booth’s promotion to Glory in 1912, his son Bramwell had done his best to carry out his father’s wishes in the affairs of his beloved Army. As he himself reached his later years, opposition arose to his methods, and also to the way in which the next General was to be selected.
In the latter years, some could criticize Bramwell for his leniency to those who spread false rumors about himself and his children. He tended not to judge until hearing both sides of a situation, and to think the best of everyone, especially his family. He had hoped that his visit to the U.S. in 1926 had helped dispel the frictions arising between himself and his sister Eva (U.S. National Commander Evangeline Booth) from time to time. However, his hopes were not fulfilled.
“The time has come…”
When Eva came to London in 1927 she presented him with a memorandum afterward known in Army circles as the “Fifteen Points,” in which she declared that the time had come for some change in the Constitution of the Army, particularly as to the selection of the General. While the officers were content to entrust the Founder with all authority, including the choice of his successor, she said some changes in the Deed Poll must be brought about.
Eva returned to the United States six days later, and Bramwell feared she intended to rally a group in favor of altering the Army’s Constitution and preventing him from appointing his successor. He concluded that no attempt to change the Constitution could be made except in direct opposition to himself, and he thought she would hesitate to do this. He issued a statement, saying that the Supplementary Deed adopted in 1904 had taken care of this, since if the person the General nominated was considered unfit to serve, the High Council could remove that person. On the other hand, the Founder had thought regular election might encourage rivalries and other discussion that would impede the progress of the Army’s work.
As Father wished…
Bramwell felt that he was doubly kept from changing what had been entrusted to him to preserve, in confidence that he would hand it on unaltered to his successors. He was convinced he was the one person in the Army who could not act in opposition to William Booth.
The Chief of the Staff, Commissioner Edward Higgins, was the only person with whom the matter could be discussed. Higgins had declared himself in wholehearted sympathy with the General. Unfortunately, he became indisposed, and his doctor ordered a period of rest and recuperation. In November he went for a visit to Canada and the U.S., where his sons lived and where he usually went at Christmas. This threw an extra burden upon the General, at a time when he most needed support. In a busy round of appearances, love and concern for the General were shown on every hand.
The dreaded envelope
It appears that the fault was not so much as with the General’s ability to keep the Army going, nor the supportive work of his wife and Higgins should he be temporarily disabled. Certain officers were concerned about what lay in the sealed envelope containing Bramwell’s choice of successor.
Nothing had been said by the Founder that he expected the third general to come from the Booth family. Indeed, there were few to consider among Bramwell’s kin. His son Bernard, at 40, while serving suitably as International Youth Leader, was not in a springboard position. Wycliffe, 34, was his father’s aide-de-camp.
Bramwell’s oldest daughter, Cath-erine, was 46, and while doing well as leader of Women’s Social Work in Great Britain and Ireland, did not bear a large influence in the Army. Even those who felt she was the most capable woman in The Salvation Army were unwilling to have her as a General. Aside from not liking the system of nomination, they felt she did not have sufficient experience to lead the Army. In addition, Florence, who had been a growing influence on her husband, would probably bring even more to bear on her daughter.
Mary was territorial commander in Germany. The Booths’ youngest daughter, Lucy, territorial commander in Sweden, was not well acquainted at International Headquarters. With the resignation or death of the rest of his brothers and sisters, Evangeline, at 64, remained the most eligible candidate among them. Her name was not likely to be in that envelope. In the later years, relations had been strained between Evangeline and Bramwell, owing to her autocratic way of running the Army in the U.S. Were anyone else named, she would probably never become the General. After all, no retirement age had been stipulated.
By the spring of 1928, Booth’s health caused grave anxiety. A specialist said he was “nervously overdone,” and required some months’ complete freedom from worry and work. For the first time since he had gone to Sweden in 1878, Bramwell Booth prepared to leave Army affairs in hands other than his own. When he was but 21 his mother had warned him, “You are of my temperament; you are not elastic as Papa is; you cannot throw things off like he can. Mind my words–take more rest.” He had no hobbies and had never learned to play. Especially when with his family, he could not keep his mind off of Army affairs.
Neuritis plagued him. It seemed impossible to allay his fears that his absence would make it easier for the High Council to be called and the constitution changed. His condition became serious.
A deputation of seven Commissioners visited General Booth on January 11, 1929,and suggested that he retire. Their words were, “Will you consider the matter of retiring? We are prepared to make it as easy and dignified for you as we can, in that we offer you the option, if you retire, of retaining your title as General and of continuing to enjoy the honors and dignities of the office.” The General did not comply. After receiving the report of the deputation, the High Council declared him unfit for office.
On February 6, 1929, a court action was taken by the General to declare the Deed Poll of 1904 invalid and to prevent the group from appointing a new General. With this action went most of the sympathy for his position and alienated the previously loyal Higgins.
The Deed Poll of 1904, after due consideration by the Founder, had been signed by both him and his son, and made provision for a General to be removed from office by vote of the High Council if he should become unfit to serve. An injunction was granted by the court. The High Council could not hold session until the General had been allowed to defend his position.
Included in a statement issued by the joint defendants (High Council) was this: “It is common knowledge that the General assisted in the framing of the Deed which he now attacks, and that he has referred to it repeatedly as an added and necessary strengthening of the Constitution of the Army, required by the immense increase of the organization since the execution of the Deed of 1878 which, although still the Foundation Deed of the Army, would be, if unsupplemented, quite inadequate…It cannot be too clearly understood that the General is not proceeding at law in defense of The Salvation Army, but in defense of his own personal position as Trustee and General, and that his action is not taken against outsiders but against The Salvation Army.”
On February 13 the High Council reassembled, obeying the order of the High Court to grant a hearing to the legal and medical representatives of General Booth. This time their emphasis was on the deteriorating health of the General.
A deputation by the required number of seven Commissioners requisitioned the High Council to meet. Its activities and even the newspapers were kept from the General in the fear that the news would agitate him still further.
Deliberations were postponed until February 13th, when evidence as to the General’s fitness was presented. The adjudication vote was taken at 6:30 p.m. and resulted in a vote of 52 for the resolution, five against, and four abstaining.
Then came the deliberations to elect a new General. Commissioner Catherine Bramwell Booth removed herself from consideration. That left Higgins and Commander Evangeline Booth. They were asked to address the group to assure their supporters of their views. Booth expressed her support of reforms such as a term limit of seven years for a General and greater responsibility for territorial commanders. Higgins, asserting he was not really seeking the office, declined to express his views, but promised to appoint a committee to study the points. With Commissioner Florence Booth and Commissioner Lucy Booth-Hellberg removing themselves from the voting, the results were: 42 for Commissioner Higgins and 17 for Commander Booth.
Honored in retirement
In his twilight days, Bramwell Booth was appointed by the King a “Companion of Honour,” a very rare distinction conferred only upon those who have greatly distinguished themselves in the service of mankind. During his last days he said to his daughter: “If I die, Catherine, there should be no bitterness. I forgive; you and the others must forgive too. They want to change the General’s plan. They must know I shall never agree.”
With most of his family present, he was quietly promoted to Glory on Sunday, June 16, 1929. His funeral procession, fitting for one who had contributed so much, was witnessed by thousands, as had been those of his parents.
After the death of her husband, Florence Booth retired to private life until her promotion to Glory in 1957. Commissioner Catherine continued in charge of Women’s Social Work in Great Britain and Ireland. After a few years of concentrating on literary work, she served as International Secretary for Europe and European Relief, retiring in 1948. She later was a popular guest on talk shows, often showing the acerbic wit allowed people approaching 100.
In a letter to Commissioner Bruno Friedrich dated January 29, 1932, Commissioner Lucy Booth-Hellberg made the following comments: “For a very long time now I have been striving with love, and I truly believe, divine wisdom, to persuade Mrs. Bramwell Booth and Commissioner Catherine to settle down under the present regime of The Salvation Army and to accept the existing leadership in harmony with the same loyal principles that they both–more especially, of course, Mrs. Booth–have enforced for so many long years upon others.” She goes on to say, that “with all truth neither by one word or action have I stood behind the family in the part they have played, from even before the dawn of the late crisis until today, as regards The Salvation Army Constitution. Neither have I by any other means entered in the late controversy on the question, preferring to leave all in the hands of God, and to his guidance alone.”
How would the Army have fared had nature been allowed to take its course? Many capable officers have arisen from the Booth family, and the day could well come when the High Council takes pleasure in electing once again a family member to its highest office.
It might be noted that Catherine Bramwell-Booth lived to be 105, perhaps a bit long for a “lifelong General.” It has been pointed out, (by someone who should know), that the hectic schedule of a General, rather than the sedate routine of a respected author and speaker, would probably have denied her the luxury of so many years.
Sources: Echoes and Memories, by Bramwell Booth; Bramwell Booth, by Catherine Bramwell-Booth; The Clash of the Cymbals, by F. A. McKenzie; The Betrayal of Bramwell Booth, by Frank Smith; Western War Cry, January 26, 1929; International Heritage Centre Museum files.
Evangeline and Bramwell Booth