Keep on Believing

Lucy Booth-Hellberg

Keep On Believing

Lucy Booth 1

COMMISSIONER LUCY BOOTH-HELLBERG–Youngest daughter of William and Catherine Booth.


by Frances Dingman – 

Lucy Booth? Who was she? It is unfortunate that Americans have heard little about Lucy Milward, eighth child of William and Catherine Booth.

Lucy was born in 1868, three years after Eva. As a child she sometimes carried sincerity almost to a fault. “If one must choose,” she would say, “far better seem unkind than feel untrue.” “I am not afraid for Lucy,” said their mother on her deathbed. “She can always say no.” As she grew older, strong common sense and spiritual courage counterbalanced her tendency to frankness.

The crying need for helpers that had pushed her sisters Kate, Emma and Eva out into the world so early had abated somewhat, giving her the leisure to remain a child longer than the others. It was a rather lonely childhood, though. Everybody else was so busy in that household. Besides, her health was always frail. “I couldn’t look but I took cold!” she would say. She helped her sisters in their meetings and at the Training Home, quickly showing an aptitude for public speaking.

“After she did find her work,” said Emma, “she rushed into it with all her might…[When I left the Training Home] she gloried in the fact that my chair was empty. She would never attempt to fill it, but she would stand by it to serve her lasses and her officers.”

Goes to India

Lucy’s tendency toward tuberculosis required that she be sent to a warmer climate. At 16 she joined the newlywed Booth-Tuckers in India.

When Emma’s health gave way completely a few months later, Lucy was there to take care of her. After their reassignment to International Headquarters, Lucy was put in charge of the Indian work. Difficult as this was, she faced the sacrifices with courage, and grappled successfully with its problems. Lucy greatly endeared herself to the people of India. Wearing the Hindu dress, adopting an Indian name, Ruhani Bai, (Spirituality) she traveled from town to town, eating native food.

In 1892, she was briefly engaged to a Bombay officer, Colonel Lampard, while both were in London on furlough. On the day the announcement was published in the War Cry, Lampard wrote to the General in great distress, announcing that he felt himself unfit to be the husband of so excellent and noble a lady. After the consternation over the thought that anyone could jilt a Booth, Lampard was assumed to be mentally unstable, and Lucy and the other Booths recovered from the shock.

Happiness in marriage

The news of the marriage of Miss Lucy to Colonel Emanuel Hellberg, a Swedish officer, was greeted with pleasure. The ceremony was conducted in 1894 in Clapton Congress Hall by her brother Bramwell, while the General was campaigning in Canada. Hellberg was serving as Secretary for Foreign Affairs at International Headquarters. They sailed immediately for India where Lucy was in command and her husband, as Chief Secretary, held the rank of colonel. In accordance with the General’s wishes, they adopted the hyphenated name, Booth-Hellberg.

She soon showed that married life need not interfere with the service of either husband or wife when both are truly dedicated to the cause.

The Founder made his first visit to India while they were there, and they introduced him to the various castes of the country and the wonderful work that was being done. Booth later decided to divide India into four territories, as it is today.

Lucy Booth 2

“COMMISSIONER LUCY”–During her years in Norway; Lucy served there from 1919-28.

Finds France a challenge

After serving in India together for two years, the Booth-Hellbergs were sent to France in 1896, replacing Kate and Arthur Booth-Clibborn. Kate and her husband had earned the respect of the people there, and had become so French that their English was at times strained and halting. Lucy and Emanuel, in addition to learning the new language, faced some resentment from French officers and found it difficult to keep up the pace established by the Booth-Clibborns.

She immediately set about serving with her workers in slums where even the police hesitated to go. Through devoted service she helped build up confidence and trust in her, and in the Army’s work.

Lucy was saddened by the loss of four beloved children–one in India and three in France. She found consolation in having the Children’s Home moved to a beautiful mansion in the heart of Paris where it could be under her supervision. Their stay in Paris was marked also by a new Men’s Hostel and a Women’s Hotel. Ebba Mary, born in 1903, was their only child who lived to adulthood.

Skilled at the piano and other musical instruments, Lucy composed several of the Army’s songs. One of the best known has the following chorus:

Keep on believing, Jesus is near;
Keep on believing, there’s nothing to fear;

Keep on believing; this is the way–

Faith in the night as well as the day.

Goes on alone

In 1904, the Booth-Hellbergs were granted sick leave because of her husband’s illness. After his death in 1909, she commanded in Denmark for nine years. In 1912, when the Army was to celebrate its 25th anniversary, she proposed a National Day of Celebration as a fund-raiser to build a much-needed Training College. This required permission of the King, who not only gave his blessing, but instructed that the governor of each territory in the country should support it. Participation was enthusiastic, and there were parades, as well as a special march composed for the occasion. Lucy moved to command in Norway from 1919-1928.

“Commissioner Lucy” was seldom seen publicly in London except for special occasions such as the 1914 International Congress, where she appeared on horseback. She was called home during the difficult time surrounding Bramwell’s crisis in 1929, when the High Council voted on her brother’s forced retirement. In a letter to Commissioner Bruno Fredrich, dated 1932, Lucy tells how she felt compelled to keep silent about efforts to change the constitution, “leaving it up to God.” She kept trying to encourage Mrs. Florence Booth and her daughter, Catherine Bramwell Booth, however, to “settle down” and accept existing leadership with the same loyal principles which they both (and especially Mrs. Booth) had enforced for so many long years.

Probably because there had been no Booth presence there, she was sent from Norway to South America, serving there until her retirement in 1934. Then, back in London, she nursed her invalid sister Marian (“Marie”) for three years during her final illness. Lucy was promoted to Glory in 1953, at the age of 85.

Spirit of duty

This youngest daughter exemplifies the spirit of duty required of all the Booth children by their parents. Though she and her family served in difficult climates and faced the challenge of several languages along the way, never once did she fail to “salute and go.” For this she paid the price of being, while beloved in each area, seldom mentioned in histories and never a great influence in the international Army. Since all the others had gone, and of course Bramwell could not grant himself the honor, she and Evangeline were the only Booths of their generation admitted to the Order of the Founder. Evangeline richly deserved the Army’s highest accolade, and so did Lucy.

Sources: All the World, September 1892; History of The Salvation Army Vol. V, by Arch Wiggins; God’s Soldier, Vol. II, by St. John Ervine; National War Cry, Feb. 2, 1904.

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