A New­found­land chap­lain in the First World War


New­found­lan­der Ge­orge White­field Rid­out may not be well known to­day. How­ever, dur­ing the First Word War, he served as chap­lain with the 38th Reg­i­ment in France.

Rid­out was born in St. John’s in 1870. As a young man, he went to Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, and was ed­u­cated at Tem­ple Univer­sity. He served as pro­fes­sor of the­ol­ogy at Up­land, In­di­ana.

Fol­low­ing the war, he ac­cepted the chair of the­ol­ogy at As­bury Col­lege, where he re­mained un­til 1927. He then en­tered re­li­gious work and trav­elled ex­ten­sively in Ja­pan, China, In­dia, Africa and South Amer­ica. He was a mem­ber of the Bri­tish Philo­sophic So­ci­ety and a fel­low of the Royal Ge­o­graphic So­ci­ety. He died in 1954.

Rid­out wrote sev­eral books, in­clud­ing “The Cross and Flag: Ex­pe­ri­ences in the Great World War.” He wrote it, he says, “be­cause of what the cross means to me as a Chris­tian, and what the f lag means to me as an Amer­i­can.”

Pub­lished in 1919, so soon af­ter the end of the war, it reads with a keen sense of im­me­di­acy.

“While on our way to the front,” he writes, “the Ger­mans were putting across an­other great of­fen­sive and Paris was once again put in great dan­ger. Once our train was di­verted and word came to us that we had to go to the de­fense of Paris. Once, while the train was held for fur­ther or­ders, word was passed on to the troops that we may have to go into ac­tion at once. War was com­ing very close to us now. But the en­emy was held, and in­stead of go­ing to Paris we were or­dered on to­ward Chateau- Thierry.

“We de­railed at Conde, and that evening the dis­tant hills were cov­ered with the smoke of burst­ing shells and burn­ing vil­lages and towns. Just think, France lost 240,000 houses dur­ing the war. Conde was now be­ing emp­tied of its in­hab­i­tants be­cause of shell­fire. Ev­i­dences were on ev­ery hand vis­i­ble of the aw­ful­ness of war. Bombers had done some deadly work there.

“That night I slept un­der fire for the first time. Our bat­tal­ion was lo­cated in the woods of a fine old chateau. We slept on the ground, but though we could hear the roar of dis­tant ar­tillery all night, no harm be­fell us and I had my first night’s rest un­der fire with­out any mishap or los­ing any sleep.

“The next morn­ing all was hurry and con­ges­tion. The roads were lined with all kinds of traf­fic. The French and Amer­i­can troops were to­gether. I ate my break­fast with a ‘mer­chant’ YMCA from St. Louis. Our ‘ta­ble’ was a fence rail­ing, but we ate our ba­con and hard tack and drank our cof­fee with a rel­ish.

“We hiked that day to­wards Chezy, just over from Chateau-thierry, and I re­mem­ber so well my first sight of the en­emy ob­ser­va­tion bal­loon. Away over about five miles dis­tant, per­haps, there it was.

“Lieu­tenant Cramer said to us: ‘Men, you must keep out of sight. See over there is the en­emy. You must not be walk­ing about where you can be ob­served or we will have some shelling.’

“I re­call sev­eral things about this day’s hike. It was a warm day and the boys had heavy packs to carry. We halted at a cer­tain point where there was a farm­house by the side of the road. The boys went in quest of water to fill their can­teens, when an old lady with a sweet, moth­erly face came out with a big pail of water and two glasses and she took such de­light in giv­ing those thirsty boys drink.

“When night came on and it was a ques­tion as to where we should sleep, the of­fi­cers went into the town and were given beds in the houses now va­cated by their own­ers. I was given pos­ses­sion of a whole house. I was ex­pect­ing some of the of­fi­cers to put up with me, but they got fixed up some­where, so I was given this el­e­gant house as mine.

“I thought much of the melan­choly aspects of war as I viewed this beau­ti­ful house left by its aged owner in the care of a French ma­jor and of his turn­ing it over to us of the Amer­i­can army for the of­fi­cers’ use. Here is a home hav­ing all the ev­i­dences of wealth, re­fine­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and re­li­gion. Upon the door is a re­li­gious em­blem bear­ing the words: ‘Car Jesu sacratis­si­mum mis­serere no­bis’ ( Latin, Most sa­cred heart of Je­sus, have mercy on us)...”

There is much more, but space is lim­ited.

Lest we for­get.

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