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The British Mission in World War II: “We Shall Come through This Great Struggle Unconquered”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 02, 2009

For just over a century, from its founding in 1837 by Apostles Brigham Young and others, to the outbreak of World War II, the British Mission had been led by “elders from Zion.” These (mostly American) elders, assisted by home (British) missionaries, both brethren and sisters, did the bulk of missionary work in the British Isles, and also ran the local churches. Transient elders, not local priesthood bearers, were the branch leaders, planned and conducted the meetings, organized the Mutuals, collected the tithing, taught most of the Sunday School classes, published the Millennial Star, arranged the immigration, conducted the church courts, gave the blessings, performed the baptisms, and even organized many of the entertainments.

This (to me, unhealthy) state of affairs grew naturally from a time when all converts were young in the faith and emigrated to Nauvoo or to Utah as soon as they could raise the means. But by 1939, when foreigners were ordered by the British government to leave Britain, the British Mission had thousands of long-term, sometimes multi-generational, members. Somehow, the old pattern had persisted, and these local members had had very little experience in governing their own church affairs. Newly appointed mission president Andre K. Anastasiou (1894- ), successor to Hugh B. Brown (who, with the last three “elders from Zion” had sailed from Britain on January 12, 1940), described the situation:

It was strange to think that the 72 Branches of the Church in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England, built up and developed by the untiring efforts and sacrifice of our American Missionaries, were now left to the fate and circumstances of the local Saints. They felt depressed, unhappy, full of uncertainty and even foreboding. No longer could we call upon our Missionaries to come here and go there; to organise this, that and the other Branch meeting, Sunday School, M.I.A., etc.; to visit the sick, to heal and comfort, to baptise new converts, and be the staff and protection of those who depended so much upon them. The church and the Saints were left to stand on their own feet, so to speak, and to depend upon each other and carry on as best they could.. A number of our members felt that they were being deserted.

The British Saints stepped up, though, and succeeded magnificently, as we’ll discuss in coming posts.

It isn’t difficult to understand how they did it, either, when you read the following talk given by George Henry Bailey (1896-1976), first counsellor to President Anastasiou, delivered at a conference of district presidents (local men, who would be stake presidents had stakes been organized in Britain at this time), held on January 16, 1942.

Read it out loud (declaim it)  if you can, or at least hear the words in your head as you read. Three parts gospel, one part British patriotism and grit, this is great oratory by a man with a vision:

We Shall Come through This Great Struggle Unconquered

Elder George H. Bailey
First Counselor, British Mission Presidency

We brethren of the District Presidencies of the British Mission are the appointed leaders of the Lord’s work in this land. Our example, the quality and quantity of our labour, will determine the success of the work which God has committed into our hands. We must be prepared, if necessary, to give our all that this work might go forward, and by such an attitude to our work, we shall receive that portion of the Spirit of the Lord which will sustain us in the discharge of our sacred duty.

President Hugh B. Brown said to the Saints in Great Britain, prior to his departure for Zion, “Hold the Fort.” But we must do more than that. We must carry the message of comfort and good cheer of the restored gospel into every nook and cranny of this our native land. We must make a faithful contribution to our country in its hour of need, and at the same time we must be willing to make unlimited sacrifice, giving until it hurts, that the fort shall not only be held during this difficult period, but built up and strengthened and its uplifting power be felt throughout the land.

This war and its attendant evils ere long will come to an end, and in spite of all the setbacks which we have endured, and though we may yet endure many more, as a humble servant of God I raise my voice and say that though the way of this nation be through blood, through sweat and tears, though we be battered and torn, we shall come through this great struggle unconquered, for this nation will, by the arm of its political power, be instrumental, in the hands of the Lord, in making it possible for the Jews to return to their native land, and protecting them from all their opponents even unto the day when the Lord shall come, bringing them deliverance. But before this day shall come we must steel our hearts to even greater trials than those which we have known, for unless mankind will repent and turn unto the Lord and live according to His word, the present problems of this generation will not diminish, but increase. Let us, who hold the Priesthood of God, fortify ourselves through a practical application of righteous principles, for so great will be the trials of this generation, and this because of their unwillingness to heed the counsels of God, that we shall need a tried and perfected faith to stand and discharge the duties given into our care.

As the leaders of God’s work in this land, we must put away all selfish desires; our quest must be for things that have eternal value in their nature. The souls of men are precious in the sight of God. Our labour must be to direct our fellow men along the path that leads to true happiness. Our success in this work will be determined by our willingness to stand firm in our calling. And when it shall appear that every vestige of human help has failed, we will cling firmly and mightily to the promises of God.

Missionaries will come again from Zion, but they never will, if we are faithful, be burdened with the work of presiding over the Mission and various departments of the work in this land. It is our heritage to lead the work of the Lord in this land. We will cleave unto our heritage, and when our joys are increased as we welcome back the Missionaries to these shores, we will continue to so labour in our callings that these, the Lord’s anointed, shall be free to go into the highways and byways and gather the remnants of Israel into the fold.

I believe that immediately after this war the work of the Lord will go forward with accelerated speed, vigour and determination, for the Lord has said that in these the latter days he will cut short His work in righteousness. Therefore, at the close of this war we must prepare for the great day when the gospel shall be carried to the Jews in their national home and to the sons of Lehi upon the American continent, and into all countries where the blood of Israel shall be found. And it has been said that in that day there will not be enough men in all Israel to accomplish this work. Brethren, we are called to carry forward the work of the Lord in this land in such a way and manner that when this day shall come the Church in this country will be prepared to make a full and complete contribution to the great and final effort to lift the towers of Zion in every land and clime.

These are the last days; the days to which the Lord referred when He said: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should be no flesh be saved, but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” Surely the period of peace between the end of this war and the great final battle will be of short duration. A mighty work has yet to be done. There will yet be a great influx into the Church in this country, if we do our duty as God desires we should do it. The day will come when many shall knock on the door of the Church in this land and ask for admittance. We must prepare for such a day by putting our own house in order. To excuse ourselves from the duties which God has placed in our hands is to deny God the desire to give us a great blessing. The Lord delights to bless and honour those who put their trust in Him. On this historic day in the history of the British Mission, let us pledge our allegiance to the great call that has come to us, and be willing always to say, “Yea, Lord,” when the Lord calls.



22 Comments »

  1. Wonderful! Brother Bailey had such a nice Churchillian flavour in his speech.

    I really appreciated his outlook on the work the British Saints must undertake and the future of the mission. From my research I have come to the conclusion that the Church underestimated (in a number of cases) the abilities of the European Saints.

    Comment by Steve C. — April 2, 2009 @ 7:45 am

  2. such a nice Churchillian flavour in his speech

    That’s it!

    I really liked the blend of Mormonism and British patriotism, too. It helped me better imagine how the mixture of Mormonism and American patriotism might feel to non-Americans, and I can only wish that the Americanism were as positive and complementary to the gospel as Bro. Bailey’s Britishism. (I’m afraid it’s not, though — I know it sinks to jingoism far too often.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 2, 2009 @ 9:25 am

  3. Ardis, this is powerful. I would like to have known Brother Bailey. The following, especially, touched me:

    we are called to carry forward the work of the Lord in this land in such a way and manner that when this day shall come the Church in this country will be prepared to make a full and complete contribution to the great and final effort to lift the towers of Zion in every land and clime.

    Comment by Ray — April 2, 2009 @ 11:48 am

  4. Yes! He wasn’t willing for Great Britain ever to go back to a dependent state, was he? Rather, he was ready to take the lead. I love it.

    Thanks for taking the time to read.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 2, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

  5. One can almost hear Hugh B. Brown speaking these words, too. Bro. Bailey had learned well at the feet some of the greatest public speakers of the age–both in the political and religious sphere.

    And to think that he did it all while still keeping the old Building and Loan in business. (Ok, I’m sorry, Ardis. I tried, but couldn’t resist it.)

    Comment by Mark B. — April 2, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

  6. (snicker) I hope you didn’t try *too* hard to resist, Mark, my funny man!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 2, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  7. Mark B: You beat me to the Building and Loan joke!

    Comment by Steve C. — April 2, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

  8. This really made me feel proud to be British AND LDS, especially as today’s the 33rd anniversary of my baptism. I was totally stunned to read Brother Bailey’s statement about people “knocking on the doors” of the church, as that’s almost exactly what happened in my case. And as for his prophesies regarding the State of Israel, all I can say is, he was astonishingly prescient.

    Comment by Alison — April 2, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

  9. Alison, happy anniversary! I’d really like to hear your conversion story — I’m writing to you offblog.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 2, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  10. Ardis, please give Alison my e-mail address. I would like to connect with her, as well.

    Comment by Ray — April 2, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

  11. Alison, congratulations on your special annivarsary. My 36th is coming up next week but I wasn’t a convert; rather was baptized at eight.

    It is interesting how George Bailey saw this as a way to bring about the establishment of the State of Israel. As I read this this morning I was struck by how different his view of this was than some of the German Saints at around the same time who thought that the persecution of the Jews was part of the gathering.

    Comment by Steve C. — April 2, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

  12. It is surprising that everything in Great Britain was run by the missionaries, I assume with the approval or by authority from Salt Lake. Apparently the Church overlooked the fact that many great Church men and women emigrated from England to Zion and were given leadership roles here. I really liked reading the talk by George Bailey, who knew what power and influence the brethren in England could have as they stepped in to replace the missionaries.

    Comment by Maurine — April 2, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

  13. In response to Maurine’s post, I believe (and I think people here would agree with me) the biggest hurdle the Church has faced in the UK is the fact that so many did emigrate to Zion in the early days- indeed, until pretty recently. We lost our local leadership to the cause of building up Zion.I have absolutely no quibble with that on a personal level-they were following the admonition of the Prophet at the time- but it is interesting to contemplate, when we see ward closures today, small units, and the like, what the Church would have been like here now if those emigrants had stayed. I have occasionally been heard to mutter ‘we’d like our Pioneers back, now, please’ :-)

    British priesthood holders did an amazing job here during World War 2. Bear in mind that the younger men were called to active service,so entire units were left without priesthood holders, and sisters carried on as best they could.The (very few in number) older Brethren were the ones who were left to carry on the work, and spent hours travelling the country, (very difficult given wartime travelling restrictions) to keep things together.

    President Andre Anastasiou (as mentioned in Ardis’ post) deserves recognition and commendation for the work he undertook. When bombing in central London became intense, he moved the British mission offices to the South London ward I was baptised into in the 70’s (though not as long standing as Alison :-) ) and some of the elderly members there then would talk of the old building and the war years. I hope someone recorded their experiences as they are all long gone now.

    (I believe the Anastasiou’s emigrated to Utah after the war,(that’s from memory) but don’t have my sources on hand to check just now).

    Thank you for posting this, Ardis.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — April 3, 2009 @ 2:42 am

  14. Anne, I’ve got a few stories from those years — both about how the local members carried on the church work and about surviving bombings — that I’ll be posting soon.

    But you can’t have your Pioneers back, sorry. They’ve made too great a contribution to the settlement of Utah and to the entire history of the Church in the U.S. Couldn’t have made it without them. No, sorry, we’re keeping them. :)

    Even George H. Bailey and family emigrated to Utah after the war. That surprised me.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 3, 2009 @ 5:24 am

  15. I wonder if this attitude was in part because of the way stakes were formed. Nearly all of the early ones were really colonies; communities set up from from scratch; complete with a street grid based on the Zion Platt. Kirtland, Independence and Nauvoo were a little different since there were already settlers there. But they were still considered gathering places too.

    When was the first stake organized outside the areas the saints colonized? In the U. S, South it was in the 1920’s, I think. Florida if I recall correctly. And after widespread emigration stopped.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — April 3, 2009 @ 6:18 am

  16. St. Louis had its own stake in the 1850s, but that was an anomaly. I don’t know about the organization of stakes in the 20th century — anybody?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 3, 2009 @ 7:19 am

  17. Anne (UK): I apprecite your remarks. I am truely amazed at the wonderful job of the European Saints in running the Church during the WWII–both in Germany and in Great Britain. It was people like George Bailey and Otto Berndt who held the Church together during the years of conflict. I also have to say that the European Relief Societies rose to the occasion. Too often we discount or ignore the contributions of the RS.

    Ardis: I’m looking forward to your posts on the British Saints in WWII.

    Comment by Steve C. — April 3, 2009 @ 7:43 am

  18. I think the organization of the Los Angeles stake (1923) was significant.

    Comment by Justin — April 3, 2009 @ 8:17 am

  19. The first stake in the U. S. South was in Jacksonville, Florida in 1947.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — April 3, 2009 @ 8:40 am

  20. I didn’t finish my thought. Significant as a stake organized in a large urban area outside the intermountain area. Of course, there were stakes organized in the 20th century outside the intermountain area that preceded it (e.g., Union Stake).

    Comment by Justin — April 3, 2009 @ 8:43 am

  21. The New York Stake was created in 1934, Washington D.C. in 1940, Detroit in 1952, Philadelphia in 1960 and Boston in 1962. The names of some of the first stake presidents suggest where the leadership came from: Ezra Taft Benson in Washington, George Romney in Detroit, for example.

    I suspect that much of the church growth that led to the creation of the Los Angeles Stake came through migration–and the relative nearness of California to the Mormon Corridor led to much higher levels of migration to California than to the East.

    About stakes in California, the church almanac says that the Los Angeles Stake was divided four years after it was organized (Hollywood), that one additional stake (San Francisco) was created in the 1920s, with 8 more in the 1930s, 5 in the 1940s and 30 in the 1950s.

    By contrast, the original New York Stake wasn’t divided until 1960 (New Jersey), 1967 (Long Island–now Plainview), and 1978 (Kitchawan, now Yorktown, NY–the northern suburbs). Since then the New Jersey Stake has become four, the northern suburbs have become three, the city itself three, and Plainview remains the cheese that stands alone.

    In addition to the “distance from Utah” factor–which meant of course distance from extended family and from temples–the eastern cities had less in-migration because they were real cities and not quasi-suburban blobs, the latter being deemed, in one of the great heresies of the late 20th century, to be more family-friendly.

    Comment by Mark B. — April 3, 2009 @ 10:30 am

  22. Steve C : thank you. I find it a fascinating part of our history which is little discussed these days.

    Ardis: I look forward to those posts!

    The first European Stake was formed in Manchester, England, in 1960. We had a temple here before any stakes, which seems odd these days! Once the London Temple was dedicated in 1958, members were encouraged to stay put, although by then so many had friends and family who had emigrated, it took a while for that to take effect, I suppose.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — April 3, 2009 @ 11:50 am

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