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“Being a Mormon, the More I Trembled the More I Prayed”: A Guardsman’s Testimony, 1918

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 13, 2011

Sidney Bailey Smith (1891-1981) was a native of Norfolk, England. He was baptized in 1910 (an older half-brother had been a member since 1901, and a sister was converted in 1915). Married in 1915, he was the father of one son, with another on the way, when he went to France with the British Expeditionary Force of World War I. Following the war he and his wife and children emigrated to Canada, where they were sealed at Cardston in 1923 and where they spent the rest of their lives.

Sidney wrote this letter to the Millennial Star in 1918.

A Guardsman’s Testimony

I dare say some of my friends in dear old England will wonder what has become of me. Well, I am now in France, having been here about three months, and my part in the war has been very insignificant. I have not killed any of the enemy; in fact, all the enemy I have seen have been prisoners. Still, I have been under shell fire, and also been wakened continually at night by bombs dropping in the neighborhood.

I do not know whether anything has been printed in the Star regarding a soldier’s feelings when in danger of this sort.

Not being a very brave man, I felt a trembling sensation when enemy aircraft were flying overhead. But being a “Mormon,” the more I trembled the more I prayed, and I prayed that I might be under the Lord’s protection and be spared to return to my wife and little son. And then, when the sound of the enemy’s engines had faded into the night, I gradually regained confidence, and blamed myself for not having had more faith in the Lord. For had I more faith, I would have trembled less.

This brought to my mind all the Lord’s blessings to me in the past, and His protection when in dangers in days gone by. After this, I just prayed as usual, but did not tremble, although men who had been up the line many a time and had been in the thick of battle, confessed to feeling a bit scared when “Old Jerry” was overhead.

It surely is a curious sensation that goes along your spine when you are laid on the ground, or rather two feet below the ground level, in the darkness of the night – a floor-sheet of mackintosh beneath you, and an overcoat above you, and the canvas of the tent above that – and then above in the air the “peril that flieth by night.” You can always tell the enemy by the engine, which hums at a high note – sometimes almost a whistle. With the nerves at a tension, you hear him when he is a long way off. Sometimes he has company. Then “bang!” and you rise upon your elbows and listen again. Next comes a “bang!” A series of “bangs,” or a volley of “bangs,” and they are much nearer. Then comes a loud one, and the earth tremblers, and then you have to tremble whether you want to or not. Then you realize that just a few hundred feet above that overcoat and canvas may be written destiny! Happy the man who can realize at that moment, that there is a Greater Power above that mechanical contrivance. And, thanks to the gospel, I could realize that. And the time came when a bomb dropping near might waken me up and I would just turn over and go to sleep again. After that, came the time when men would be discussing in the morning about a shower of bombs which had been dropped in the night, and of how some of our brave boys had taken a quick trip to another sphere. And some were surprised that a greenhorn like myself had slept through it all.

But the title I have given this letter is, “A Guardsman’s Testimony,” so I must write to it.

Since I came to France, my testimony has been very much strengthened. I have plenty of time every day to read my Bible and other works of the Church, and I have learned a great deal since I came out here. I have also had many opportunities of bearing my testimony to others, not of our faith. as far as I can get to know, I stand in a unique position, being the only latter-day Saint in my battalion. Naturally, I am looked upon as being a “crank.”

There is something peculiar about a man that does not smoke, drink tea or alcoholic liquors, or swear, and many seem to regard me as a harmless sort of lunatic. In matters of religious discussion, however, I have always been proved perfectly sane, for which I am truly thankful.

Since I came to France, I have attended only one religious meeting. It happened a few evenings ago in a little hut, with a small table in one end, on which had been placed a crucifix, with candles on either side. The chaplain, representing the Church of England, presided over the meeting, which was attended by four or five members of the State church, one Nonconformist, and one “Mormon” – myself. We constituted what was called a Bible class, but when operations were begun, I found out that I was expected to give the reasons for the existence of a multiplicity of churches and to suggest the best means of uniting them. I gave a brief outline of the history of the Church of Christ from the time it was organized; also of the apostasy and the re-establishment of the Church in the latter days. I reminded my hearers of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, and of Daniel’s explanation and addition to it. I told them of the angel that should bring again the gospel toe very nation, kindred, tongue, and people, and bore my testimony that these things had actually come to pass.

Never have I seen a more attentive or interested audience. When I had occupied the allotted time, we had a discussion on the subject, and many side issues were naturally brought up. We discussed the Godhead, and the chaplain admitted that neither he nor the majority of the ministers believed the statement made in the Athanasian creed, to the effect that if a man does not believe the doctrines taught in that creed, he will be damned. I asked why the creed was retained in the Book of Common Prayer, if the ministers did not believe it. The chaplain replied that one condition under which they held the ministry was that they had to read that creed at least once a year.

“Who makes that stipulation?” I asked.

“Parliament,” he said.

“Then,” I asked, “where do the members of Parliament get authority to make such a condition? Has God given it to them, or do they take it themselves?”

The reply to this was in effect that if they did not read it as required, they could not officiate in the ministry.

Such incidents do much to strengthen one’s testimony, and they are constantly recurring, when in conversation with my comrades.

It is a great thing to have a house founded upon a rock. The chaplain remarked after the meeting that my religion was more of an intellectual religion.

I replied that “the glory of God is intelligence,” and that the glory of man also is his intelligence.

Well, I must not take up too much space, so I will just conclude with saying that, although I have not been in the front line, my time in my country’s service has not been altogether wasted.

For a long time I thought I should never see France. But the time came when I was picked out, and although I was not anxious at the time to go abroad, still, I am not sorry now, for I feel that I am a more loyal citizen and a better “Mormon.” Since I came out here, I have learned that it is a great thing to offer one’s life, if need be, for the betterment of the world.

When I came out, I came as a conscript (although my first enlistment was voluntary), but since I have been here, I have seen things in a different light, and seeing a clear goal ahead, I am willing, if it be God’s will, to mingle my blood with other blood that has been shed in the cause of democratic freedom. But though I do not know whether I shall have to lay down my life in the good cause, still I do know that it is my duty to live for that cause. God does not ask many of us to die for Him, but He asks us, one and all, to live for Him. And the best way we can live for Him is by doing His will. He calls us when we behold the comrade wanting comfort. Sometimes it is physical comfort that is needed; sometimes spiritual. The call comes to some in one form and to some in another; to some, as that of a man, to some as that of a woman, and to others as that of a little child, and “inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.”

There are temptations out here, many and varied, but, being a member of the Army does not excuse any man for committing evil.

I have heard many soldiers say that they can not help doing certain wrong things, but that is false. God is the same kind Father to the soldier, sailor, or civilian.

I know that, although I go without tea, tobacco, or alcoholic drinks; although I refrain from using foul language, or from breaking the majority of the Ten Commandments; though I offer even my life, it availeth nothing, if I have not charity. Knowing this, I cannot boast of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I am very thankful.

When I lie down at night and offer up a prayer to my Maker, how comforting it is to feel that many miles away, across the mighty deep, are my loved ones praying to that same God, and praying for me!

It was the principle of prayer that led me into the Church, and it is that same principle which has kept me in it, and, though many times I have wandered off the right track, prayer has brought me back.

SIDNEY B. SMITH.

B.E.F., France



25 Comments »

  1. Extraordinary!

    Thanks, Ardis.

    (I’ll have to ask my wife’s Cardston relations if they knew the old gent.)

    Comment by Mark B. — January 13, 2011 @ 7:04 am

  2. I enjoyed this much.

    Comment by Clark — January 13, 2011 @ 9:16 am

  3. Thanks, Mark and Clark (can we get a non-rhyming commenter to speak up, please?) I’m not sure which aspect is best — his view from the foxhole, or his explanation of what it means to have a house built upon a rock. Either way, I too thought he had a wonderful way of expressing his thoughts.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 13, 2011 @ 9:34 am

  4. Ardis you come up with the best stuff!!!!

    Comment by bbell — January 13, 2011 @ 9:50 am

  5. Fabulous. And how wonderful that he survived the war to be with his family again. Thank you, Ardis, this is a very meaningful post.

    Comment by Alison — January 13, 2011 @ 10:42 am

  6. “The chaplain remarked after the meeting that my religion was more of an intellectual religion.”

    Not a criticism you hear every day.

    Any evidence if Sidney B. Smith survived the war?

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 13, 2011 @ 10:44 am

  7. [Cough, cough] J. Stapley: go back and read Ardis’s introduction. : )

    Comment by Mark B. — January 13, 2011 @ 11:10 am

  8. I try to give a little context by figuring out the full name and life dates and other bits that help situate the author of something like this in his time and place. Wasn’t sure I would be able to identify anyone named Smith, but he apparently has a loving, proud posterity who made the search easier than it would otherwise have been.

    Thanks, all.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 13, 2011 @ 11:18 am

  9. Hah! Whoops. Note to self: Read the intros carefully from now on. I did read the story carefully, though. Promise!

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 13, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  10. Sidney B. Smith is my great grandfather. Even though I was 3 or 4 when he passed I remember him. His son, my grandfather spoke of him with reverence and fondness as did every person who knew him. Thank you Ardis for posting.

    Comment by Ruban — January 13, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

  11. Sidney is my Great Grandfather…I assure you he survived and is the foundation to a large and strong posterity. Thank you for sharing this…what a wonderful testimony from a wonderful man.

    Jason M. R.

    Comment by Jason — January 13, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

  12. It’s always so much fun to bring something like this to the notice of family, even when it isn’t *my* family!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 13, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

  13. What a powerful and humble testimony he had. Thank you for sharing this.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — January 13, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

  14. Sidney is also my great grandfather! Our 1st daughter was given the middle name of Bailey, in his honor. His legacy and his testimony continues to live on, through his posterity.

    Comment by Sarah — January 13, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

  15. Oops-I meant to say 1st name, not middle name! Lol-you would think I would get that one right! :)

    Comment by Sarah — January 13, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

  16. How sweet is THIS?! This is my favorite line:

    God does not ask many of us to die for Him, but He asks us, one and all, to live for Him. And the best way we can live for Him is by doing His will.

    Comment by ellen — January 13, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

  17. Ardis, thanks for this.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — January 13, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

  18. My Husband is also Sydney’s great grandson. I love reading about him and seeing how similar my good husband is to him. He led the way for so many more good and faithful men to follow. Thank you for posting. How/where did you find this?

    Comment by Heather — January 14, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

  19. I did say in a comment, didn’t I, that Sidney Bailey Smith has a loving, proud posterity? :) I think that’s been abundantly proved by comments from family members — who I hope will become steady Keepa readers.

    This testimony was published in the Millennial Star of 29 August 1918, pages 547-550. The Star was published from 1840 to 1970, the church’s longest-running publication. It was published by the British Mission, chiefly for the Saints in Britain but widely read throughout the church. A digital version of the Star is available through the BYU website and can be searched here.

    Thanks to all, whether first-time visitor or longtime regular, for noting your enjoyment of this article.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 14, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

  20. thank you for sharing this Ruban. It is indeed an amazing accounting. With your permission and others in your family, I would like to read this to the Branch when we start our Family History training.

    Comment by Rod Fraser — January 14, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

  21. S. B. Smith’s testimony is as bright and relevant as ever. Although written 93 years ago it offers strength to me, a great-grandson, today. I hope I can offer the same to my posterity. Thank you!

    Comment by Peter — January 14, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

  22. The strength and power of a simple mans testimony and a creed to live by prayer surely does allow our heavenly father to shape us into what we are meant for. What a great man! I only hope to be such an example of strength to my my son, Sidneys great great grand-son. Thank you for posting.

    Comment by Andrew — January 15, 2011 @ 10:40 am

  23. I’m grateful to have found this. Thank you! I knew my Great Grandfather well and he passed away while I was serving a mission. His testimony and the person he was had a big impact on me as it did on all of his decedents–which include 100s of faithful latter-day-saints.

    Comment by Rob Cuzner — January 17, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

  24. I am the sixth son and 7th child of Sidney B. Smith and there are still six children living from the original 12. I served a mission in Great Britain in 1952 and the Millenial Star was going strong then. I had no idea that my father had contributed an article so many years ago. Thanks so much for bringing this forward.

    Comment by David S. Smith — January 19, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

  25. Ardis I love what you dig out. Thanks for sharing this.

    Comment by peter Fagg — March 30, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

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