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.