Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » You Have Been Listening to the Sunday Evening Broadcast: Our Missions in Wartime Europe, 1941

You Have Been Listening to the Sunday Evening Broadcast: Our Missions in Wartime Europe, 1941

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 09, 2011

The Voice of the Church On the Air, 20 April 1941, 9:15 p.m.
By Elder Thomas E. McKay, Acting President of the European Missions

A little more than a year ago about 700 American missionaries, laboring in 12 European missions, were released to come home, or, if they had not been in the mission field more than 20 to 24 months, were transferred to other missions in America. This evacuation, as you know, was deemed necessary both by our Government and our Church officials because of war conditions in Europe.

Before leaving their respective fields, however, the mission presidents authorized local or native members to carry on the work. In each mission a very competent elder was called as Acting President. He was given two assistants or counselors, and a local board or committee made up of two or more of the influential brethren, and the mission presidents of the auxiliary organizations to assist him. Nearly all of these brethren and sisters who were placed in this responsible position of presidency have been trained in the Church for many years; a few of them were born in the Church. They have accepted of their added responsibilities in the spirit of humility and with a determination to do their best to carry on the work of the Lord, and they have succeeded so far even beyond our expectations.

In two of the missions building programs that were initiated before the evacuation of the American missionaries have been carried on to a successful completion. In the Danish mission, for example, the Aarhus chapel was remodeled and modernized, two old buildings that had spoiled the view have been torn down and replaced by lawn, flowers, and shrubbery, until now the chapel is one of the attractive places of the city.

The members of the Basel Branch of the Swiss Mission have also succeeded under rather adverse and difficult conditions in completing their chapel. Ever since the outbreak of the war Switzerland has been mobilized. About 10 per cent of the entire population is under arms; it is said that Switzerland has the largest standing army per population in the world. At one time, during the invasion of Holland, Belgium and France, all the grown male members of the Basel Branch except two were at the front or engaged in some military service at home. It was just before this time that an extra effort had been put forth to have everything in readiness for a grand three days’ opening, May 10, 11, and 12, 1940. The building, or at least the chapel and the recreation hall, were ready for this annual conference, but because of this complete mobilization the gathering had to be postponed. A meeting was held, however, on Sunday, May 12 – the first in this, the first Church-owned chapel in Switzerland.

This beautiful meeting house, located in Johann’s Park, which park is owned and kept in first class condition by the city of Basel, consists of a chapel and a recreational hall, built with a disappearing partition so when conferences or other special gatherings meet, the two can be thrown together; also twelve classrooms, a large Relief Society room with a kitchen adjoining, a special room for the M Men and a basement, part of which is arranged with an outside entrance to furnish a parking place for bicycles. In many of the European cities nearly everybody rides a bicycle.

In Belgium, also, the chapel at Herstal that was slightly damaged by the exploding of two bombs has been repaired and is again in good condition for our Church services.

Besides this work of building, remodeling, and keeping chapels and halls in good repair, our Acting Mission Presidents have continued the regular religious activities.

Our Sacrament meetings, Sunday Schools and Relief societies are held as usual, and also our Branch, District and annual Conferences. Because of the mobilization and war nearly all men of military age, as I have stated, have been called to the front. this has necessitated the closing of a few of the smaller branches and the discontinuing of some of the Priesthood meetings. Because of a shortage of fuel and blackouts the meetings in nearly all o9f the missions are held in the day time, and are very often combined or held one immediately following the other.

The Sunday School and Relief Society meetings are attended about as usual, while the Sacrament and Fast meetings show an increase in attendance. Our members in the missions always have shown appreciation for the privilege of partaking of the Sacrament and of bearing testimony, but as is generally the case, when difficulties and trials come, they seem to appreciate these and other blessings of the Gospel all the more now.

If the soldiers are able to get a short leave of absence they generally ask for Saturday afternoon and Sunday. they desire to have the privilege of partaking of the Sacrament to renew their promise that they are willing to take upon them “the name of the son and always remember Him, and keep His commandments which He has given them, that they may always have His spirit to be with them.” If there ever was a time in the world’s history that not only our soldier boys but all of us need the spirit of the Lord to be with us, it is now, and we may all have it by keeping the promise we make when we partake of the Sacrament worthily. The Lord will keep His promise and His spirit will be ours to enjoy if we do our part. he is bound, as He says in the Doctrine and Covenants, 82:10: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” So, if we remember and keep the promise we make when we partake of the Sacrament, there is no doubt but that the Lord will keep His promise that His spirit will always be with us.

At our Fast meetings on the first Sunday of the month the testimonies of our soldiers dressed in their uniforms are always inspiring and faith-promoting. As one of our Acting Presidents said in a letter received recently: “Everyone is thankful to the Lord for the protection He has granted to us. We could write a book for the promotion of faith with the testimonies we have heard from June 1940 until the present time.”

May I refer to just one example which is typical of many of the faith-promoting experiences and testimonies that are borne by the soldiers:

A young soldier, a member of the Church, was with the British forces which were trapped at Dunkerque, where ships of all sizes and kinds were being used to hurriedly transport them back across the Channel. This young soldier was waiting his turn, and just as he thought his turn had come and was about to board the ship, he with two or three of his companions were halted, and the signal given for the ship to depart. The officer in charge said to them kindly, “Sorry, old chaps. Better luck next time.” That ship was bombed with almost a total loss of all on board. The next whip, which was taken by our soldier member and his buddies, arrived safely.

All letters, as you know, except those from Switzerland, are censored, but occasionally some information other than that of a purely religious nature is permitted to slip through. The following paragraph is from a letter recently received from London, headquarters of the British Mission:

“There have been no injuries reported from any districts among the members of the Church, although eight or nine homes have been damaged, in three cases very seriously. District presidents, in cooperation with the branch organizations, especially the Relief Societies, have contributed means and help, and are looking after those who have thus suffered in the war.”

And just one more, this time from a letter in far-off Norway:

“Many of the Saints have lost all that they owned, home, properly work – all they have left is the clothes they wear. Many have taken part in the fights but their lives are saved. The hardest afflicted of the Saints have not lost their faith. They have seen that even fi they have lost everything else, God has saved their lives. We feel quite well, all of us, even if the wheat is gone and we are short of butter and other necessities, but we know that God will help and protect us if we are faithful.”

These two quotations are typical of reports received from missions in other invaded countries.

Yes, our members in the European Missions are being tried and in their danger and trials are more grateful than we here at home with our comforts and our luxuries can realize. They do not complain. They appreciate the Gospel; they are experiencing in their daily lives that it is a power – a power to bring comfort and peace and happiness, even under the most severe trials and difficulties. They know that it is in very deed “the power of God unto salvation.” They love it; they are living its teachings, they keep the Word of Wisdom, they pay their tithes and offerings, and thereby make it possible through our wonderful organization for the more unfortunate – those who have lost their homes and all worldly possessions except the clothes they wear – to share alike with those who still have some of the comforts of life. through this great organization, this cooperation, this willingness on the part of those who still have, to share with their neighbors who have been deprived of all their earthly possessions, they learn to love even their enemies and those who despitefully use them.

May our Father in Heaven help us all to learn tolerance, helpfulness, and to forgive and love all men willingly, of our own free will and choice, realizing that this is the true way to happiness; as one of our poets says, “True happiness if understood consists alone in doing good.” May He help us to live such lives that we shall be able in very deed to keep the two Great commandments:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” (Luke 10:27)

The missions of the Church are grouped into four divisions, or, if we should include the Stake missions, five divisions. These groups or divisions are:

1. North American, which includes fifteen missions, with a total Church membership of 106,850.

2. Pacific Islands, comprising six missions, with a Church membership of 20,163.

3. South American, made up of two missions, with a Church membership of 846.

4. European division, which includes the following Missions:

British, with headquarters at 149 Nightingale Lane, London, S. W. 12, has a Church membership of 6,481; Czechoslovakian, (headquarters, Svatoslavov ul; 26, Prague-Nusie, Protektorat Bohmen und Mohren, Germany), with a Church membership of 108; Danish (headquarters Priorvej 12, Copenhagen F), has a membership of 1,521; East German (headquarters, Haendelallee 6, Berlin, N. W. 87), has a membership of 7,608.

French, headquarters were at Paris, but they have had to be closed and the furniture and office fixtures stored. Two headquarters are still maintained, however, for the French-speaking members, one at Neuchatel, Hop des Cadelles, Switzerland, for the French Swiss, and the other at Liege, Belgium, Grivegnee Rue des Semailles Spence, for the Belgium District, with a membership of 864; Netherlands (headquarters, 292 Laan Van Poot, the Hague, Holland) with a membership of 2,832.

Norwegian (headquarters Osterhaus gt. 27, Oslo, Norway), with a membership of 1,643; Palestine-Syrian (two headquarters, one at P.O. box 174, Aleppo, Syria, the other at Impremerie Azad, Beirut, Lebanon, Syria) with a membership of 82; South African (headquarters, Cumorah, Main road, Mowbray, C.P.) with a membership of 1,614; Swedish (headquarters, Svartensgaten 3, Stockholm) with a membership of 1,614; Swiss (headquarters at Leimenstrasse 49, Basel, Switzerland) with a membership of 1,548; and West German (headquarters, Schaumain Kai 41-p, Frankfurt a-M, Germany) with a membership of 5,873 – twelve missions in all, with a total membership of 31,788. (Or a grand total of members in the missions of 159,647.)



  1. “They do not complain.”

    How wonderful is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Church that carries that Gospel in its fulness.

    Comment by ji — February 9, 2011 @ 8:53 am

  2. Another great post, Ardis!

    The numbers are interesting: over 40% of the total European membership of the church at that time was German, and another 20% was British. In April 1941, those two countries were effectively the only combatants. (That was two months before Germany invaded the Soviet Union and eight months it declared war on the U.S., and Italy, for all Mussolini’s bluster, really didn’t count.)

    I’d like to know more about that British soldier at Dunkerque. (Or Dunkirk, even!) Was that story reported in the Millenial Star?

    Comment by Mark B. — February 9, 2011 @ 10:50 am

  3. This was such an uplifting post to read. The faithfulness of these Saints in the midst of such difficulty is a tremendous example to us today.

    The post, for me, raises a question that perhaps Ardis or another reader could tackle: how were within payments handled when made by members to church units out of contact with Church HQ due to the war? Were they saved for future remittance to HQ, used and administered locally, or some combination of the two? I expect that the inability to remit tithing funds to Salt Lake was matched by an inability by Salt Lake to distribute funds to local units….or were tithing funds handled in a completely different way than today?

    Comment by Tom O. — February 9, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

  4. Within = tithing …. darn autocorrect

    Comment by Tom O. — February 9, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

  5. Great post. I was surprised to learn that as late as 1941, there were more members of the Church in Europe than in North America. (Perhaps I misread the numbers, as the “mission totals” likely don’t include members in Utah and Idaho that are not part of formal missions.)

    Also, I thought it interesting that Elder McKay went to such lengths to assure listeners that the local European leaders were competent and duly authorized. Maybe a hint of ethnocentrism?

    Oh, and only two missions in all of South America. Wow.

    Comment by Clark — February 9, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

  6. Just checked the Church Almanac: at the end of 1940, there were 703,017 members living in stakes, and 159,647 in missions. (Which number matches exactly the number that Bro. McKay cited.)

    By the end of 1941, there were two stakes in Canada (in southern Alberta) and one in Mexico (in Colonia Juarez). There was one stake in Hawaii (Laie). And there were 135 stakes in the continental United States. So, the majority of church members lived in stakes, and the overwhelming majority of those who did were in the United States.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 9, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

  7. Clark, as I read it, the 106,850 figure is for North American members who are not in organized stakes, ie, missions only.

    I’m also surprised that one of the German missions had more members than in all of Britain. But that is mainly due to all the migration of saints from England to the US.

    Elder Uchtdorf mentioned at one General Conference that the main reason why Europe had so few members was that it was mostly depleted of members by immigration. However, I’m unaware of how much immigration occurred from continental Europe compared to the British Isles. My assumption is that immigration from continental Europe was much lower, both in terms of raw numbers and in terms of percent of members, than that of Great Britain.

    Comment by Bookslinger — February 9, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

  8. Ooops, I think I put immigration where I should have wrote migration or emigration.

    Comment by Bookslinger — February 10, 2011 @ 11:21 am

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