JAC Online

JAC Interview - Commissioner Harry Read

J.A.C.: please tell us about your background, how you came to know Jesus, and how you came to know The Salvation Army. 


H.R: I have a Salvation Army background. Grandfather Read then in his late 30s was converted under the ministry of James Dowdle. ‘Fiddler’ (he played the violin!) Dowdle was sent by WB to the north of England to win converts and open Mission Stations (this was pre 1878). In a small town on the north side of the River Tees called Hartlepool Grandfather became converted. Shortly after that, he moved to a small town called South Bank which, as its name suggests, is on the southern bank of the Tees.


My grandfather was born in 1838. Following his marriage he had a fairly large family and his wife died. Grandfather re-married and my father was the only child of the second marriage. Grandfather was 57 when my father was born. I add this trivia in case you are puzzled by the time frame.


After 38 years service as the Corps Sgt Major Grandfather retired from that position. He died in 1924. This was the year of my birth.  In the 1930s my father became the Corps Sgt Major until his untimely death in 1943. My mother who, as a teenager became a Salvationist was from a non Army family but, after her conversion, other family members became soldiers.


Obviously, I grew up in the Army joining the Singing Company and YP Band, but was never an enthusiast.  Al-though I had good friends in the Army, my main friends happened to belong to the Methodist Church. After much persuading, and with serious reservations, my parents al-lowed me to leave the Army and join the Methodist Church. Shortly after WW2 commenced I had a conversion experience and, since one of my older friends was a Methodist Local Preacher I made a similar application and, in 1940, aged 16, I became a ‘Local Preacher on note’. This meant that a much older Local Preacher would mentor me and I would accompany him to his Sunday preaching engagements, read the Bible passages for him, lead a hymn or two but, in the main, allow myself to be influenced by this wise, godly man whom I liked and respected immensely.


I volunteered for military service aged 18 in 1942. I would have done so earlier but, understandably, my father re-fused to sign the essential document. He had been twice wounded and hospitalised in WW1, my older brother was a commissioned officer in The Royal Artillery. My older sister was in the Womens’ Auxiliary Air Force and my father reckoned that was enough.


Aged 18 I didn’t need parental permission to enlist but, because of his insistence, instead of joining the infantry, I joined the Royal Signals in September 1942 to become a Wireless Operator. I volunteered for the Paras early in 1943 and, when my Wireless Training was completed in May 1943, I joined the 6th Airborne Division. I parachuted into France at 0050 hrs on D Day. For years I thought the landing time was 0120 hrs but the official history which I read long after the war ended is clear: it was 0050 hrs.


During my military service I still maintained my church links but, though I never became ‘one of the boys’, I lost the sharp edge of my faith. This I regret. If you want to know more of my military service there are refs to me on the web. Just type in “Signalman Harry Read” and three addresses will appear. The first, “The Second World War Experience Centre” gives a transcript of an interview they set up with me. The other two web addresses, having been given access to that typescript, have edited it.


At the end of the war I began seriously to consider what my future would be. In those reflections I began to realise that I didn’t like what I could become if I didn’t change. I sought the Lord afresh, committed myself to him and applied to the Methodist Church to be a Candidate for the ministry. My request was accepted and I began a study-course in preparation for that.


In 1945 The Royal Signals transferred me to the Orkney Islands where, in the little town of Stromness there was no Methodist Church. I attended a small Mission Church and learned of a Servicemen’s Fellowship which I commenced attending. A couple of Salvationists in the Fellowship spoke of the Corps in Kirkwall, some 12 miles away which I began to attend. In 1946 I was posted to Edinburgh where I linked with the Methodist Church coming under the supervision of the Minister. Since the only Church that advertised a Saturday night meeting in the local news-paper was the Salvation Army I attended their Saturday night meeting doing so regularly and, although they knew I was working towards the Methodist Ministry, I was made welcome. The CO told me of some large meetings being held in Glasgow suggesting that I might enjoy them so I attended, and it was during those meetings that I realised God was calling me to Officership, not the Methodist Ministry. I arranged an interview with my Methodist Minister to share this with him. He was not unduly impressed, after which I became a soldier in the Edinburgh Gorgie Corps: this was June 1946.


I was demobilised from military service in June 1947 and entered the Kings Messengers Session at the ITC in Au-gust of that year.  


J.A.C.: What is the most significant part of your war fighting today?


H.R.: Early in my officership I realised I had the gift of encouragement. This has been a major factor in my ministry through the years, no less so in retirement.


The poetry – I don’t consider myself to be a poet, rather do I think of myself as a versifier – is important, but I’m sure that, if my verses were studied, they would be ad-judged to be part of my ministry of encouragement.


In this ministry I affirm people; gently challenge them to live up to their potential and give as much support as I can for them to live the life of faith.


Almost as an aside: my daughter thought I should have a Facebook page and set it up for me. Because she was a widow working at DHQ she visited me regularly and maintained the FB page for me. When she remarried – she and her husband are now the DCs in our London North East Division – her visits obviously dwindled dramatically. I wondered whether I should close my FB page and, when I looked at it decided I would, but the Lord seemed to be saying that I could find a ministry through it and I think I have. I think you will notice from my contributions it is all encouragement. I like your contributions very much I might add. You, obviously, have this same ministry mindset. 


J.A.C.: What was your most challenging appointment? Why? 


H.R.: We were appointed from the College to IHQ where I functioned as ‘The Press Officer and Director of Information Services’. It was an important job, and paid rich dividends in the end, but it stood outside of my gift range, and was, therefore, hard, albeit fruitful work. I was glad when we moved from there to be DCs because field work is my natural element.  


J.A.C.: What was your most influential appointment? Why? 


H.R.:  Difficult to answer. Win and I served 18 years in all on the College Staff. If you know the old structure, I was 7 years a Sectional Officer: for a youngish man, the best appointment imaginable. Then back to the Field as CO and DYS. Back again to the College as Field Training Officer followed by 3 years as the Second Side Officer then to IHQ as Press Officer etc. Following this we became the DCs of the marvellous Nottingham Division, then back to the College as Principal. They were rich years indeed. In 1981 we were appointed to Canada where I was the Chief Secretary. I may not have done much for Canada but Canada did much for me and then, as if Canada wasn’t enough of rich blessing, we were appointed to Australia East as TCs! With experience of both Canada and Australia my cup was truly running over.


But it didn’t end there! Our mutual friend General Eva phoned inviting me – if that’s the right word – to be the British Commissioner! I knew it was to be a demanding last appointment, and it was, but it was more than challenging: it was exhilarating with fulfilment to match my dreams. What a privilege! What joy!


Others must be left to evaluate my ministry and that of my darling wife, but though we faced the immense difficulties inherent in an increasingly godless society and a decreasing Church – and Army – we had a wonderful time. God has been so good to us. 


J.A.C.: What is your most important legacy for the Kingdom? 


H.R.: This is not a question I can answer. Like all TCs, I’d like to think I left the territory in better shape than I found it. A territory more ready for growth: buoyant, optimistic, confident in the Army’s soul-winning aims: a territory with a sharpening focus on the faith-aims of a faith-born movement, but only other people can be the best judges of that. 


J.A.C.: What are your dreams for The Salvation Army? 


H.R.: I’d like us to keep our Army distinctives. I have no problems with describing ourselves as part of the Church be-cause that’s what we are but, we are an Army. I think we do the church thing less well than the churches do it, but when we do the Army thing properly, we are without equal.


In today’s western world, I don’t hanker after the scenes from our beginnings that still stir our hearts, because society has changed irreversibly and governments wouldn’t al-low us freedom to, for instance, repeat the initiatives that created our social services. But I do long for us to be an Army of faith, with programmes born in prayer, powered by faith and fulfilled in love.


I long for us to have the spontaneity, joy, mutual regard and ‘family’ identity of our earlier days. The past is wonderful and cannot be replicated but the essence of those days is timeless. Here and there we see that essence being expressed and we are moved accordingly. O that that was the norm rather than the exception!


If only we could persuade every Corps that it has a bright future! Even the smallest Corps which, in the will of God is not meant to be a small Corps, has a first step in faith to take.  That first step may be nothing more complicated that the CO gathering his/her small number of saints together to plead with the Father to identify the next step. Undoubtedly, the next step would become apparent and then the next and so on. Our Lord didn’t come to earth to launch mediocrity. The Spirit didn’t give life to let it wither on the branch. We give up too easily.


With the other churches, we have done that terrible thing: we have allowed the most exciting event in all creation to become common place; an irrelevant option; a divine intervention that leaves masses of needy people dismissive of God’s existence, not merely his claims. I thank God for the Army: its existence is one of his great miracles. He has done so much through us. Numerically we are not dramatically strong but we always punch be-yond our weight. Our achievements are amazing. People expect so much from us because of our reputation; a reputation that is not due to clever publicity but because we deliver. I thank God also for the new emphases on prayer, certainly in this UK territory, and for the serious attempts being made to relate to our various communities. Without doubt, new initiatives are improving our work and witness. What I add in this section, therefore, is not intended to be a criticism I’m too grateful for all that is being done to play the part of critic.


If, however, I’m allowed a ‘but’ it would be that, as an Army we are still inclined to do the organisation thing: too much ‘top – down’, stuff. Instead, we should focus more on locally generated initiatives and, working with the actual, as opposed to the assumed, go for growth that way.


I think I dream much the same kind of dreams about the Army as you and your wife and Joe and Doris Noland.


I ought to add that I am full of admiration for the way in which General Linda is approaching the subject of the Army’s development. I have a dream that takes in the churches as well as the Army. In our western world, at least, we have been driven on the back foot by the growing forces of atheism. Articulate and prestigious atheists, operating in a society where the media is almost totally atheistic, our institutions, political groupings, education, health services, welfare and industrial organisations are all similarly driven. Atheists are always given a prominent platform by broadcasters and editors. These platforms we are denied.


We have brilliant, highly qualified scientists, physicists, mathematicians and the like who can argue most persuasively for Christianity but, though their work is published, it languishes for lack of public exposure.


My dream is that, perhaps stimulated by the Army, the churches will combine their resources to make a sustained intellectual challenge to the forces of atheism. We need to set up a united council to determine the right approach then do a massive PR job in putting atheism on the back foot where it rightly belongs.


Our voices are muted to the detriment of the Gospel. We need the public at large to hear the strong, reasonable-ness of our Christian faith in God. Making this happen will cost money, but money is the least of our considerations.  


J.A.C.: Who has been most influential in shaping you into who you are today? 


H.R.:  You mean on the human level I suppose? I’m the product of a godly family. I was very close to my older brother who was a superb role model. I was at the sharp end of one of biggest and costliest battles in WW2. Some historians say that we who occupied that position had casualties to equal those of WW1. Certainly, in my section, of the less than a hundred men who made up the group, only 25 of us came back. That experience has helped to shape me.


At the Training College I met and married a lovely and remarkable lady. Win was hugely gifted and deeply spiritual. Together we helped nourish and shape each other into what we were to become. You can take your pick of the above and might decide that what I am is the product of all three. 


J.A.C.: What books have influenced you most? 


H.R.: In my very early twenties I was introduced to the work of the English poet Robert Browning. His spiritual insights have always blessed me. I bought his complete works printed in a number of pocket sized volumes. When I travelled, more often than not, it was with Browning. Over and above the more serious stuff I had to read, I al-ways had a biography on the go to bless and inspire me but, in my younger days, C S Lewis was a living legend and his books gave my faith a great deal of substance.


However, the book that gave my spiritual life wings was written by a Quaker, Thomas R Kelly entitled, A Testament of Devotion. He spoke to my heart as a young man and has never ceased to do so since. 


J.A.C.: Can you tell us of the most memorable campaigns and meetings in which you were involved, and their impact? 


H.R.: Our second field appointment was very hard. There had been spectacular growth under the leadership of one couple and spectacular loss under their successors. It took us a year to stabilise things but in the succeeding year we witnessed growth again.


We were then moved to another Corps in the Division – one of those Corps to which no one wanted to be appointed. In the new situation it was born in on me that a better way of growing a Corps was through faith. True, we had to work hard but faith was the key.


It was the custom in the UK for every Corps and Centre to have a campaign during the first week in November. DHQ always asked for plans. Such plans were easy to submit and seemed to satisfy our DHQ. For instance, Band Practice and Songster practice nights were designated as Campaign meetings to which all were welcome and the Sunday titles were easy enough to create.


The Lord gave me a burden for this which my wife happily shared. We would call our campaign, a Faith Campaign. We would try to carry the Corps comrades along so that they would pray for family and friends. The climax of the week would be a powerful play written by Commissioner Alfred Gilliard and performed by Corps folk.


To hold us to the faith angle we would fix a meeting in the New Year when we would enrol as soldiers, the converts from the Campaign. To hold us even more firmly to the concept we would have a much respected, well-known visiting officer conduct that meeting. To tighten further the faith angle, in with the publicity for the Campaign we would advertise the January enrolment meeting. As you can imagine, some of the Local Officers gasped when I launched this at a special Census Board meeting but, to their everlasting credit, they got behind it. In the special soldiers’ meeting we met with a similar positive response.


In the preliminary heart-searching it seemed to Win and me that we should aim for a specific number of 6 new soldiers. This, we shared with the Corps folk though not in the advertising. During the campaign we had a number of seekers who were family and friends of Corps folk, especially those taking part in the drama. On the enrolment night in January our visiting officer enrolled 5 brand new soldiers and reaccepted a comrade back into the fellowship whose name ought to have been removed from the roll years before. Everyone was thrilled.


In the new spirit of faith generated within this Corps that had been stagnating and shrinking for years, we made 36 new soldiers in 18 months. It was magnificent. After 18 months we were appointed to the Training College but the work continued.


Faith really is the key.


Cadets’ Campaigns I loved (I can keep you going for a long time!!) we went to a large Northern Ireland Corps. Arriving on the Friday evening we started working in the town centre on Saturday with open air mtgs. We had a fine welcome meeting which we followed with a Pub Raid. In case you don’t know our drinking bars are called public houses and, at the appointed closing times we invited people to come to the hall for coffee and a mtg. It was well-attended, boisterous at times but, in the end we had two seekers. Not a bad start to a Campaign.


On Sunday, even though the meetings were well-attended and powerful, there were no seekers and this continued right through the week. This was a situation quite outside my experience. As a brigade we talked about it, prayed about but, at the beginning of the final Sunday, apart from the two seekers in the pub raid, there had been no seekers.


What a challenge to our faith! Came the final Sunday Holiness Meeting and I stripped everything possible out of the meeting to allow us time to have a good prayer mtg. I re-call majoring on the words ‘Prove me now’ (Malachi 3:11 AV) and doing something I had never done before or in-deed since. At the end of my address, in complete silence,  I walked down from the rostrum and, placing my open Bible on the Mercy Seat said something like, ‘Here is the challenge from God, are you willing to Prove Him – Now’? It was as though the flood gates opened as people came to the Mercy Seat. It was a long but glorious meeting. There was an afternoon Praise and Testimony mtg – again with seekers. We had the Salvation Meeting, the last meeting of the Campaign and again, the Mercy was lined repeatedly.


The very last seeker was a middle-aged man who had been the drummer in the Corps but something had gone wrong and he became a backslider. Someone had been speaking with him in the prayer meeting and when he came forward there was such joy in the hall. When the count was taken afterwards, there were 87 seekers on that Sunday. The Cadet Sergeant who had shared the leadership of the Campaign returned with me in the January, as per the original plan, to enrol the converts won on the Campaign as soldiers. It was tremendous! Faith is the key.


Some time after the campaign, the Corps Band came to London on a specialing engagement and I arranged to at-tend their Saturday night festival. The drummer was the very man who was the last seeker on the Campaign. He was full of joy. And so was I.


A few weeks ago a name appeared on my Facebook page and I wrote her a note saying, ‘Are you who I think you are?’ She replied by return confirming she was one of the young Salvationists whose life had been revolutionised on the campaign, and who is still going strong in the Lord’s work. 


J.A.C.: What is God teaching you these days? 


H.R.:  To trust more and to love more and to concentrate on the essentials of salvation. To believe that we are among those weak and foolish things of the world made strong by God. To believe that the Army’s best days are ahead of us because we are still part of his strategy for a fallen world.


He is teaching me the absolute centrality of Christ to all that God has planned. He is teaching me about the tenderness of his providence and that, whatever happens in the days ahead, I can be confident in him. He is teaching me that he is my heavenly Father. 


J.A.C.: Who are your heroes?


H.R.: Captain James Cook was born not far from my birthplace. What a navigator! What courage! What a man! In my reading and imagination I’ve travelled every mile with him.


Captain Robert Falcon Scott led an expedition to the South Pole hoping to be the first to arrive there. He was beaten by the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen. But Scott’s return journey, though ending in his death and those of his colleagues, was an epic failure and full of courage. I’ve travelled every mile with him also.


My heroes include the founding fathers of our faith and the martyrs: ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’. I have many heroes, men and women whose courage and faithfulness has moved me deeply.


My Salvation Army heroes start with the Founder and include his granddaughter Commissioner Catherine Bramwell Booth who captivated me during the time I was the Press Officer. My heroes include Commissioner Booth Tucker, Captain Harry Andrews, Commissioner Herbert Lord, General F Coutts, Colonel Catherine Baird. Both General Coutts and Colonel Baird mentored me without me realising it in the early days, and not just the early days, of my officership.   


J.A.C.: What is your most memorable spiritual experience? 


H.R.: I have so many deep spiritual experiences. Most of my prayer poems represent an actual spiritual experience but I recall an event from my military experience.


Having become properly saved I had no difficulty in witnessing to my mates. A parachuting injury invalidated me for further jumps and I was returned to an ordinary signals unit. Ex paras were allowed to wear their red berets and, of course, their wings which probably meant that, in an ordinary unit, an ex para was given a fair amount of respect, which meant that I had no strong opposition to endure. Because I was planning to become an SA officer I was al-lowed to use the office in which I worked during the day as a study room in the evenings. One evening the door opened and a Corporal whom I knew fairly well came in to check what was happening. I was actually typing out a short talk I was to give at the Corps the next Sunday. He stood behind me and was obviously reading what I had typed. Our conversation was therefore, on the content of my talk. After many questions and much discussion the atmosphere became such that I suggested that perhaps he should do something about his need for God.


The result was that we knelt at the office desk and I led my friend to the Lord. The very first person I had ever led to salvation. Bill Day, for such was his name, told one or two of his close friends what had happened and it became common knowledge in the camp. He came with me each Sunday to Gorgie Corps. The YPSM and his wife used to take me to their home for meals on Sundays and the Corps Sgt Major and his wife took Bill. They were good for him.


The sheer joy, exultation, of leading someone to the Lord is one of the deepest spiritual experiences one can experience. Though all subsequent similar experiences are wonderful there can only ever be a first, and Bill Day was that for me. If only more people could experience the sheer joy of soul-winning! 


J.A.C.: Please comment on the state of Aggressive Christianity in the 21st century. How effective is primitive salvationism? 


H.R.: I think it is important that we should be reminded of our heritage in this regard. Most churches probably move away from their roots a little as the founding enthusiasts die and the church becomes more organised. The changes too in society also facilitate this toning down of zeal and its challenges. But we do need to be reminded that the old way of getting saved is the way folk get saved to-day. If we devalue our Mercy Seat and decision-making emphasis we have, I think, devalued the Army and weakened our witness. I like the work you are doing to remind us all of the importance of the timeless values of the past. 


J.A.C.: Our first General often wrote letters to his soldiers with teaching for daily life and warfare. Would you take this opportunity to offer a millennial message to soldiers around the world?


H.R.: To my fellow soldiers, I believe our name, The Salvation Army, is an inspired designation, born, not of human wisdom but of the Holy Spirit. The armies of the world are massed against us but, though powerful, they will be overcome. Faith, hope and love are the abiding qualities and they are not in the pos-session of the forces of evil.


I believe also in the timelessness of the divine qualities that built our Army. A changing society means that we have to adapt our programmes and strategies to maintain our effectiveness, but the essence of the Army, those divine qualities that created us, cannot be dismissed or compromised. They are of God. The Army is of God. The style may change but the aims and motives of our Movement are unchanging.


I am proud of all that our relatively small Army has achieved. God has used our greatly gifted people to best advantage and we who are ordinary confess that he has used our ordinariness wonderfully well also. Each one of us has an important part to play in the salvation war.


We have always been an accepting and affirming company of God’s people. We have also been a joyful, praising, cheerfully sacrificial people: that we will remain.


What I hope we will consider and develop is an awareness of those special gifts of the Spirit given to each one of us whether we count ourselves ordinary or unusually able.


I hope that, within our regard for each other – our love for each other –  we will feel a measure of stewardship to-wards each other if we do not already do so, so that we will actively identify and encourage each others gifts. These gifts will flourish in a truly supportive atmosphere and, employed with confidence and wisdom will build up each Corps; build up the Army; help build God’s kingdom. Within the competence of each Corps there are gifts, sometimes unidentified which, when they are known and released, will bring remarkable results.


The need to adapt is self-evident and the best means of adaptation come from our heavenly Father’s hands. He will not fail us. He also happens to love the Army. Has he not chosen us to be his soldiers? Are we not a vital part of his strategy? 


May God richly bless us all. 


Harry Read – your fellow soldier.










your shopping is guaranteed safe using SSL

eStore account - Sign Up Now! Contact Us - General. Technical Support. Sales Jesus is amazing!  If you see this image tag you should know that He is THE way... not a way!  Grace!
Home Terms of Use Privacy Policy Sitemap Contact Us
copyright ARMYBARMY