A Christian Sailor in the First World War

A Christian Sailor in the First World War

“It seems that, after HMS Cressy, Hogue, and Aboukir had been torpedoed, two exhausted sailors, swimming about in the water, at last came upon a spar which, while sufficiently buoyant to keep either of them afloat, sank under the combined weight of both, so that they were constrained to take alternate spells of buffeting with the heavy swell and of clinging to the piece of wood – a process that could not be indefinitely prolonged, and that was terminated when one, who was a Salvationist[1], said “Good-bye, mate; death means life to me; but you are not converted, so keep hold and save yourself” – saying which he suffered himself to be carried away, inevitably to drown; and afterwards the other man, who survived and was rescued, reported at a Salvationist meeting the act of self-sacrifice to which he owed his life.”

The conversion of sailor Brumpton

“Fifteen years ago,” said Mr. F. Whiteing, a Salvationist shopkeeper, “Brumpton was converted on the deck of a battleship through the efforts of Corporal Dicks. It was twelve o’clock at night, and the two knelt together under one of the big guns. Before then Brumpton had been given to drinking, fighting, and swearing. After that his chief concern was to help others to get the blessing which had transformed his life.”

Sailor Brumpton’s Christian Influence

“I wanted specific instances of the way Brumpton’s influence was felt; and Jock Cummings, a dapper little Salvationist in the tailor’s shop at Eastney Barracks, was able to satisfy me.”

“Brum, for that’s what we called him,” said Jock, “was always cheerful and smiling, and as he passed to and fro in these barracks (he was one of us, you know – a Red Marine) he would often be singing some Salvation Army song. Whenever he met mates looking downhearted he would be sure to try and cheer them up. ‘Don’t keep your troubles,’ was a favorite remark of Brum’s; ‘thrown them into the scran-bag.[2]’”

He was out and out in everything. If he was taken with the idea to pray, he’d do it, no matter where he was…soon after he came back from Malta…he and I were walking together just opposite the cemetery in Highland Road when down he went on his knees on the edge of the pavement; and, of course, I joined him. An unusual sight that, to see two men praying (age, and to hear them, too, for Brum had a powerful voice) on the curb at about eight o’clock one summer’s evening in a pretty crowded street of Portsmouth. I suppose we must have been at it for ten minutes, and about thirty people gathered round.”

“Did they jeer?”

“Oh, no. There were the usual critics, of course; but Brum’s gracious spirit won most of them. They could see he meant it.”

Brumpton Meets the Opposition

“Did he have much to put up with in barracks?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary, I think. A certain amount of scoffing is what you’ve got to expect. But when they see a man is living true to his religion they’ll mostly leave him alone. Any one new is often a little troublesome at first. But Brum could take his own part.”

“Once there came along a man who was a bit of a bully and given to fighting. Hearing Brum say something about salvation, the bully started calling him a ‘Ummy-dum,’ which is a name they’ve got in the service for anybody reckoned to be soft and goody-goody. After a bit he challenged Brum to come into the gymnasium; but, of course, Brum didn’t want to go, and so tried to laugh it off. But the bully only kept on all the more, fancying he saw his way to some fine sport; and in the end Brum was fairly worried into putting on the gloves.”

“As it happened he had taken lessons in boxing at Malta before his conversion; what’s more, he hadn’t been frittering away his strength by drinking and in other bad ways; so he was more than a match for the other man. But, to begin with, Brum took a little punishment; then he got to work in earnest.”

“It wasn’t many minutes before the bully had had quite enough. ‘Hm!’ he muttered, as he nursed his poor bruised face, ‘do you call that salvation?’ ‘No, mate,’ replied Brum, ‘that’s correction. We’ll talk about salvation now.’ And at once he began.”

The First Shipwreck

“Some of the survivors came back here after it happened, and they brought us news of Brumpton. He and six others got on a bit of a raft – five being men who told us about it, and the other a lad who’d gone funny in his head by the shock. It seems this lad was screaming, and wouldn’t stay quiet in one place, so he had the raft capsized twice.”

“In fact, he carried on so off the level that it didn’t give the others are fair chance, and what with his screams and one thing and another, they’d soon had enough of it. So, being good swimmers, they sheered off to look for a quieter berth. But they couldn’t persuade Brumpton to go with them. He wasn’t going to leave that crazy youngster.”

“So the five came away by themselves and got picked up, an hour or so afterwards, from an upturned boat they soon sighted. But that was the last news they could give us of poor Brumpton – seeing him still on the raft and trying to coax the crazy lad to be quiet.”

The Second Shipwreck and the Death of Brumpton

After surviving the first shipwreck and being rescued by another British warship, that ship was also torpedoed. The following account gives further description of Brumpton’s heroic death.

“One Sunday evening in our hall at Sheerness…there were seven or eight recent converts – Navy men – and sitting among them was a sailor named Peter Ross. I didn’t know his name at the time, but I remembered seeing him the night before, when he followed from our open-air meeting to the hall. I called for personal testimonies, and one of the men who got up was Peter Ross. He said he had never thought about God in the past, nor had his people [family], but he wanted to give his heart to God now because of something that had happened to him.”

“He went on to tell us…that he had been on HMS Aboukir when she was torpedoed, and that after he had been swimming about in the water for some time he came across a shipmate named Brumpton, who was a Salvationist. When feeling rather exhausted, they found a spar, which could keep one of them afloat but not both together, as it wasn’t large enough. So after a bit Brumpton wished him Good-bye, and said, ‘Death means life to me, but it’ll be death for you if you go down without being converted; so you hold on and save yourself.’ Ross said it had made a great impression on him, and he wanted his life to be different.”

Excerpted from “Souls in Khaki” by Arthur E. Copping, 1917

[1] Salvationist – A member of the Salvation Army, one of the evangelical Christian denominations in the early twentieth century

[2] Scran-bag – A bag for things found lying about on a ship