Origins of SA War Graves Visitation Service


Mary Booth was a grand daughter of William Booth, the Founder of the Salvation Army. However despite her close connections with the founding family, and the fact that she did pioneering work for the Salvation Army over many years, Mary has received very little publicity.

Adj. Mary Booth

Adj. Mary Booth

She was appointed to Barnet Corps in 1907, then worked in Faversham, Newbury, Newport and Hastings before spending two years at National Headquarters in London. While here in 1915 she was appointed first Ensign, then Adjutant.

In 1915 she went to France on a visit, intending to stay a few days. However when she visited the wounded in hospitals around Wimereux, and found that many were anxious to send and receive news of home, she and her Salvation Army "Sisters" began to visit hospitals all along the base, writing letters home and bringing small treats.

She also appears to have sown the seeds for their later official War Graves Visitation Service. In 1917 she was promoted to Staff-Captain and appointed to do War Work in France, where she remained until 1920.

This extract from entries in 1915 from her book* may be the origin of the Salvation Army Visitation Service:

"Among the letters today, one from Mrs. G_____. She says, "Thank you very much for sending me the few lines about my husband. If I could only see him, how glad I should be! I do hope the Lord will give him life long enough for me to see him. Tell him how I long for him'

I called this evening to see how he was. It was rather late but the Orderly kindly took our enquiry. He was not long bringing the answer, 'Dead and buried.' Nothing could be said; nothing could be done. So I hurried out. It was a dark, cold night and seemed all the darker and colder since. I wonder how far anyone can share another's sorrow? I wrote as kindly and as sympathetically as I could, but pen, ink, and paper seem almost out of place in such circumstances.

The answer was not long coming. 'Thank you for what you have done for me and my dear husband, and for taking so much interest in my grief. If I could have only seen his dead body the blow would not seem so hard to bear. We have prayed morning and night, but it seems as if our prayers had not been answered. I seem to have lost all. Dear friend, there is only one thing I can ask you to do for me, that is to have a photo of his grave taken for me. It is the last thing in the world for me to look at'.

As soon as the cross is up we are getting one."

Graves Visitation

Ada tending the grave of a family friend, Pte G. Bougourd, R.G.L.I. at Seranvillers. A photo was sent home to his family.


* "With the B.E.F. in France" by Adjutant Mary Booth. Pubished by The Salvation Army, London, 1916.