A Noble Army of Women

Stories of Marie Carlile and the Church Army Sisters

It became clear very quickly that Marie Carlile was anything but cowardly, but rather fiercely dependant of God and faithful to His will. Her legacy began immediately, along with her influence on the women who have shaped Church Army for over a century. These are just a few of their stories, telling of the earliest pieces of Church Army’s Social-Evangelistic-welfare work, arising naturally out of the preaching of the Gospel.

“How well I remember my first night in the Nurses’ Training Home! What a long one it seemed!” writes Marie Carlile, recounting her first memory of the London Training Home where she had just become resident Superintendent in 1889, “Sleep was impossible, partly because of the thoughts of the responsibilities of the work, and partly because of the noise in the streets and the hardness of the bed. I am afraid I was very cowardly in those days, and rather dismayed at the condition of the house. The Superintendent’s sitting-room had in it all that was necessary, but it looked dreary without curtains,
and only a box of matches to adorn the mantelpiece…When evening came the room was lit up by a very smelly lamp hung on a nail. But what happy times those were! Hard beds, and smelly lamps cannot take away real joy, as many of us have found, for it is often when circumstances are most trying that we discover how very precious our dear Lord and Master is to us.”

God’s Fresh Air

In 1894 the Church Army established its Medical Mission in one of the worst slums of west London. The mission became a pioneer for the later clinics which gave prenatal and antenatal help and brought a revolution to mothers of many classes. The Medical Mission doctor would give free advice and a short service was always held. Many women came through the doors seeking help and the Church Army sisters spent many hours caring for women who were poor, thin, and overtired from bearing the heavy burden of unemployment and overcrowding at its very worst.

Out of this medical work grew another phase of work. It quickly became obvious that these women needed more than just advice and
medicine. God’s fresh air and good food were the best of all medicines, and so Church Army Holiday Homes were established. Holiday homes for poor tired mothers, for their ailing children, all to enjoy sunshine, the
beach and sea.

The transformation was almost unbelievable. One account recalls, “Mrs. P. came to our Holiday Home looking thoroughly tired and worn out. She had not had a holiday since her marriage and her three children had never seen the sea or been on a train. One little girl was suffering from the results of infantile paralysis, but the fresh air and sunshine made the world of difference. They all returned home looking very much better and full of gratitude for the wonderful time they had had.

God’s Fresh Air and good food were the best of all medicines

The Runaway: A Rescue Story

A poor, broken hearted mother, whose girl had run away from home, came in great distress to the Mission-Nurse. Could she help her? By enquiries Nurse traced the girl to a low lodging house in a bad part of the town. The thought
of the terrible danger the girl must be in while staying in such a place, gave the nurse courage to do what she felt was her duty. That night at 11.30 she called at the place and after some difficulty was allowed to see the girl. The room was full
of men and women, drinking and swearing, and she pleaded with the girl to return to her mother. It seemed to no avail. One man kicked his boot over her head; she knew it was meant for her but it missed its mark and she stood her ground, strong through Godgiven courage. Finding words were useless, she
knelt to pray and then (as she said afterwards) men and women were dumb, for the Lord was there. The girl’s heart was touched, she went back and did well at home. The Nurse became a frequent and welcome visitor to that lodging-house.

Cell No. 95

She was short in stature, thought the guards as they looked down at the Church Army Sister as she stood pleading to be allowed to visit cell No. 95 of the female prison. The inmate of this particular cell was a very wild and aggressive inmate and today was the day of her release. The general feeling among the prison staff was that it wouldn’t be long before she was back in a cell again. In the end her persistence won out, the guards relented and the Sister was granted permission
to visit cell No. 95, but with one restriction: an officer would accompany her for safety as the inmate was known to be violent. Down the corridor they went. The key opened 95. “I’ll see you’re all right,” said the kindly officer. She thought to herself what a sweet little woman the CA Sister looked. The Sister walked into the cell, the woman was huddled up in the corner of her bed, her unhappy eyes
blazed with hostility. There was tense silence. After a while, the Sister broke the cold quiet, “Mary, I have come to ask you to live with me”. “Who put you up to it?” came the sharp distrustful reply. The Sister just smiled, “Jesus.” There was
a long silence when at last the woman rose, “I’ll come”. That was all she said.
The weeks passed and Mary began to change. Her first bit of witness was when she remarked “Jesus cares for the likes of me.” She began to take a great pride in keeping the little Mission house clean. She called it a Jesus house. She was good with children, and so soon attracted mothers from the street to visit. The last few years of her life she was a powerful witness on the street of the Mission house.


Recently a C.A. Sister was taking a service in one of our largest Women’s Prisons. She was sorry that she could not go near to the women and have more chance to show her love by a handshake. Next day she got this letter. It starts, “I know you will be glad that it was your speech and the look on your face that decided me to be on His side. As if Jesus could put that look on your face, He could do something for me.”