12/11/2008

Catherine Bramwell-Booth (by Mary Batchelor)

I know nothing about Mary Batchelor. On the other hand, I have heard many times of Catherine Bramwell-Booth. I think I may even have seen her being interviewed on television in the early 1980s, around the time of her 100th birthday. I knew she was a tireless, redoubtable old woman in the Salvation Army, and was pleased when I spotted this autobiography for a few pence on a second-hand stall.

'Catherine Bramwell-Booth' is well-written, charting Catherine's life from birth thought to her centenary. It also gives some background into her parents' and grandparents' lives, in particular William Booth, her grandfather, who was the founder of the Salvation Army in the 19th century.

Catherine was born in 1883, the oldest of a family of seven children. She became involved in her parents' work almost immediately, and dedicated her life to God when she was only about six. She went on to do tireless work in the UK and elsewhere, preaching, teaching and serving as required. She also wrote some books, and some poetry, and in her retirement became quite a personality on TV talk shows.

There was much that I hadn't previously known - that Catherine was quite ill as a younger woman, for instance, and that she was really very shy. Nor did I know much about the kind of work she did. The book doesn't go into morbid details of the difficult situations and abuse she witnessed, but describes enough to make the reader understand just how much she did. This is all the more surprising considering when she was born, when women were mostly expected to stay home and raise families.

I already had a lot of respect for the Salvation Army, and that only increased as a result of reading this book. I find their army-style labels (general, captain, commissioner, etc) rather bizarre, as is their uniform. But nobody could doubt the incredible work they did amongst the homeless and hungry during the early part of the 20th century.

I felt the book was written in a comfortable style, with anecdotes from various people's memories, snippets from letters and magazine articles, and Catherine's own reminiscences. The author clearly did extensive research and knew her subject well; I read a couple of chapters of this every day for a little over a week, and found it quite inspiring.

All in all, this biography is well worth reading for anyone wanting to know more about this amazing lady, or the work of the Salvation Army. Unfortunately no longer in print, but it may be possible to find it second-hand; it can also sometimes be found as an ebook.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 12th November 2008

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