House with a World View

By Lt. Commissioner A. J. Gilliard as published in The Officer in the 1950s

(Principal of the International College for Officers)

On a clear day there is a view of many miles of English countryside from the flat platform on the roof of the International College for Officers.  Church spires, highways, the burnt-brick hue of housing estates, and the green of cultivated fields, flanked by darker copses, are spread before eyes accustomed to the glare of African veldt and Indian paddy fields, or the pavements of busy cities. 

The morning sun rides over this softened landscape and low hills in the far distance call the mind on to the far-away of ocean lane and airway, on to the world's ends.

Life with a world-view pulses joyfully through the gracious house.  It meets the new arrivals and lifts their jaded or reluctant moods with the swift glad fingers of a skilled hostess.  It touches tired and sometimes sad eyes, until they begin to shine again.  It takes pilgrims from all the converging highways, with their wonderments, reservations, doubts and desire, strips off aggressiveness, softens their leadership-sharpened personalities and national peculiarities, and melts them together into a family so intimately understanding and so eagerly sharing that, for words to describe the experience, they turn to the Acts of the Apostles and read, with new understanding the ‘all with one accord in one place'.

No one is allowed to hurry.  There is ‘all time in the world' at the I.C.O.  Yet the pace is swift and steady.  No one is required to fulfil prescribed tasks of learning.  Yet the education is so rapid that changes in attitudes, in facial expressions, in voice-tones and thought-processes can be traced by the watching eye as clearly as the deepening hues on ripening fruit.  There is talk of the College ‘sessions', or ‘courses', or ‘periods', but no word yet found is adequate.  ‘Experience' is the best found so far - an ‘experience' full of delight and of depth, or inner searching and outer exploration, made up of much listening to various voices in the lecture room, of much looking at historic sites and current operations and of innumerable conversations, leaping language barriers, bringing the world into the mind previously occupied with the one small part represented by the all-demanding ‘appointment'.

Eight weeks is a long time to persons for whom three weeks furlough has hitherto been the limit of escape from the wheel of duty; yet it is short enough to make the word, ‘One week more!' almost incredible.  It is long enough to make the parting a tearing experience almost to be feared.

‘If one were asked in what way was it a wonderful experience,' wrote one returned officer student, ‘it might be a little difficult to reply.  It was not wonderful through any spectacular demonstrations, though an amazing stillness fell over the groups as, with eagerness and wrapt attention, we listened to voices ancient and modern speak at morning prayers, or when raised to the heights when studying God's way with the men of old, or accepting the challenge of ‘the Priesthood'.  Yet the demonstration went on, quietly, through every phase of the curriculum, until the final covenant-making, which was the quiet seeking of God's Spirit to make His people His intimate possession.

It is true that ‘voices ancient and modern' are heard, for a span from Job to John Donne to Joan the corps cadet in a visiting brigade could scarcely be wider.

Voices of today are widely ranged, for the ‘International College for Officers' when thus re-named almost a year ago, opened its doors to any and all in whom the Army's leaders around the world have trust, through observation, that they are making a good contribution to its work and will increasingly do so.  A knowledge of the English language sufficient to make lectures and conversation in English a possibility, plus this confidence that the investment of expense and time will be sound, is now all that is required to merit a place on the ‘waiting list'.  Some arrive with a school-book knowledge plus great trepidation, spend a few days of painful concentration and then find that ‘things are coming clear'.  They leave talking in public and private a language which has bound them for ever to heart friends!  Miracles of understanding take place on many levels.  We rejoice also at the miracles of renewed physical vigour and mental alertness, indicated by the quickened step and lightning flow of repartee, in many tongues.

Space limitations demand complete surrender of long enjoyed privacy.  Cadets at the big International Training College four miles away have each their own sleeping room.  Officers of up to thirty years' service must here sleep three and four in a room, and share old type bathrooms in a house with a staircase built for crinolines and swords, but with no shower stalls.  A swoop into unfamiliar community of living which for some taxes to the utmost their courage and cheerful adaptability, is demanded.  But it gives in return such exploration of kindred personalities that almost all find the plunge into publicity a bracing and profitable experience.  By some divine compensation, the house-without-a- corner-to-get-away-by-oneself, becomes a haven so dearly beloved after but a few days that every return to it, from official excursion to the British field, or from private ‘free time' exploration, is accompanied by fervent exclamations of ‘How good to be home again!'

Twenty-five is the maximum accommodation - enough for the personal contacts which are so important.  Fifteen men and ten women, or ten men and fifteen women, can be accommodated.  Four sessions each year are the pattern.  Session planning is now almost two years' ahead.

‘In-study days' commence at 9 a.m. and end at 9.30 p.m. with ‘SAICO Vespers', by which name prayers for the families represented and for previous students at the Salvation Army International College for Officers are described.  Mornings and afternoons find the students gathered in discussion formation in the lecture room, facing the original of an Almanac coloured illustration in which Arthur Mills depicted the emergence of the nations from the gloom of war's destruction to ‘springtime in Christ'.  All that the college stands for by way of directed thinking seems to be expressed in that painting, just as the illuminated Salmon's head of Christ in the hallway states to all comers to Whom this house and its occupants belong.  Excursions start as early as 7 a.m.  There are midnight returns, as, for instance, when Soho is visited for late open-air meetings. 

Pre-college reading is now required on a modest scale within the grasp of officers crowding much into the days before departure; and when they leave they possess guidance on future reading, by co-operation with the International Education Department.

A book like no other in all the world is being written at ‘The Cedars', each chapter the personal story of a student, told in detail and with frankness, in evening sessions in the lounge.  Memories are the only printing presses. Any note-taking would, we fear, repress the freedom of expression.  So we listen as the chapters are added and marvel at the infinite variety of background, the unceasing novelty of the call, the darkness of the trials some endure and the calmness of the courage God gives to His obedient children.  We are compiling a mental memorial to brave, unselfish mothers by whose self-sacrifice children become officers.  We are finding how often the remote hamlet, the fishing village and the farm provide Army officers.  We trace ancestries back to Huguenots, Walloons, Mennonites, New World founders, social reformers and fancy we see how the life-blood of earlier protestors and pioneers is running in our current Army blood streams. 

We are learning how true it is that

We have a fellowship of hearts

To keep and cultivate.

‘I go back with the full-rounded life,' said one whose personal history was a spiritual saga.  ‘I came not wishing to come,' said another who arrived from a distant and difficult missionary field drooping with weariness and suffering heart-wounds.  ‘I go back understanding why I came, renewed and taught.'

The total expense of the International College for Officers, counting travel expenses, cost of loss of service and of the generous living as guests of International Headquarters, is very great.  It may prove to be one of the Army's most brilliant long-term investments.

(Lt. Commissioner Alfred J. Gilliard was the Principal of the ICO from 1954-1960.)