I’ve spent the last year writing a book that features Oswald Chambers. Last week I wrote about his death.
Those of you who have spent time in challenging environments, will understand that it might have been a “Cairo crud,” or other stomach ailment that Chambers didn’t think required a doctor visit. He’d been working hard and was preparing for more hardship with the troops. He’d already begun putting together his “kit.” With a seeming stomach ailment and feeling very tired, he uncharacteristically spent a day in bed.
And then another day.
Many people urged him to go to the hospital, but he knew the big battle was coming and didn’t want to take a bed from a wounded soldier. Perhaps he thought this would be good practice for his companions, to substitute for him in the lectures and services–once he left with the troops, they’d be taking over all his responsibilities.
Even his diary for those days didn’t mention sickness. Knowing the ending was coming, I read through them last week, reflecting and trying to flesh out my story. This is from Chambers’ final entry on October 28:
In the early morning the passing of an Eastern night before the dawn brought out all its characteristics, limitless silver, grey-black shadows, dim white walls, violet blue skies. There is no idea of distance, and it is a thing to be witnessed. Biddy took the morning service in the Devotional hut, she has what we in Scotland mean when we speak of a “lift,” or an inspiration, her subject was Romans xii.1. We had many people to dinner, Woodbine among them. Cross of the Remounts turned up, thus we are kept always in touch with many men.
The next day, in unbearable pain, he consented to be taken to the Red Cross Hospital not far from the pyramids at Giza. A surgeon performed an immediate appendectomy.
He rallied, failed, rallied, failed, saw his four year-old daughter one last time and finally hemorrhaged in his lungs. He died on November 17, 1917. Oswald Chambers was 43 years old.
In that part of the world, burial usually takes place the same day, but in Chambers’ case, officials elected to wait another day. They wanted to provide him with a military funeral.
David McCasland’s Abandoned to God provided me with information: 100 soldiers accompanied the casket on a gun carriage from the hospital on the west side of the Nile, to the cemetery in Old Cairo. They carried their rifles pointing down.
People from all walks of life attended the graveside service, including Europeans, soldiers from several nations, YMCA secretaries, even the native worker from Chambers’ own camp.
I had two grainy photos from that service and I examined them closely last week, trying to gain insight into what the day was like and who attended. I wasn’t even certain the flag covering the casket was a Union Jack, though that made perfect sense (unless it was a Scottish flag since Chambers was Scottish, but it didn’t look like it to me).
Following the service, Biddy, daughter Kathleen and a friend left to spend two weeks in Luxor–to mourn.
The next day, a service was held at Zeitoun where Chambers worked. A thousand people crammed into the reed YMCA hut to remember Oswald Chambers. George Swan, neighbor and a member of the Egypt General Mission, talked about Oswald Chambers’ ministry and his family life. YMCA worker Gladys Ingram sang “Jesus Triumphant.”
“S.B” described the service on November 18 as follows:
“The service all through was one of glad triumph and thanksgiving for the life that had been taken, and–in memory of him–we re-consecrated our lives to the Master he loved above everything else and obeyed without question. Through the singing of the hymn “God is our refuge and our strength,” the realization came afresh with overpowering knowledge and conviction, even with our loss, that God was with us yet.
Words of real testimony were given by different ones how, when groping in the dark, Mr. Chambers had guided them to Jesus Christ. Their testimonies were only a sample of what might be given by thousands of our fighting men. Sidrak Eff, the native carpenter, spoke in a most touching and affectionate way of Mr. Chambers and his good teaching, and how gentle he had been with him and with all the Egyptian servants.”
I finished writing about Oswald Chambers’ death and burial on a Tuesday night. The next evening, I received an email from an Australian man seeking information about Oswald Chambers. His grandfather had been a YMCA chaplain in Egypt during WWI. He had attended Oswald Chambers’ burial. My correspondent had a photo.
I call that research serendipity.
He also had links to other photos and those are what appear in this blog post.
Thank you Peter Wenham. Thank you Cadbury Research Library Special Collections at Birmingham University in the United Kingdom. We’d never seen these photos before.
The death of a great man: Oswald Chambers Click to Tweet
Buried with military honors: Oswald Chambers Click to Tweet
More research serendipity: Oswald Chambers Click to Tweet