September 12, 1884 was an anxious day for all involved in the difficulties in Hamilton’s Salvation Army corps. As the leader of the Salvation Army in Canada had been summoned to try to smooth over the difficulties and reunite the local corps:
“Expectation and excitement reigned amongst Captain Hallelujah Bertha’s supporters all day yesterday. There was anxious doubt among them as to whether at the last moment the major would be induced to accede to the wishes of the malcontents and remove the captain.
It was known that an envoy of the staff had been in the city for the past few days quietly investigating the trouble, but this officer would give no opinion as to the final result.”1
1 “The Salvationist Embroglio : Rousing Meeting at the Barracks Last night.”
Hamilton Times. September 9, 1884.
Hamilton Captain Bertha Smith who was at the center of the controversy may have been very nervous about what would happen when Major Coombs rendered his decision, but she did not show it:
“The captain herself professed to be in ignorance as to the course the major would take, but throughout the whole of the day, she continuously received the encouragements and sympathy of her soldiers. Many of the large number of people who are in the habit of regularly attending the Army services, also expressed their sympathy with her.”1
When the scheduled time arrived for the start of the evening meeting, the air of anticipation was palpable amongst all present:
“Long before the usual time of meeting, eighty of the supporters of Captain Miss Smith assembled in the barracks. They were anxiously awaiting the coming of Major Coombs, who was known to have arrived in the city.
“It appears that the major has had the trouble thoroughly investigated by members of his staff during the past few days, and upon his arrival yesterday he thoroughly enquired into the details of the case. In the evening he heard the complaints from the discontents themselves.
“About 9 o’clock he arrived at the barracks, where he was very anxiously awaited by Captain Bertha and her followers. He was enthusiastically received by the faithful ones.” 2
2“The Salvationist Split”
Hamilton Spectator. September 13, 1884.
The evening meeting had begun with Major Combs in attendance:
“At last, Major Coombs arrived, and he came not one moment too soon. Having received the reports, he proceeded to personally investigate the complaints of the seceders. So much time did he devote to them that he did not arrive at the barracks till about 9 o’clock in the evening.
Here Hallelujah Bertha, her two officers and eighty-one soldiers were awaiting him. He was received with the enthusiastic singing of “There’s a Welcome Home.” Combs had just left the other party, and appeared very sad.”1
Both reporters with the Times and the Spectator appeared to have shorthand skills as their recounting of Major Combs’ address was exactly the same:
“ With great slowness and emphasis, he said : ‘Dear Comrades, I am sorry that anything so serious as this trouble has occurred. No doubt many things have been said which we must all regret, and which causes pain in our hearts. Difficulties have occurred which perhaps can never be got over.
“ ‘I have tried to bring all the soldiers together tonight, but failed. They think that your captain is altogether wrong, and they want her to say farewell to this station. I wish to say that neither you nor they will ever decide what officers you are to have in the Salvation Army. If we are to be an army, we must be obedient. When the proper time arrives, I will remove the captain, but not before that time. (Cheers.) I may be trusted so far.
“ ‘I left our friends tonight feeling very, very sad that they are not with us now, and I know that some of them are sad too. I beg of you not to show any ill or evil spirit towards them; threat them with the utmost kindness, and I feel confident that many will return. My plan was that they should all return as soldiers, but not as sergeants. I will appoint the sergeants in this case.
“ ‘What they say is that the captain is altogether wrong – that they are still the Third Canadian Corps; but what I have to tell you is that this meeting here is part of the Salvation Army, and that you are the Third Canadian Corps, and you only. (Loud cheers.)
“ ‘Again, I implore you never to allow any disparaging word toward them to escape from you, for the sake of Jesus Christ and them. If anyone speaks so of them, he may cease to reckon himself a Salvation Army soldier. Our religion, recollect, is love, and love only. Never refer to the matter.
“ ‘I charge your captain now to sing down any person who alludes to it. Think of God and God only.
“ ‘The Salvation Army is at Waterdown and will built it. Captain Hardy and a cadet are there; and if you want any help at any time, and I can give it, let me know and you shall have it.
“ ‘I am very sorry that I cannot remain longer with you tonight, as Mrs. Coombs is very ill, and I must immediately return to Toronto. Let us pray.”
“Prayer was then led by the major, and upon its termination, he left the room during the singing of ‘We Shall Conquer All.’ ”1
After the major had left the barracks, a regular holiness prayer meeting was held. During many of the prayer, thanksgiving and support for Captain Bertha Smith’s continued service as leader of the Third Canadian Corps in Hamilton were expressed.:
“She spoke in a calm, easy manner, thanking the soldiers for their strong support during the late trying times, and entreated them to regard their “absent friends” with love and kindness.” 1
While Major Coombs had tried his best to reconcile all parties to the split in the ranks of the Hamilton corps, he was not successful, although he did his best. He did decide to endorse Captain Smith’s continued placement as captain of the corps in no uncertain terms, a ruling that found favor with everyone, excepting the small number of dissidents who continued to disdain any reconciliation.