The War and After
When C.T. began his first journey to the heart of Africa, he wrote that God had told him “this trip was not merely for the southern Sudan, but for the whole unevangelized world!” We see his worldwide vision becoming a reality with the story of Fenton Hall, called to take the Gospel to the Amazon.
One night a young officer at Chatham returned to his room tired out after a hard day’s work. Throwing himself into an arm-chair, with his feet on the table, he picked up a little booklet which had been given him a few days before by a brother officer. Little did he realised that this casual action was to revolutionise his whole life, change the ambitions of a lifetime, and lead him in a few short years to a hero’s grave for Christ’s sake in one of the remotest corners of the world. It was a ten-page booklet that he read, written by C.T. Studd. The latter startled and stirred the athletic world of the last generation (by whom he was recognised as the finest all-round amateur cricketer of his day), when he gave up his cricketing career in order to go out to China as a missionary.
This booklet, “The Shame of Christ,” written as it was by one who had found in Jesus Christ the peace and joy of heart which the topmost pinnacle of fame and fortune could not give him, so gripped this officer that he read it again and again. It was inspired by a burning zeal to make every Christian realise his obligation to pass on the knowledge of his Saviour to those who do not know of Him.
For days afterwards he kept it in his pocket and re-read it until he could not get away from the fact that he had been saved to serve those who had never heard of the wonderful peace and joy of a life wholly given to God. The end of it was that he took the tremendous step of his life, and whilst on a long journey wrote to Captain Godfrey Buxton, who had given him the booklet, told him he was going to resign his commission in order to become a missionary, and asked that he might be allowed to join the Missionary Training Colony, of which Captain Buxton was the Commandant.
The young officer alluded to above was Ernest George Fenton Hall. It will not take long for any who read to see that he was altogether an exceptional man—exceptional in physique, exceptional in fineness of character, exceptional in his utmost devotion to the work to which he was called, and outstandingly exceptional in the depth of his love to his Lord.
He was born in 1898 and brought up in a rambling old country house on the wild west coast of Ireland. He was a typical Irishman in his quick sense of humour and utter fearlessness. He was named after his cousin, General Fenton Aylmer, V.C., who won the Queen’s sword for service honour at Woolwich, 1880. Fenton was a lover of nature and especially of all the sea-shore creatures, the little crawling cowries, and the baby squids, which he enjoyed poking to see them eject their black fluid at the enemy. Nobody but such a lover of nature could give the beautiful description which he gave of the wild life of the forest rivers when on his journey to the Indians.
The whole family were lovers of outdoor life: they rode, fished, swam, shot, motored, and yachted. In summer-time they spent most of their time on the wide and island-sprinkled waters of Clew Bay. His mother and he were devoted to each other, and the best of pals. His sister was his greatest friend. Like her brother, she was adored by children; they called her the “Gentle Goliath.”
During the First World War she died of spotted fever, which she probably caught from a soldier’s child; for one of the many little children who swarmed over her and would not leave her lap was thought to be a carrier of the infection. His only brother was smashed up badly in the War on the Passchendale Ridge, and has had continual suffering ever since.
After leaving his preparatory school at Bexhill-on-Sea, Fenton took a scholarship at Eastbourne College. From his childhood it had been his own and his mother’s great desire that he should enter the Navy; but war had broken out, his brother was at the Front, and his ardent spirit could wait no longer. He therefore attempted the entrance examination for Woolwich in November 1915, passed out at an exceptionally early age, and received his commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery, whilst only seventeen, in May of the following year.
Although so young, he was given command of an anti-aircraft station at the mouth of the Tees. This was no sinecure, for the Zeppelins came over continually and bombed the adjacent towns. At nineteen he was sent to the Front, where he spent three months. He was there for the great “Hindenburg push” of April 1918. One of the things that struck him most, he wrote home, was that the larks soared and sang above the thundering barrage. He could hear nothing, but saw the little creatures mounting up and up, and shaking their wings, as the larks do at home over the quiet fields in spring.
During the Retreat he was badly gassed. He and his Major were out a long way from the Battery one evening, looking for a Forward Observation Post, when heavy shelling began. They thought at first that it was only the usual “Evening Strafe,” but soon found that the shells were gas. The shelling became more intense, so the officers crouched in an abandoned trench. For over two hours they waited for a lull, so as to make a dash for home. They had put on their gas-masks, but the heavy poison, trickling like water, filled the trench, and they sat in it up to their necks. Both were very badly burned all over their bodies, and wherever a metal button or stud or wrist-watch was a great blister rose as if from a red-hot iron. Twelve hours after their return to the Battery, both became blind. Fenton was sent immediately to the Base Hospital and soon after to “Blighty,” where he gradually recovered. The War was over before he was fit enough to return.
The year after the War he was posted to Malta. A friend there invited him to go to some meetings of the Officers’ Christian Union. For some time in the secret of his heart he had had a great longing after God, and in his soul hunger he used to spend hours in prayer. He did not understand things then, but only went to please his friends. Soon, however, he discovered through one of their printed leaflets that the Union was above all one for Prayer. This had an immediate attraction for him. He felt that he enjoyed prayer so much that he might help by joining, and so he signed the form and sent it in. At Malta also he had scope to continue his nature study, and used to grope along the seashore at night to catch the spider-like star-fish which come out only after dark. Afterwards he would wander up on to the ramparts and stand for hours enjoying God’s wonderful earth and sea and sky, giving thanks for all the benefits which he was given so richly to enjoy.
Back in England in 1921, at the age of twenty-three, he was seconded to the Royal Air Force, in which he made his mark by winning the officers’ heavy-weight boxing championship. He had developed into a man of magnificent physique, standing 6 ft. 4 inches in his socks. Not only was he champion boxer but also one of the leading lawn-tennis players of the Army, a wonderful swimmer and diver, and a first-class football player; but with all this he had the great charm of absolute simplicity. He was one of God’s natural gentlemen. One of his greatest attractions was his smile; indeed, it used to be said you could not see Fenton’s eyes because they were nearly always closed by smiling!
In the midst, however, of all his increasing success the same old void remained deep down in his heart, the same secret longing for true peace, satisfaction, and the knowledge of God. Then suddenly all became changed; the light from Calvary shone into his heart and Fenton passed from death unto life. He had learnt that the Officers’ Christian Union had weekend conferences for young officers, and he decided to attend one of them. What a day that must have been to him when he heard there the Gospel story explained in just a simple way! Everlasting love dawned on his soul as he realised that God had given Jesus Christ to die for him on the Cross, and by that one act to atone for his sins; and that He had raised Him from the dead to be his everlasting Saviour and Friend. He was told that all he had to do was just to say, “Thank you,” and this he did with the deep love and gratitude of his whole nature. Gone were the empty void, the doubts, dissatisfaction, and failures; he had found Him whom he had been seeking, and was satisfied; and from that time Fenton Hall, who never did things by halves, concentrated his whole being on living absolutely and only for his Lord and Master Jesus Christ.
It was only a few months later that the incident took place with which this chapter started. He then decided to resign his commission. It was the second great crisis of his life, when the Lord called him not merely to yield his heart to Him, but to leave all and follow Him—and he obeyed. He never said much of what he had passed through at this time, of what it cost him to take such a tremendous step as to resign his commission, and still more of what it cost to stand true to his decision; but that he must have suffered we know. His Commanding Officer did his best to dissuade him, and it must have caused comment, criticism, and regret in the officers’ mess, that one who was becoming their standby in so many forms of sport was leaving all to serve God as a missionary.
—Fenton Hall: Hero & Pioneer
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 32 No 4
- Faith Illustrations–The Original Christmas
- Two Men of God
- Three Exciting New Projects
- The Holy and Hidden Mystery
- Tell it Like it Is
- Q & A
- From Who Am I?
- From The Intercession of Rees Howells
- Bible Bedrock
- A Letter from Norman
- Except by Faith
- The War and After
- The Intercessor: Behind the Scenes
- The Editor’s Note