The Gospel Target

Peter Millward

Caucaia, Brazil

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The Gospel Target for Soldiers and Volunteers. circa 1878 – 1885.

The poster went into battle in the knapsacks of British soldiers 134 years ago, but is still as relevant today as ever. Below is a news article which features the remarkable work the Thames Church Mission were doing during those days – visiting the many ships, barges and boats……Distributing New Testaments and Gospel Target posters.

Republished and Digital restoration © Peter N Millward

  • ‘By kind permission of the Trustees of the Museum of Army Chaplaincy’ The Trustee of the owners / guardians of the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department Museum Collection.



The morning was both cold and raw, but work was to be done, and little time was wasted over the matutinal coffee. We were betimes at London Bridge, and an hour later reached Gravesend, finding the town all bustle and stir, for were not the Grenadier Guards expected from Windsor to embark on board the SS “ Australia " for the Soudan?

Our concern with the embarkation was evangelistic, not military. The Thames Church Mission have Government authority to board all transports and work amongst the soldiers ; this permission is thoroughly taken advantage of, and not least during the stirring scenes of the past week, when the three battalions of the Guards have sailed from the Thames for the Soudan. Amongst these troops alone, Coldstream, Grenadiers, and Scots Guards, 2,500 New Testaments, a similar number of Gospel Targets, and a large quantity of other literature, have been distributed, while every man heard the Word of God spoken clearly in simple language.

On our arrival at the pier we found the mission launch with steam up, and soon with boxes and books we were alongside the transport. While the Grenadiers were marching through the town, and thronging into the river steamer for conveyance to the large vessel, we were at work between decks laying on every mess table copies of the Leisure Hour and other interesting periodicals, as well as a supply of tracts ; besides popping into each tin mug one of Mrs. Grimke’s text cards. Soon the tramp of many feet told that the Guards were on board; the roll was called, not a man was absent. They were told off into companies and marched below, where the messes were formed.

For a few minutes the soldiers sat round their respective tables, in groups of fourteen, doffing their helmets, bells, knapsacks, and other accoutrements ; taking stock of their new surroundings, and examining the books and papers provided for their use.

Now was our time, and it was promptly taken hold of, for every moment was precious. “Wouldn’t you like to have a copy of the Word of God to carry with you, to read on the voyage, and by the campfire in the desert?" “We would,” was the unanimous response, and every hand was extended to receive a copy of the New Testament. Then each man received a Gospel Target, which awakened intense interest, and called forth expressions of delight. Then the missionary spoke to the men at the table, very briefly – for there were 830 to speak to—but seeking that each man should hear some word to himself.

A corporal at the second table greatly helped our work, and secured the interest of the men by a few straightforward words of testimony. "You gave me a little Testament when I was sailing two years ago. I took it with me to Egypt; I read it; it was in my pocket when we charged at Tel-el-Kebir. God made it a blessing to my soul. I thank God for that Testament. And what’s more, I’m sure the Testaments were a great help to many of our fellows.’’ Such words as these coming from one of themselves, made the men most willing, and even anxious to receive the books presented.

A few tables further on a young soldier grasped our hand, and said, “I’m a Christian, though I’ve been a cowardly one; God help me to show my colours.” After a few words to the soldier, the missionary said to his comrades,“One of you is a Christian, won’t you join him in serving the same God, and following the same King?” Several said they would like to; one said in a low but firm voice, " I have been wanting to, pray for me." A little prayer union was arranged at this table before we quitted it. One young officer, lieutenant, cheered our hearts very much by coming forward and confessing himself a Christian, and expressing deep concern in the welfare of the men, and in the work of the Thames Church Mission. and obtained a few spare copies of the New Testament and the Gospel Target, “Lest any should lose their copies.” Said he, “May heaven’s smile rest upon your Mission, and every missionary connected with it, and every one who helps such a good work." So from table to table, amid all the bustle of arrangement settling down, we passed on, meeting with no refusals, but with considerable number of professed enquirers. Sons of Christian mothers were there, many of them ready to recall mother’s loving words, and solemnised by such memories, were led to listen attentively and well. We managed to reach every man on board, so far we could ascertain, and that just in time to clear away before
the last bell sounded, and the transport began to go slowly ahead, en route, with her precious cargo of souls, for the seat of war. We had been on board a little over three-and-a-half hours, and a busy and interesting time it had proved. Such was a morning’s work among the Grenadiers.

Similar work was done on Thursday amongst the Coldstreams on board the SS “ Manora;” and on Saturday, on board the Pembroke Castle, amongst the Scots Guards, as well as on board the various other transports leaving the river. Then at Portsmouth, Southampton, and Portland, the chaplain of the mission, with a few helpers, has boarded every transport and distributed 2,500 Testaments, an equal number of Targets, and a large number of text cards, tracts, and other literature.

From the offices of the Thames Church Mission, 31, New Bridge-street, E.C., may be had every information as to their particular work, as well as the general operations the society.

May I urge the claims of such work upon the sympathy, prayers, and liberal support of the

Lord’s people.

A Helper on Board.

The Gospel Target is extremely well designed and conceived. Full of Bible verses and scenes that illustrate various themes in the Bible which apply to all not only soldiers…

It is some 134 years ago The Gospel Target for Soldiers and Volunteers was being distributed in the thousands alongside New Testaments to British troops bound for action in military expeditions at the time.

Reading the history of the many harrowing battles being fought during those times we can appreciate how important the New testaments and the posters must have been for the soldiers on the front line.

The poster itself presents verses from the Bible in the language soldiers can easily identify with and understand, a visual aid to understand the scriptures…. Distributed by the Thames Church Mission – The mission had Government authority to board all transports and to work amongst the soldiers. The poster which went into battle in knapsacks of British soldiers still has a lot to offer even today and many even today would be grateful for the opportunity to have such poster.

It was designed by WCM – William Charles Miles. For further information please see also the Gospel Compass and The Bible Wheel.

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