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Oswald Chambers’ Death and Burial

Oswald Chambers death

Cadbury Research Library Special Collections photo.

I’ve spent the last year writing a book that features Oswald Chambers. Last week I wrote about his death.

Controversy rages about whether he died foolishly or within God‘s timing. I made my case here.

The facts are straight forward. Living in a YMCA camp in Egypt and preparing to join the British troops as a YMCA chaplain on their march to Jerusalem, Chambers became ill.

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.  With a seeming stomach ailment and feeling very tired, he uncharacteristically spent a day in bed.

And then another day.

And another.

Death

Death English: Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)

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.

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.”

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 immediately performed an 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.

The Burial Honors

Oswald Chambers

Riflemen, officers all. Cadbury Research Library photo

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, 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 Memorial Service at Zeitoun

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.”

My Serendipity

oswald Chambers

Burial site. Biddy is dressed in black beside Lord Radstock, the tall man with white hair on the left. Cadbury Research Library photo.

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.

(It’s happened to me before.)

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.

Oswald Chambers death

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Interested in Oswald and Biddy Chambers? I’ll be telling stories about the amazing ways God led me through

the writing of two books about them, starting in my January newsletter–one story a month for 2017, free.

If you’d like to follow the serial–the same chronological way it unfolded for me–sign up for my newsletter here.

Leave a comment

10 Comments

  1. I don’t think Chambers was foolish at all, not to go into hospital.

    We tend to look at things through 21st century eyes, but at the time hospitals were truly ghastly places; reinfection was rampant, and the treatments available were still very, very primitive. There were, of course, no antibiotics, and the bacteriastatics in use were marginally effective.

    The way he was sent off shows the tremendous regard in which he was held, and the world was lucky to have him for those 43 years.

    Thank you, Michelle, for sharing his story here.

    Reply
    • Michelle Ule

       /  March 12, 2014

      Good point about hospitals, Andrew. Of course, once we went, his appendix needed to come out. As I wrote in my blog post “Why did God allow Oswald Chambers to die?” without his death the world would not have My Utmost for His Highest and the thirty other books his wife constructed from his teaching. It’s not pleasant, but it’s true God can use even a death for his glory.

      Reply
  2. JaniceG

     /  March 12, 2014

    Fascinating what in depth research can reveal.

    Reply
    • Michelle Ule

       /  March 12, 2014

      Research serendipity–Mr. Wenham found me and gave me (and the other researchers) a fabulous gift!

      Reply
  3. Dudely

     /  October 24, 2016

    Oswald Chambers was not a great man. Why didn’t he take out a life insurance policy to provide for Biddy and Kathleen? He was a lot older than Biddy and knew it was likely that she would outlive him. Then he got sick and nobly refused a bed that could be used for a wounded soldier, oh how ridiculous. If he had been operated on when he got sick, it’s likely he would have survived. Biddy and Kathleen lived in poverty for years because of him.

    Reply
    • Michelle Ule

       /  October 24, 2016

      Thanks for writing, Dudely. You raise a valid point which I addressed it in my blog post “Why did God Allow Oswald Chambers to Die so Young?”, here: http://www.michelleule.com/2013/07/30/why-did-god-let-oswald-chambers-die-so-young/
      His friends reached a similar conclusion, that had he lived, the books–in particular My Utmost for His Highest–would never have been written.

      Biddy herself never complained, believing God knew what He was doing. She certainly grieved, but her thoughts on the subject can best be seen in the November 15 and 16 readings found in My Utmost for His Highest.

      Reply
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