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The Children's Crusade page 2

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Waving banners, swinging censers and singing hymns, they continued their way through open country, through towns and villages. Far from being molested by the authorities, they were given a free passage and now followed by admiring crowds. When asked where they were going they, like their German friends, cheerfully replied, "We are off to seek the Holy Cross beyond the seas."

Eventually Stephen led his incredible army of 30,000 young warriors into Marseilles. Here, said he, the Mediterranean would divide, as once the Red Sea had done, to allow them to march on dry ground right through to the Holy Land. But the sea was still lapping the coast as the credulous children arrived in the city. At first there was a sense of utter disillusionment. Then hopes rose again. Two merchantmen, named William Porcus and Hugo Ferreus, espied the dejected army and heard them singing:

"Jesus, Lord, repair our loss.

Restore to us Thy Holy Gross."

This precious pair of scoundrels professed to sympathise with the crusade. They even offered to give the young innocents the free use of their seven ships for the voyage to the Holy Land, and their triumphal return. Stephen announced that their offer was Heaven-sent, and the children gaily embarked.

The voyage was perilous and full of discomforts. The young crusaders on two of the ships were more lucky than the rest, for their vessels were wrecked in a storm off St. Pierre's Rock near Sardinia, and all aboard were drowned. For those children their sufferings were soon ended. Not so the sufferings of those on the other five ships; these children were taken not to the Holy Land, as was promised, but to Alexandria. There they were sent in droves to the dreaded slave-market and publicly sold to the Infidel. The Caliph himself purchased 400 of them. None was ever allowed to see his home again.

In time stories floated back to France which showed that the survivors of the Children's Crusade had been compelled to embrace the Moslem Faith; those stout-hearted ones who refused had died under torture. Eighteen years later definite news was forthcoming that 700 young crusaders were still living and enslaved.

Though there were more crusades after this terrible episode, none was ever organised to secure the relief of these suffering innocents from their awful captivity. Yet their betrayers, Porcus and Ferreus, came to a well-deserved end; for they were caught by the Emperor Frederick II. of Sicily and hanged for a plot they had made against his life.

This emperor, though excommunicated by the Pope, had the distinction of recovering the Holy City, but Christendom did not hold it for long. Once again it fell into the hands of the Infidel, who held it secure for another seven centuries; this despite the fact that during the Crusades probably seven million lives were lost in efforts to make it secure for Christendom.

Right down to our own time Jerusalem remained in the grip of Islam. Then, towards the close of the Great War, an English corporal, scouting outside the ancient city, rubbed his eyes as he saw the gates thrown invitingly open, and the authorities approaching him with - the keys of Jerusalem!

Word was rushed back to British Army Headquarters that the fleeing Turks had decided not to defend their city.

Dismounted, with head reverently bared, and looking more like the Pilgrim than the Conqueror, General Allenby led his victorious "Tommies" through the historic gateway into the City of David.

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