LEST WE FORGET
'Remember His marvellous works that He hath done' - (Psalm 105:5)
Far-called, our navies melt away,
On dune and headland sinks the fire,
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!
THIS year of Our Lord 2000 is a significant year in so many ways, being the start of a new millennium as well as the beginning of a new century. It is even more significant for us, the British people, in that it is the sixtieth anniversary of some very important events in our history. There are many people around nowadays who were born well after these events occurred, and to whom they may not seem so special as they are to those of us who lived through them. 'New Labour' and its proponents do not consider history to be of great importance, and only wish to look forward to the future, but even such a cursory look back through our past as a short article like this can cover, should serve to alert us to the fact that Divine intervention has played a large role in former events, especially in times of national danger.
I am aware that this theme has been covered many times before, and much more fully than I can deal with in a short space, but I have had a request to write an article about the miracles which we have experienced as a people, and despite an initial reluctance to tackle a subject so well documented by others, the more I thought about it, the more I felt drawn to remember these events for myself, and refresh my memory.
Since I was a child nearly sixty years ago, at the time the true significance of these momentous happenings was lost on me, but I can well remember the tension of the adults around me at that time, and the profound sense of relief and thankfulness, together with amazement, which filled everyone after Dunkirk's miracle, and the Battle of Britain. I can remember seeing aircraft wheeling and screaming in the skies above us, and knowing that a tremendous battle was being fought, on which our survival depended. I was also old enough to know that my parents were worried, although, in retrospect, I now greatly admire them for not showing the face of fear to their children, and for playing games with us in the Morrison shelter, while bombs were dropping around us, and the guns in the nearby park thundering away at the enemy raiders. I also know, and knew then, that they feared invasion,
for my father made plans to move my mother, my sister and me to friends away from the coast, whilst he would have remained to fight an invasion with whatever poor weapons could be found at the time. Add to this the scrimping and saving and the difficulty of making meagre food rations go round, it is a wonder that our parents survived those days without counselling, - but such things were not thought of in those days! I wonder if a modern generation could face up to these difficulties with the cheerfulness and courage with which that former generation, many now gone from us, faced their time of great trial.
For it was a time of great trial and danger. As always in our history, we were thoroughly unprepared for a war, and Hitler and his generals knew this, and exploited their advantage. Although it was only twenty years since a previous horrible war, people had grown soft and apathetic, as we are nowadays, thinking only of their own comfort and desires. A debate in the Oxford Union only a short while previously, had come to the conclusion that, in the event of another war, the younger generation would be unwilling to fight. However, as always, when our backs are to the wall, we realised the need to fight and strained every resource against the attackers. We may have seemed to be alone, but we were not, for the Lord fought for us. We had forgotten Him and His Laws, we were determined to go our own ways, but still He remembered His Covenant in spite of the fact that we had forgotten our side of the bargain.
In 1943 Archbishop Temple made these telling remarks, which should be burned into our consciousness, and taught to schoolchildren with their history lessons, so that they may know them by heart, and think on their significance when they are older, and more experienced.
'Why has God preserved us? We may, and we must, believe that He who has preserved our land in a manner so marvellous, has a purpose for us to serve in the preparation for His perfect Kingdom.'
Yes, why? Why the miracle of Dunkirk, why the preservation during the Battle of Britain, with so few aircraft and such young pilots, against overwhelming odds?
I have heard the withdrawal from Dunkirk described recently as a miracle, by a presenter on television, and such people are notorious for their scepticism about a God or miracles, or patriotism. None of these things are fashionable nowadays, but still, many secularly minded people agree that this was a miracle.
In May, 1940, the Germans launched their attack against Holland and Belgium, and the small British Expeditionary Force was trapped in France, as the French forces had been defeated, and the Germans advanced rapidly in a pincer movement towards the British, who were pushed towards Dunkirk, the only port which was then left to them for evacuation. This was a dreadful defeat, and could have annihilated a great part of our men, but our defeat was turned into a miracle by the Lord. The position was extremely serious, and Mr. Churchill made a speech in the House of Commons in which he stressed the gravity of the situation. However, in those days we had a God-fearing King, and many Christian commanders of our forces, as well as godly religious leaders and politicians. The King called for a national day of prayer, such as those which had turned the tide of war in World War One. This took place on May 26th, the King having broadcast to the people to call them to prayer. Shortly afterwards 335,000 men were evacuated from Dunkirk, in spite of encirclement and aerial bombardment by the enemy. This event was miraculous in that the weather was exactly suited to the withdrawal as there were first storms, and then a flat calm in the Channel. These conditions did not favour the Germans. They were unable to bomb the troops who were making their way to the beaches of Dunkirk because of the dreadful weather conditions, which put a stop to flying activities, whilst the British soldiers were able to make their way by road. It has often been wondered why the Germans did not pursue the British to the coast, but Hitler overruled the wishes of his Generals, and would not proceed until infantry reinforcements had been brought up to the Dunkirk area, and he believed in his air superiority. It is known that Hitler relied heavily upon horoscopes and spiritism, but his prognosticators let him down in this instance, for they did not foresee that the weather conditions would ground the Luftwaffe. Once the British were in Dunkirk, a massive operation to take thern from the beaches was mounted; small boats and other craft, which would normally be quite unsuitable for a Channel crossing, were pressed into service to retrieve the men and ferry them back to the South Coast of England. In this they were aided by a calm and a fog which obscured them from the air attacks. Many are the individual miracles recounted of this time, and although many suffered and died, the majority were safely taken home to fight another day. One chaplain told that he had been lying in the sand dunes with 400 men, whilst they were machine gunned, and after the attack they found that there were no casualties. Another chaplain lay on the beach during the machine gun attack, and when it was over and he stood up, he realised that his body shape was outlined in the sand by bullets, whilst he himself was quite unharmed. The nation was not forgetful of its God after this, for there were services of thanksgiving throughout the country. The invasion planned by Hitler was postponed indefinitely. Instead, Hitler turned to the Luftwaffe again, ordering bombing raids on the big cities of Britain, and on London in particular.
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
Winston Churchill summed this up with his immortal words: "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few". (20th August 1940). Our air defences were pitiful when compared with the might of the Luftwaffe. During the years of peace, as always through our history, our forces and their equipment had been run down and design had stagnated, but for a few enterprising men who could foresee the trend of the German regime. The Spitfire was largely developed with private money, and the specifications for new designs of aircraft required by the Air Ministry were way behind those of the current developments. In the provision of God, men like Sydney Camm, who designed the Hurricane fighter, and Reginald J. Mitchell of Spitfire fame, carried on with their revolutionary designs in spite of opposition and discouragement, and these two aircraft were our main protection against the might of the Luftwaffe. At the same time, the early developments in radar were taking place. Needless to say, when the attack came, we had too few aircraft and crews, and the gallant young airrnen flew round the clock, to the point of exhaustion. I well remember the dog-fights and the contrails overhead during those days, for the skies were clear, as it was a glorious summer. My husband also remembers seeing dog fights, and also seeing one of our own aircraft crash in Hove. (He has taken part in an archaelogical dig to retrieve this aircraft, and there is a video available of this occasion). God raised up the right men at the right time, and aircraft production was stepped up rapidly, while air crews were quickly trained. Thanks to the Lord's oversight, the Luftwaffe eventually ceased their relentless attacks, though raids still occurred. However, by this time, thanks to the Lord's intervention, Hitler's attention was diverted to attacking Russia, and we received a much needed breathing space. Military commanders and commentators are at a loss to account for Hitler's change of direction when he nearly had us on our knees, but we believers know why. God had influenced his thinking. The crux of the Battle of Britain took place once again after a national day of prayer called by the King. On the night of September 15th, besides a decisive air battle, our bombers attacked the assembled invasion fleet from Antwerp to Boulogne, and it was after this that Hitler decided to call off the invasion and turned his attention to Russia.
So many of our military commanders were Christians, and not afraid to state publicly that they believed that God had intervened. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding (now fashionably maligned for his decision to bomb German cities) stated: 'I say with absolute conviction that I can trace the intervention of God, not only in the battle itself, but in the events which led up to it.' He also said: '... It was all part of the mighty plan. It was the part that our dear country is to take in the regeneration of the world'.
God also saw to it that we had sufficient (though not ample) food, in spite of the peril to our convoys from the lurking U-Boats. It is also remarkable that there was an amazingly abundant harvest in 1942, when our sea borne supplies were under most attack. The Minister of Agriculture believed that the harvest had been the greatest of all time, and this was without the aid of chemical fertilisers, upon which we are so dependent nowadays. Our prayer, taught us by the Lord Jesus himself, had given us our daily bread.
The Lord preserved Malta, a crucial base for our sea and air forces, under the most grievous attack, which enabled us to keep up our supplies for our forces in North Africa, and pave the way for the invasion of Sicily in 1943. Once again, the Lord overruled the weather, and the landings were successful.
Eventually, the Allies, now joined by the United States of America, after the attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese, felt themselves ready to launch their own offensive in France, and plans were made for the invasion. General Eisenhower was a Christian man, and not afraid to own this fact in public. He prayed before attacks, and undoubtedly asked the Lord for guidance over the invasion plans. This was a massive operation to plan and execute, but the commanders put their faith in the Lord. General Montgomery said: 'Only from an inspired nation can go forth, under these conditions, an inspired army ... The special glory of the whole endeavour must be a surge of the whole peoples' finest qualities worthy to be the prayer: Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered.' Before the invasion the massed armies were present at services throughout the south of England. We have seen places in the New Forest where the men were gathered for worship and addressed by their commanders on the eve of D-Day. This was in accordance with God's Word, for we read in Deuteronomy 20:1-4:
'When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, And shall say unto them, Hear, 0 Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.'
As with knights of old, the nation kept a vigil on the eve of battle, one such service being in Portsdown Parish Church in Hampshire, overlooking the road to the harbour at Portsmouth from which so many men would embark. I remember those days in 1944, although I was only aged eleven, for the tanks were parked in Hove Park, and all along Goldstone Crescent, under the trees. We children used to talk to the soldiers, who were mostly Canadian, and they used to give us cigarette cards to collect, and chewing gum. They even let us clarnber on their tanks, and I never heard of a child being molested or endangered. It is remarkable that the Gerrnans did not seem to be aware of these massive movements of troops and equipment in the southern counties, for although we experienced a few raids by rnachine-gunning aircraft, there were not the heavy bombing attacks which could have been expected. The Lord overruled again!
I remember also D-Day itself. We heard a buzz go round the school, and a herd of us made for the History Room on the first floor of the school. From there we had a wonderful view of an armada of ships protected by barrage balloons, heading off for the coast of France. 'The invasion has begun!' we cried, and we were jubilant, even though we did not fully understand what was happening. Much suffering and death were to ensue before the ultimate vanquishment of the Nazi evil, but our armies were going out to be God's battleaxe, as God had said to Israel in Jeremiah 51:20:
'Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war:. for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms; '
Once again, the Lord of the elements saw to it that conditions were right for His Purpose. The commanders had spent anxious days studying weather forecasts, for the weather was unusually bad for June. However, this proved to be in our favour, for the German High command decided that there was absolutely no possibility of our attempting an invasion during such conditions. There was just a brief break in these prevailing conditions, and the invasion was launched in this period, on June 6th. The Germans were lulled into a feeling of false security, and our Intelligence had been at pains to make them believe that the attack would be anywhere but in Normandy. The invasion was postponed for twenty four hours, but when the 'window' in the weather occurred, it was the only possible time to go, for the next chance would not have been until June 18th. At dawn on June 6th. we are told that a great rainbow appeared in the sky, which was a sign from the God of Israel that His mighty hand was upon the troops. We are reminded of the Lord's promise to Noah:
'I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth..... And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.' (Genesis 9: 13 and 17)
This symbol has become a special sign to Israel.
Many more instances, going back through history, could be quoted of God's special care for His people. There is not space in this article to describe them all, but I will refer briefly to the outstanding ones. In the first World War there were miraculous signs to the armies, such as The Angel of Mons and the White Cavalry, and going back to Elizabethan times, the rout of the Spanish Armada, aided by the Lord who 'Blew with His winds, and they were scattered', as Queen Elizabeth I had written upon the medal struck to commemorate the event. At that time, England had turned to Protestantism, and was under attack from Philip of Spain's Armada, which intended to restore Roman Catholicisrn to the nation. Whenever we have tried to turn back to Our Lord, He has blessed and preserved us, for He has said:
'Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them;' (Ezekiel 36:37)
The Lord wants His People to acknowledge His care of them, and be asked for His help in times of trouble. Many are the instances in the Old Testament of His Provision for His People. He is not doing it for the sake of our righteousness, for we have none in our own strength, but to carry out His Plan for the human race, for which he is using Israel as an instrument, even though we do not realise it. He has said:
'Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent?who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the Lord's servant?' (Isaiah 42: 1 9)
Many people teach that this refers to the Lord Jesus, but He was not blind! It can only refer to Israel, the instrument of His purposes.
Today, we are terribly blind, and we have fallen away from those days of peril, when we willingly turned to the Lord. Nearly sixty years of relative peace in our land have lulled us into a state of apathy and apostasy. Two generations have now arisen which have not been taught the Word of God in their schools, and the churches have failed us. We no longer have religious leaders of the calibre of Archbishop Temple, who knew his scriptures, and saw clearly that the Lord has led His people, and our political leaders are selling us into another form of slavery. We have escaped from a great peril to fall into another, less obvious, insidious, and we desperately need leaders of the kind which we had in the dark days of the second World War. We are looking for Utopia in politics, - and how the politicians are failing us! Look around you, and see our economic plight, the collapse of our health services, the corruption, greed and hooliganism of our people, and weep, 0 Israel! Let us realise that the Lord has told us the way to prosperity and peace:
'But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.' (Matthew 6:33)
'And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' (Matthew 3:2)
The Lord has promised that he will come to save us from our unrighteousness.
'He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.' (Revelation 22:20)
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