URC military chaplains honour D-Day heroes

Film still from the D Day landings showing commandos aboard a landing craft on their approach to Sword Beach 6 June 1944. BU1181 credit wikimediaThis year marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a pivotal moment in World War Two when Britain and its Allies began to invade Nazi-occupied western Europe.

On 6 June 1944, around 160,000 troops took part in the largest seaborne invasion in history when they crossed the English Channel to Normandy.

The United Reformed Church (URC)’s Revd Michael Meachin, Chaplain to the Royal Navy’s HMS Collingwood, offers a reflection on the anniversary, and the Revd (Squadron Leader) David C Haslam, Station Chaplain at Royal Air Force (RAF) Boulmer, dedicates a prayer for those who gave their lives in the pursuit of freedom.

‘The Unexpected’ by the Revd Michael Meachin

Our remembrance is a memorial to the courage, honour and self-sacrifice of those that took part in that daring mission.

D day Normandy Nara 26 G 2343 credit US Coast Guard wikimediaMuch was expected of those young men, and many unexpected deeds came from them. That same courage remains in the armed forces and their families today, to stand between two clashing ideologies, to keep the sea lanes open, clear mines, to stand in harm’s way on behalf of others, to miss yet another significant family event by carrying out their duties.

What we need to remember is not just the horror of war but the glimpses of the unexpected, of the kingdom of God and the struggle to bring it about.

We remember those people who took the risk for that belief, those who left these shores on 6 June 1944 with a belief in peace, in justice and in freedom for all not just for one side, not just for the winners but for all. In the end, thousands paid for that belief with their lives.

On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we turn towards Isaiah 11 which points to the New Kingdom for whom people died; a kingdom symbolised by the weak not being prey to the strong. A kingdom where peace is the norm through choice not imposition, and what a great vision that is.

The passage also reminds us that peace is not easily come by, but it is hard won, costly and requires sacrifice. It is that cost we remember today.

And as we remember what they did for us, so let us be challenged to be prepared to do the same so that one day the unexpected the surprising, the extraordinary will become for all people the norm.

Mike encourages the reading of a reflection by the Revd Mike Crooks, an actual D-Day chaplain who served with the Royal Navy. His account of D-Day can be found on Memories of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy 1944.

A Prayer for D-Day Landings by the Revd (Sqn Ldr) David C Haslam

D day British Forces during the Invasion of Normandy 6 June 1944 B5246 credit IWM wikimediaWe can perhaps give a little time to pause and remember,
and in our thinking, our praying, remember those who gave so much.
So much of themselves;
their loves, hopes and dreams.
their communities, homes and friendships.
their life's work, ambition, skills and talents.
their families; parents, brother, sister, uncle, auntie, children and babes.
A life time to be lived that may well never be.

The elements; the weatherman's chart;
wind, rain and cloud - unseen pressure from high to low,  
wave and salty churning, cold sea, 
sand and barbed wire, towering cliffs. 

Sea, land and air.
Sailor, soldier and airman. 
A swathe of navy blue, khaki green or sky blue.
Each of their own service; prepared (ready or not) to give their all.
All out..., all in..., all fore..., all for one and one for all.    
Gathered as one; huddled, cattled, herded together.... in common cause.
Nervous, anxious, afraid; of life, afraid of death afraid of failure.
Bravery, dedication, duty calls all to face this hour;
a most doom-full hour...as of yet, unwritten human history.

D day British Forces during the Invasion of Normandy 6 June 1944 B5114 credit IWM wikimediaHistory in the making, only time will tell;
but first comes;
Viciousness of conflict.
Blood, guts, gore; shredded ripped, broken flesh and bones.
The smell of the sea with cordite, engine fumes, burning and death
- this is not how the sea side is meant to be.    
Breath for some has given-out, like a candle flame - extinguished.

No more to laugh or cry, to tell a joke or hold a lover sweetly.
Gone, gone, gone as like the wind - past and by many soon forgotten.
But not by all.
Somewhere: in some country, some land, someone's home, of friend or foe alike 
will soon ring out the mournful cry of grieving.
A loved one gone - forever.  Life for those left behind will never be the same again.

Meanwhile back on the beaches are the mounting numbers of the maimed, the haunting screams of the injured,
the dying, the dead.
and possibly, maybe, just maybe - victory.

Through conflict, brutality, through murder, death and violence,
through human strength and will to carry on,
through ingenious inventions of engineering mankind's killing machines carry on and on until at last
a foothold, a beach head is established.
This battle is won. Perhaps, for now its actors can see that victory in this war has a chance.
But this we now know; so much had been given by so many, prepared to give of themselves for a chance that victory of war might come to be.

O God, you who are best known as the great 'I am', You who are the very ground of our being, help save us from ourselves;

from our wanted destruction of that that you have blessed us with. 

If we are made in your image, help us to live together that we no longer need to destroy, you, that is within us.  Deliver us from prejudices; which only serves to divide and justify, in our own eyes, our violence toward each other. 
Deliver us, individuals, countries and nations; from selfish interests which in turn exploit the poor and powerless across our world. 

Help open our eyes to the rampant greed that grips the world’s economic, political, social and institutional systems and then give us awareness and strength how to challenge and change what is wrong.

Jesus, you were so full and free, you lived in abundance with so little, you challenged social norms, customs, institutions, the proud the religious and mighty of your day with a message of what the kingdom of God was truly about. 

You were so full and free, living so abundantly that you chose to give your life away on the cross. 

You gave so much of yourself.

Help us to honour those who gave of themselves during the D-Day landings.  All those caught up in these events who dared hope for a better, more just, yet unknown future, and were prepared to act in giving of themselves to bring about this change.

Amen.

Picture 1: Film still from the D-Day landings showing commandos aboard a landing craft on their approach to Sword Beach along the Normandy coast on 6 June 1944. No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Wilkes (Sgt) / Imperial War Museum / Wikimedia Commons
Picture 2: U.S. Army troops wade ashore Omaha Beach along the Normandy coast during the D-Day landings. Chief Photographer's Mate (CPHOM) Robert F. Sargent, U.S. Coast Guard / Wikimedia Commons 
Picture 3: British Forces during the invasion of Normandy. No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Midgley (Sgt) / Imperial War Museum / Wikimedia Commons
Picture 4: British Forces during the Invasion of Normandy. No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Mapham J (Sgt) / Imperial War Museum / Wikimedia Commons

Published: 5 June 2019