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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

One small victory at a time


 

“The entire sea was filled with ships, whichever way you looked and as far as the eye could see  We knew we couldn’t possibly fail!”

 

Some fifty (!) years ago I worked with Harry, a fellow social worker in District H.  Whenever we had a spare minute I would quiz him on his experiences in the army during WW2, especially his landing with his regiment on Sword beach on 6th June, 1944.

 

As it happens I am sending this blog from Guernsey, which as one of the Channel Islands was occupied by the Wehrmacht during the war. Here the 80th anniversary commemorations of D-Day seem so much closer, so much more personal. 

 

A typical Scouser with a wonderful sense of humour, Harry was the youngest in a large Catholic family. An active member of the Liverpool Boys’ Association, I was surprised, given his small stature, that he had been a member of the LBA boxing team. 

 

Harry saw himself as a typical soldier whose main aim was to survive the war and return to civilian life.  He would recount, for example, his various ways of evading sentry duty when close to the front line; it was far too dangerous.  And how when the Germans once counter-attacked, he – like those around him – just threw down their rifles and ran to safety as fast as they could. 

 

An ordinary bloke, he had to handle high levels of combat stress, not least because for part of the campaign he carried a flame thrower – which made him a prime target for any hidden sniper. 

 

One story in particular stays with me.  During training there was one particularly tough sergeant, renowned for his daring, his fighting spirit.  Clearly a leader of men – except when it came down to it, he wasn’t.

 

Harry recalled how he showed his troop how to hurl yourself through a hawthorn hedge, braving its sharp thorns, when all you had to do, recalled Harry, was to pull down your sleeves and gently pick your way through!  As it happened, a key skill for the Normandy bocage. 

 

But when it came to the trauma of the battlefield, Harry remembers last seeing his instructor curled up in a foetal position, weeping copiously.  He was soon on a landing craft heading home.  It was just too much.

 

“So who handled stress the best?” I asked Harry.  His reply surprised me:  “the Bible-bashers,” the army term for those soldiers who were considered overly religious. 

 

This explained why Harry, a cradle Catholic, held those Christians unafraid to share their faith in such high respect.  As it happens it was Harry who as my colleague provided a reference when I applied to the CofE for ordination, which he strongly supported. 

 

So why did these “Bible bashers” prove so resilient in battle?

 

I would like to think that their Christian faith made all the difference and I’m sure that this was a key component. 

 

“There are no atheists in foxholes” runs the aphorism which originated in WW2. Because of who we are, made in the image of God and created for relationship with him, it’s not surprising that when we experience acute fear, we instinctively cry out for help.

 

But it’s one thing to try prayer as a last resort, hoping that there is some deity at the other end.  But for a disciple of Jesus to cry to God for help is a learned response.  We have discovered from experience God to be faithful to his promises, that  he is “an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1).

 

However, Harry’s response gives an extra insight, that he called them “Bible bashers,” essentially a derogatory term if ever there was one. 

 

Soldiers looking back on their experience in the army will nearly always comment on the deep sense of comradeship, that you fought not for your cause but for your mates fighting alongside you. 

 

For there was no privacy being a soldier:  you lived, slept and did everything else with your platoon, with your hut. And so reading a Bible on a bunk becomes a public display, inviting both good-humoured banter and some derision. 

 

Just imagine every time you got your Bible out, someone would make a joke of you, often well-intentioned but sometimes hostile. This would soon sort out the sheep from the goats, those Christians unafraid of mockery and those who opt to hide their faith under a bushel.

 

And those soldiers who were unafraid to share their faith, even when they would risk ridicule or rejection, would gradually become more resilient.  And over time this would enhance their ability – as Harry observed – to handle intense stress. 

 

That’s how we grow as Christians, one simple decision at a time, one obstacle, one sneer at a time. And over time the effect can be considerable.  That’s how the Holy Spirit  works in our lives, one skirmish after another, until the battle is won. 

 

So we thank God for those of a now-disappearing generation, like Harry, who fought for our freedom.

 

 

 

 

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