Address by the Reverend Thomas James, RN at the Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance at Portsmouth Cathedral attended by the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship on 5 June 2016.

Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the gate of deep darkness? 

May I speak in the name of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Memorials come fast and thick this week. A few days ago we met to remember the fallen of Jutland, 100 years ago, and today as we meet to remember 72 years since D-Day, we are also conscious of the on-going rumblings of Jutland – 100 years ago today marking, a few days after the battle of Jutland, the sinking of HMS Hampshire as she struck a mine laid by the Germans in preparation for the action we remembered earlier this week. Most of the crew and passengers of HMS Hampshire were lost, including the war secretary Lord Kitchener.

Both Jutland and D-Day were, in one way or another, allied victories against the German foe, but both were fought at heavy cost, and the sinking of Hampshire reminds us of the on-going price of these actions and the long road that lay ahead in both cases before the enemy would lay down their arms.

One battle now sits a hundred years ago, the other just over 70. One now entirely outside of living memory, the other year by year drawing sadly closer to that.

Only separated by 30 years, there are some striking differences between these two battles and it is on these I will reflect a little this morning, and on how we as Christians should respond.

Jutland was of course a purely naval engagement – fought at high seas by hundreds of vessels. Technology was of course moving rapidly at the time and the battle included the first use of air power in naval conflict – a British plane being used for spotting.

By contrast the D-Day invasions brought the whole weight of allied naval, air, and land power (as well as the intelligence services) in an amphibious assault against an entrenched enemy.

In the thirty years that had passed between equipment and tactics had continued to rapidly develop. 

But what interests me most is not these differences in technology or tactics, but the difference in mind-set of much of the British leadership and public. 

Jutland was fought at a time of overwhelming British naval superiority and in the long shadow cast by Admiral Lord Nelson and his victory at Trafalgar.

Many of the leaders, political and military, as well as the public expected a repeat performance. They were confident that the Royal Navy could outnumber and outgun any opposition – and ultimately that naval power alone could quickly decide the fate of the war if only head on battle was offered.

Churchill was one of the few to recognise that such victory would not be on offer, famously saying of Admiral Lord Jellicoe, who lead the Grand Fleet at Jutland, that: “He was the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon”

Defeat was on offer, but not great victory. As we know a victory of sorts was won that day by the Royal Navy, and one that in time would contribute to the winning of the First World War. 

But Jutland was an unsettling experience for the British people, it challenged easy assumptions about British power and it forced the admiralty to recognise that they lived in a new and different world, and one to which they must rapidly adapt.

By contrast D-Day marked the beginning of the end, the turning of the tides in the long years of conflict of the Second World War. With the success of D-Day the eventual defeat of Nazi German was beginning to look inevitable.

Although a long and bloody road still lay ahead – the march on Germany being won, and paid for, by the blood and sweet of Allied servicemen.

This war had been fought without on the British part the confidence, misplaced as it had proven to be, with which we had headed into Jutland.

Indeed when Churchill became prime-minister he was not confident of eventual victory.

The just war tradition tells us that war should only be fought when certain conditions are met – one of which is a reasonable prospect of success, otherwise the fighting is needless and wasteful.

Europe had fallen rapidly and the German army, and their Blitzkrieg tactics, seemed unstoppable. The British expeditionary force and remnants of the French army retreating at Dunkirk. Europe under Nazi occupation, Germany allied with Russia, and America staying out of the war, Britain was isolated. An invasion of the British Isles seemed likely.

Some encouraged surrender, or attempts at peace with Nazi Germany. And yet Churchill lead a country to war against a foe who seemed superior and against whom victory at times seemed unlikely.

We heard in our reading from Ephesians of the present darkness and of the forces of evil.

Churchill had recognised that darkness in Hitler long before many others, and he recognised that when we face a darkness such as this there is a need to oppose it even without obvious hope of success.

He was determined to fight, even if it lead to defeat, for he knew that darkness such as this, the tyranny and injustice that it brings, must be opposed at all costs.

This is the reality of the world in which we live, and it is the calling of the Christian life – this is what the reading from Ephesians calls us to as instructs us to put on the whole armour of God.

At D-Day we begin to see the light triumphing over the darkness as liberation is brought to Europe.

In the Christian life we know of the triumph of light over the darkness in the death and resurrection of Christ, but we also live so often in shadow as we await the visible signs of that victory.

And so we continue each day to struggle against this present darkness. 

And as such whenever we meet together like this in memorial and in thanksgiving, we are conscious that we meet not just to remember but to respond.

We respond in prayer and in action.

We hold in prayer the veterans of D-Day. Praying for the living and the dead.

Holding in our prayers those who fell that day, and those who carried with them, visible and invisible, the scars of that battle for the rest of their lives.

And in this we remember that in death enmity is lost, that Allied and Axis went to war as enemies, but in death all stand equal before the throne of God – as brothers all equally in need of the grace and forgiveness found in God alone. 

And so we pray for them alike, that their battle done they may they rest in peace and rise in glory.      

In this remembrance we also look to the world in which we live this day – praying for and supporting those who face the darkness and danger of this fleeting world.

We pray for servicemen and women, particularly for the safety of those on deployment.

And also pray for the church, for those meeting together as we do here today, not least those facing danger and persecution – particularly mindful of those Christians living under the threat of ISIS, where darkness seems to be triumphing. 

All of us who are baptised Christians were promised at our baptism that within us we carry the light of Christ and that we are called to make known that light in the world.

Doing so confident that in time the light of Christ will triumph over the darkness that can be found in this world, even if at times things can seem, as they did at the beginning of the second world war, hopeless and lost.

Even when defeat seem inevitable we are called to put on the Armour of God.

As we look to the example of those we give thanks for this day, so we remember that this is the calling of each one of us – to fight for justice and to make known in the world the light of Christ.

“Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm”


Address by the Reverend Simon Springett, MA RNR at the Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance at Portsmouth Cathedral attended by the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship on 7 June 2015.

Thank you to the Dean for his kind invitation to preach today, and may I begin by saying that it has been a privilege to spend some time with the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship last night, and to join you in worship today as we honour those who, 71 years ago, were on the beaches of Normandy, or in the Ops Room at Southwick House, or in hospitals, or in ships, or submarines, or aircraft, or in factories … for all who in a myriad ways supported Operation Overlord.

And as we honour them all, I want this morning to speak of just one of them. In the 1970s and 80s he was Bishop of Norwich, but in 1944 he was a 26 year old Commando trained Royal Navy Chaplain, who landed on the Normandy shore as a Royal Navy Beach Commando – then went on to serve with 48 Commando Royal Marines at a second amphibious landing; swimming ashore with the men of his Unit at the invasion of Walcheren Island. He was Maurice Wood DSC, and he was interviewed by Ed Stourton on the radio in 2004; and I had the privilege of speaking with his daughter a few years later. It is hard to imaging the feelings of those embarking for D-Day. It may in fact be futile to try. But we do know their days were full of preparations – Maurice Wood was getting together his portable church: a valise filled with a portable altar; Bibles, Prayer Books, hymn books. He was even planning to get a portable organ ashore: he said: “Admiral Ramsay was our naval boss and I went to him a week before D-Day and I said to him, “Sir! Please will you arrange for my portable organ to be delivered on the beach so I can take the first service as soon as we get there?” “But,” he said, “Padre, we’re not even letting Mr. Churchill ashore for the first week!” Well then I had a brainwave. I said, “ General Montgomery says” (and they were terrified of Monty!) “General Montgomery says our Chaplains’ task is to keep the morale of the men high and I think you’ll find, Admiral, that if you don’t get my organ ashore for me to do the service, I shall complain to General Montgomery.” “Oh, yes, morale, yes, yes, yes!”

There was no doubt concern about casualties – and about becoming a casualty oneself. I read of Montgomery addressing that concern directly when speaking to the troops; acknowledging that there would be casualties but assuring the men that the planning was good, and they would be as few as possible. There would have been that natural anxiety of men who have not been in action before: “How will I do under fire?” And surely there was a mix of views about the presence, or relevance, of God. I saw some photos recently of pre-invasion open-air church services: men kneeling on the ground being blessed by clergy in white robes. Others, no doubt, had little time for or sense of God's presence or relevance. Many would have had deeply conflicted feelings in respect of faith.

Certainly in our Gospel reading, the Disciples in the boat don't know what to think. Jesus has died; they saw him die. Peter has seen the tomb empty, but can't explain it. Now some women of the group say they have seen him and he is raised to life! So they take refuge in the routine; the familiar. The family business, and the routine, so familiar to fishermen, of not catching fish. In the same way, no doubt, in 1944 many men took refuge in routine; in preparation; the kit to sort out; the rations to prepare; the letter home to write; the practised routine of embarkation; the misery of a lumpy sea voyage. Until suddenly they are there at the beach. H Hour And things are not routine.

“Throw your net on the right hand side of the boat!” And they do; and it is full; full of fish! A truly awe-some moment; a never-to-be-forgotten moment of awe. For the men on D-Day; suddenly they are there at the beach. H Hour. Now, in a Landing Craft … well they are not pleasure boats. There are no windows. They saw the back of the man in front of them, and the leaden sky above, until the ramp went down. And what they saw then was not friendly.

Maurice Wood was unceremoniously dumped, he says, compete with carefully packed suitcase full of portable church, over the side of his Landing Craft. I just hope he had got his waterproofing right, or he would have had soggy hymn books to deal with! On reaching the beach, almost immediately a shell exploded in front of him. He was knocked down, and when he got up he realised he couldn't see. He told his daughter that, almost fatalistically, he thought “Well that's it: I'm blind” - and then the sand fell off his glasses! Perhaps he knew something of the sheer physical joy at the catch of fish in our reading; the utter joy of being alive; of surviving; alongside some sense of fear, for the events are not natural; this is not how the world should be. He spoke of his own fear: not fear of death, but certainly of being wounded.

But fear and confusion are overcome; transformed; by trust in Christ; by the presence of Christ … or rather by discovering; realising the presence of Christ. Discovering the truth Jonah discovered; running from the presence of the Lord and finding out that there was nowhere he could run to that was away from the presence of the Lord. John says to Peter: “It is the Lord!”, and Peter leaps into the sea and goes ashore; makes his 'Overlord' over to his Lord. Everything is the same; yet everything is totally transformed when they realise that Jesus is here, with them; raised body and soul from death. He is not a ghost (for he eats breakfast with them), and they realise that physical death (which was of course so viscerally present on D-Day) has been defeated physically, in a physical resurrection.

Maurice Wood said of the D-Day beach: “There was a lot of firing going on ... the first wave, that had arrived half-an-hour before me, were pinned down a bit”. I love his British understatement. “A lot of my young men were wounded so I was looking after them from the word go. When I got there and found my men wounded on the beach I used to say to them, quietly, “Trust in Jesus. Trust Him all the way.” It is because of the Resurrection of Christ physically from death that this is not just an empty platitude. Just as on the beach of Lake Galilee; it is not that Jesus was not present before; but realising his presence transforms the situation.

In some ways Maurice Wood's experience is a simple human narrative: a man dealing with fear; caring for people. But it is also a narrative about faith. He was asked: “Did you at any time, in the way that some people do, find the sight of what was going on around you, which must have been pretty horrific, make you question your faith?” He certainly would not have been the first or the last if it had. Philip Caputo, to take just one example, a US Marine in Vietnam, wrote of the way his experience of the violence and destruction of human death in war totally destroyed his faith.

Maurice Wood's answer was straightforward: “Strangely enough, I must say quite simply, “No”, because I had a clear faith in Christ.” I love that word “clear”: an informed faith in Christ. And he explained what that meant: “I also read my Bible, and it was always full of wars and tumults and I was used to the fact that the Bible had a lot about war in it.” So if there is a lesson for us here – there is certainly inspiration and awe; but if there is a lesson for our day – it is this: to keep reading our Bible: all of it; not just the easy bits; as it is a book for all of life; not just for the easy bits. And the Word of God will inform us; as it did the disciples; when they remembered that Jesus had told them he would meet them in Galilee; and had told them he would be raised from the dead.

Well, Maurice Wood died eight years ago; and we know that – sooner or later – we will all walk that journey. So my prayer this morning is simple: that just as Maurice Wood encouraged those wounded men in 1944; just as Maurice Wood himself lived and died; so we too would “Trust in Jesus. Trust him all the way.”


Simon Springett is CEO of Aggie Weston's; the long established Naval Charity.

Born in 1840, Agnes Weston turned her back on reputation and privilege to set up clubs and accommodation for sailors at Devonport and Portsmouth. At her death in 1918, “Ma Weston” was the first woman to receive a full ceremonial Royal Naval funeral. Aggie’s today continues her work through the employment of Pastoral Workers in Naval and Royal Marine establishments; through community and family provision; through numerous special projects meeting areas of specific need; and through the executive management of the Naval Families Federation.

Address by the Reverend Canon Roger Devonshire RN at the Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance at Portsmouth Cathedral attended by the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship on 6 June 2010.

A collection of beer tankards is like a history book. The inscriptions tell you something about where a person has been during all those years in the military. A tankard usually has on it the name of a squadron, a ship or a unit and the dates that go with it – or it might be a sports trophy. Among the tankards that I have at home is one with the inscription ‘Chaplain Second Frigate Squadron 1972-74.’ It was my first sea job. There were nine ships in the Squadron, four of which had been involved in fishery protection. You might think that this has little to do with D-Day and the battle of Normandy, but there were also two ships in the Second Frigate Squadron that had seen service in the Second World War – HMS Grenville and HMS Undaunted.

HMS Undaunted was a U-Class Destroyer, built by Cammell Laird and adopted by the London Borough of Barking as part of Warship Week. Three months after being commissioned on 3 March 1944, HMS Undaunted took part in the D-day landings, covering the Roger sector of SWORD Beach. One of those present on that day recalled that on board HMS Undaunted Commander Angus MacKenzie stood wearing his highlander’s bonnet as he played the bagpipes from the bridge whilst the LCAs, crowded with infantry, went by his ship towards the beach. By the end of the day nearly 30,000 Allied troops had gone ashore from the ships at SWORD Beach, the furthest east of the five beaches used on D-Day. Later it was in HMS Undaunted that General Eisenhower and Admiral Ramsay were embarked for a fast passage back to Portsmouth. The ship in which they had been embarked, HMS Apollo, had grounded and damaged its propellers. The flag of General Eisenhower was duly hoisted in HMS Undaunted and later presented to the ship, the General having signed his name across two of the stars using indelible pencil dipped in whisky.

For a brief few hours HMS Undaunted had been part of the D-Day story and now that story had become part of the ship, the same ship that I joined in Portland some thirty years later. History has a habit of making events of the past part of our own story. It happened to me through my serving in HMS Undaunted and I could give you other examples of history becoming part of my story. Here, as you meet to commemorate D-Day and the days that followed, history is your story. What happened then is part of who you are now and that is what you share with one another.

Of course, it is not only wartime memories that can become part of us, and through HMS Undaunted even part of me although I was only four years old when you were landing on the Normandy beaches. There are a great many other things from the past, including stories from the pages of the Bible, which show the human experiences that make us who we are.

In war people see things they would rather not have seen and from his writings the prophet Isaiah would appear to be one of those people. Cities have been destroyed, large numbers of people killed, and many have been forced to become refugees. Against this background he writes poems on the subject of the suffering servant, the servant who in his mind probably embodied the whole nation. The words of Isaiah would in future strike a chord with anyone who had witnessed great suffering and would in time be applied to Jesus. People would see in Isaiah something that was part of them. But even with the words of Isaiah to reflect upon, there is still much in this world that is beyond our understanding. Isaiah knew this as he wrote of the kings and nations of his time and their silence in the face of the big issues that confronted them: ‘that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.’

Every time D-Day and the battle of Normandy are commemorated, as well as those like yourselves for whom these events are part of their lives, we want there to be those for whom Isaiah’s words will come true: ‘that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not hear they shall contemplate.’ And on this 6 June 2010 what do we contemplate? Some will contemplate the sheer magnitude of what they saw and heard: the crowded beach, the deafening noise. Others will remember a few words from a conversation, something someone said, or perhaps an act of courage that passed almost unnoticed. The memories will always be there.

After the war HMS Undaunted was converted into a Type 15 anti-submarine frigate and went on to complete thirty years in the Fleet until being decommissioned in 1974. Before being decommissioned HMS Undaunted paid a final visit to the Pool of London having been invited to a reception in Barking Town Hall. An abiding memory of that day is of our arrival resplendent in uniform and of an elderly woman who shouted that it was our fault that the Borough was on the verge of bankruptcy.

As a brand new ship HMS Undaunted had played her part in one of the most significant events in our nation’s history. D-Day and the days that followed saw many examples, unforgettable to those who witnessed them, of suffering, determination and camaraderie. As so often happens when these three – suffering, determination and camaraderie – come together a new sense of fellowship was created and later put to good use in the founding of the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship. It is fellowship that fosters a sense of community and nowhere is that seen more powerfully than in the New Testament book called the Acts of the Apostles. We heard verses about the Apostles’ new life read to us this morning with that telling phrase: ‘there was not a needy person among them.’ In other words, they looked after each other. What they had experienced brought them together. That is how life should be: what we experience should bring us together. A new community grew around their fellowship.

Fellowship is a word that is coming back into use. It used to be considered an old-fashioned word, but recently it has been used not only in religion and the Armed Forces but also in business and commerce. As fellowship comes back into use as a word, may your Fellowship continue to put it back into life. May God bless all that you are doing to promote and keep alive the fellowship that by your lives you have created.

Reverend Canon Roger Devonshire RN

Address by the Venerable Stephen Robbins, Chaplain General and Archdeacon to the Army, at the Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance at Portsmouth Cathedral attended by the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship on 7 June 2009.

First of all, can I say what a privilege it is for me to be with you today and, from one point of view, strangely appropriate? As many of you will know, one of the first units on GOLD beach on 6 June 1944 was the 1st Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment, and at that time they were part of the 50th Northumbrian Division. Now I’ve heard all the old jokes about officers and maps, but surely they couldn’t get it that wrong!

What it does show though is that people from the whole of the country were involved in this invasion and the subsequent campaign throughout Normandy and beyond. The biggest naval force ever assembled, the RAF totally committed, the army putting 75,000 British and Canadian troops on the beaches on the first day. At what cost? The 1st Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment, on that first day had 182 casualties from about 800 men; both the Commanding Officer and Second-in-Command were amongst them.

The breakout from Caen had an attrition rate bigger than the overall rate in the Battle of the Somme. Some people ask – was it worth it? All that death, all that destruction of sailors, soldiers and airmen; killed or maimed, physically or mentally, in the prime of life. The widows, children and parents left grieving. Was it worth it?

In 1989 I happened to be serving in Berlin when the Wall came down. A few months later an officers’ study day took us to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Unlike many camps Sachsenhausen was virtually intact. It brought home to me the horrors of Nazism. This systematic abuse and torture of people was done not by terrorist groups or perverted criminals, but by the State itself. Why? Because you belonged to a Trade Union or because you were a democrat, a communist or a socialist, or because you were of a religion that the authorities disapproved of, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, or you were a homosexual. Or because you were a Jew. If the Nazis did this to their own people, what would they do to others?

The Nazis had to be stopped. What our sailors, soldiers and airmen did in Normandy, the sacrifices they made, the sacrifices you made, were crucial. In the first lesson we heard today Isaiah said to God, ‘Here I am, send me.’ Most of us in the Armed Forces know we go where we are sent. Thank God that those sent to Normandy did their duty no matter what the cost.

But there is something we have to keep asking ourselves, and that is, what about our country now? How should we judge it so that we can still say that the sacrifice was not in vain? Jesus only gave us two commandments: love God and love your neighbour as yourself. The one ought to follow the other. So according to the Bible a country is not judged on how strong it is militarily or financially. It is not judged on winning World Cups or Olympic Medals. It is judged on how we treat our fellow human beings under God. It is judged on whether we are fair or not, and whether we care or not; to put it in the words of the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship’s motto, whether we ‘honour all men’. If we do that, God will honour us and have a place for us in the Kingdom of Heaven.

the Venerable Stephen Robbins

Address by The Reverend Mike Williams, Trustee of the Royal British Legion, at the Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance at Portsmouth Cathedral attended by the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship on 1 June 2008.

The first time I came to Portsmouth I was asked a question that has stuck in my mind ever since. ‘If someone pointed a gun at you what would you do?’ I was a naive seventeen year old hoping to become an officer in the Royal Marines. My answer has also stayed in my mind – shoot them before they shoot me; hoping that it would never happen. It does happen and British Service men and women have died on active service in every year except one since 1945.

Sadly there has been a very long history of conflict and fighting between human beings. Some are small and local wars whilst others have been worldwide. We gather today as a Fellowship of people who have links to and memories of some of the most significant events of the Second World War: D-Day and the subsequent fighting in Normandy. For those of us born after that war it is difficult to understand and feel the emotions of those involved in such an endeavour to defeat Nazi Germany. For Great Britain to hold off an invasion of its shores and then turn defence into attack and conduct an opposed landing on the beaches of France was undoubtedly the turning point of the war.

Most families contributed to the war effort in some way. My father-in-law was in the West Riding Yeomanry evacuated from Dunkirk and then landed on Sword Beach and was heavily involved in the Normandy and subsequent battles through into Germany. I only know this from reading his army record – the memories are too painful for him to speak about what happened.

For those in the front line the bigger picture of why the war is being fought is often replaced by their loyalty to comrades and their regiment, or squadron or ship. The acts of heroism are usually associated with saving their mates. Their focus is on a small area of ground: making it across the open beach, finding a ditch in which to shelter from incoming mortars. The comforts of home rapidly become a distant but longed for memory. Yet when you probe deeper into why those men were there you often find what someone described as a silver thread running through their conscience; they had a sense of values that they fought to uphold.

The book of Nehemiah from which our first reading came tells the story of his conscience and concern being stimulated. He acted in a bold way and we heard in our reading of Nehemiah leading his people in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. They were doing so in the face of opposition from their enemies. Construction was carried out with the labourers carrying their loads whilst also holding their weapons. The trumpeter was close to Nehemiah to sound the rallying call. God was there to help them.

When the wall was completed even their enemies perceived that the work had been completed with the help of God. God has been invoked by both sides in many conflicts over the centuries. Few would dispute that in the Second World War there was a clear sense of the Nazi regime demonstrating evil intent with its ethnic cleansing and mass killings in the concentration camps. There was a powerful sense for the Allied forces of fighting for what was right and seeking to hold the high moral ground. The silver thread of morality was present in the just cause of taking on the Nazis.

The passage from Nehemiah also points out that it is the nature of the weapons that dictate the type of conflict that occurs; swords, spears and bows mean close quarter fighting. Industrialisation brought with it the terrifying invention of guns with the ability to fire without complicated reloading procedures. Bombs, machine guns, aircraft, tanks were all part of the armoury available in 1944.

Men coming ashore onto the Normandy beaches from landing craft into enfilade machine gun fire and artillery had little chance of survival. Yet thanks to their bravery they achieved success but often with heavy casualties. Also we know the civilian population suffered through bombing of places such as Portsmouth. I recently went with a group on Pilgrimage to visit the war cemeteries in southern Italy with the Royal British Legion. I took one gentleman and his wife to Bari on the east coast of Italy to visit his father’s grave. His father had been killed when he was six. But what was harder to comprehend was that his mother had died the year before during a bombing raid whilst serving as a Wren here in Portsmouth. Delivering death from thousands of feet up was not invented until the 20th century.

The concept of mutual destruction through the atomic bomb was also invented during the 1940s. It has been argued that the deterrent factor prevented a third world war. When I was being trained as a Royal Marine troop commander we were told that once hostilities started with the Soviet block the life expectancy of young officers was two minutes. The reality was that many of us went straight from training on to the streets of west Belfast. The concern for my generation was the tactics of the Provisional IRA. The nature of war had changed in that we were fighting civilians who used remote controlled bombs and sniper fire in the midst of housing estates in our own country.

The current generation of Service men and women face another set of potential and real threats brought about by the misuse of technology, the misplaced view of the world and religion and a willingness to die as so-called martyrs in suicide attacks. In contrast D-Day and Normandy was part of a conflict in which nation states were fighting each other. There were rules of war, combatants were in uniform and you knew who the enemy was.

The nature of power has moved from the nation state in recent years. Sir Richard Dearlove, the former chief of MI6, gave a public lecture recently in which he pointed out that global and encrypted communication used to be only available to governments. Now anyone with internet access can pay an extra £12 for a powerful encryption service. Those with misguided ideas of the world are able to organise and disperse. An American colleague of Sir Richard’s, he told us, described Al Qaeda as being like of flock of birds – how do you spy on them, never mind defend against them?

The lesson we can draw is that there has been throughout human history the tendency to fight each other. The reasons and methods may change over time but sadly the reality is that there will be occasions we cannot find ways to overcome our differences without resorting to violence.

The Christian response to this situation is either a pacifist stance or to adopt the just war principles. In other words in each situation we should be examining our conscience to identify the silver thread; namely to see if there is a moral case or justification for the use of force. Each of us as individuals will have our own view, but importantly nation states, the armed services and international organisations each have a responsibility to identify that silver thread; the moral and legal justification for military action.

The Christian faith underpins the principles of the just war. Our second reading from 2 Corinthians 5 reminds us of the radical nature of belonging to Christ. We are a new creation, a gift from God who as a result has given us the ministry of reconciliation. God acts through us in seeking for people to be reconciled to each other and to God.

Those who fought in the D-Day landings and Normandy, have given us the legacy of freedom to belong to Christ and to exercise that ministry of reconciliation in the presence of ongoing conflict. As such we have a responsibility to seek out that silver thread, to uphold the values and freedoms that they fought to preserve.

Upholding those values means

  • challenging those who rename torture as interrogation,
  • challenging those who regard rendition as a legal and legitimate response to terrorism and
  • challenging those who think that the subversion of human rights through indefinite detention without charge is helpful to the just cause.

If we are to ‘become the righteousness of God’, as suggested by St Paul, then such righteousness means holding the high moral ground, identifying the silver thread and seeking to reconcile each other to God.

We owe it to those who gave their today so that we might have our tomorrow as ambassadors for Christ.


Reverend Mike Williams

Address by Canon Nicholas Ash, Precentor of Portsmouth Cathedral, at the Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance attended by the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship on 3 June 2007.

(Before the Address the Cathedral Choir had sung ‘Vespers’, the final movement of Valete in Pace (Farewell in Peace). The work, by composer, arranger and performer, Harvey Brough, was commissioned by the cities of Portsmouth and Caen to mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004.)

“I wonder if Harvey Brough’s Valete in Pace, the last movement of which we have just heard, will ever get played on Classic FM? It is not what could be called ‘easy listening’. That being said, it is a very powerful piece to hear – all the more so for me because I was able to hear the composer working with our Cathedral Choir, the Portsmouth Youth Choir, the Maitrise de Caen Choir and the orchestra in rehearsal, where he conveyed very strongly what the music was trying to say. To hear the first performance in the Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen on the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, having been in Bayeux cemetery that morning with all the veterans, was very moving.

Valete in Pace is a piece that captures many facets of war. Written for the occasion of D-Day 60, Harvey Brough sets the whole piece for the twenty-four hours of 6 June 1944. The passage of time is marked by the monastic hours, starting early in the morning with Lauds and ending, as we have just heard, with Vespers for the end of the day. The beauty of the monastic plainsong pervades the whole piece and is still there through the noise of battle. Throughout the day, there is the sheer terror of war for which the librettist, Lee Hall, uses words from Homer’s Iliad. This certainly isn’t ‘easy listening’, but then it shouldn’t be. Harvey Brough wanted to paint the horror of war and make a powerful plea that such a terrible conflict should never happen again. It is rather ironic that it was written against the background of the war in Iraq and all its consequences.

Brough not only wanted to mark the horrors of war but also make it a prayer in memory of (to quote) ‘all those who fell on that day in 1944 or who are no longer in this world.’ So the Liturgy of the hours and the plainchant not only marks the passage of time, but the prayers of the church for those whose memory we treasure. They also provide a stark reminder of God’s presence in all the mess of life as he watches what human kind does to itself.

Along with the prayers of the Church and the noise of battle there is a third voice – that of a young soldier. He’s nearly eighteen years old and crossing the channel to Normandy was his first time at sea. His words are in the form of letters home to Mary, his girlfriend. We hear his thoughts preparing to land on the Normandy beach, being in the battle, getting wounded, killing a man; and his thoughts at the end of the day on the waste of war. Here is an individual voice speaking through; over the institutions of the Church and armed forces.

If Harvey Brough and Lee Hall were to have written Valete in Pace 20 or 30 years ago, I wonder if they would have used those three voices. War has become much more individualised in the last few years. It has been made very apparent in the continuing conflict in Iraq. It was considered very unwise for Prince Harry to serve anywhere near Iraq as he would significantly increase the dangers not only to himself but also those with whom he serves. Yet 25 years ago, Prince Andrew was able to serve in the Falklands. Now is not the time and place for a detailed analysis of why this is, but as a society we have become fascinated by the stories of individuals. News reports now often include this kind of stories whereas my impression of news reports 60 years ago is a far greater sense of corporate achievement.

So had Valete in Pace been written earlier, would it have included the voice of the individual? Would we have heard the young soldier writing to Mary? Who knows, but it does remind us, if we needed reminding, that all those who crossed the Channel to France 63 years ago were all known and loved as individuals. And despite the terrible noise of battle, the voice of the individual can still be heard and the prayer of the Church still continues.

Valete in Pace is a wonderful memorial to those who served and those who lost their lives in the Normandy Landings. Rather poignantly, it is just as valid for today’s context as it is in remembering a conflict of over 60 years ago. Individuals, many deployed from this city, are still serving overseas in situations too terrifying for us to think about too hard. They probably don’t write letters home as the young soldier writing to Mary did but rather use texts and emails. The messages will be very similar. The prayer of the Church continues. Every day in this Cathedral we pray for peace in the world because the horror of war continues for many. We owe it to the memory of those who have fought for our freedom all those years ago to ensure we do all we can to make peace the norm in the world.

It may seem a hopeless quest as an individual – what effect can a sole person have on the peace of the world. It is often said (usually when people don’t want to be generous in helping others) that charity begins at home. It could be said that peace begins at home too. We all know that none of us is perfect and we all add our little bit of strife to the world – sometimes it is unintentional – sometimes not! Peace begins with each of us as individuals.

We are gathered here this morning to continue the prayer of the Church. Here in the place where we celebrate Jesus’ teaching it provides a wake-up call to follow his way; remembering that he showed respect to all people no matter how high or low the world ranked them. He always gave people a fair hearing.

Our lives are entwined with complicated reactions to other people. Our natural survival instinct is to be cautious about the unknown, which can mean we can close down and fail to hear what is being said to us when we encounter someone different to us or who holds a contrary opinion to us. That can lead to misunderstanding and misunderstandings lead to conflict – whether at home or on a world wide scale.

Peace may begin at home, but it has to radiate out from there into the world. Each of us has a part to play. The Allied forces made up of disciplined individuals working together overcame the evil of the Nazi regime. Throughout they were undergirded by the prayers of the Church just as we hear in Valete in Pace. We should be at the forefront in our Christian discipline of radiating peace in the world. Lots of individuals working corporately provide a strong beacon for the world to follow.

In writing that piece, it was Harvey Brough’s hope that the terrible conflict of the Second World War may not happen again. His hope lies with us.

Vadete in pace – May you go in peace.”

Canon Nicholas Ash