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Thought

We will remember them

In 1919 King George V inaugurated Remembrance Day when Commonwealth member states remember those of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. It is held each year at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, which was the time when hostilities ceased in World War I. Many other non-Commonwealth countries also observe the day. There are now very few former soldiers alive who experienced the terrible conflicts of World War II, but what they say reminds us of the horrific nature of battles like those on the beaches of Normandy following the D-Day landings.

On 6 June 1944 infantry and armoured divisions from America, Britain and Canada began landing on the French coast. As soon as they landed, they came under heavy enemy gunfire. Many of the 24,000 Allied soldiers who landed on the beaches died or were seriously injured on the first day. Alan King, who survived D-Day, said, “We weren’t heroes, we were just boys. We were terrified. Since our life expectancy after landing was just one hour, we kept each other going. After I got back, for the first 40 years, I didn’t think about it. Didn’t want to.”

Harry Billinge, a 94-year-old veteran of D-Day, decided to raise £22,442, a pound for every British soldier who died in the Normandy campaign, to help with the construction of the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer. He has exceeded his target. When he was interviewed on the BBC’s Breakfast programme and was shown the Memorial under construction, he choked back tears as he saw the names of those who had died. He said, “Don’t thank me and don’t say I’m a hero. All the heroes are dead, and I’ll never forget them as long as I live. My generation saved the world and I’ll never forget any of them.”

Harry said that when he was 4 years old, he went to Sunday School where his teacher, Miss Thompson, taught the children a chorus that he said was as source of strength to him amidst the horrors on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. “In loving-kindness Jesus came my soul in mercy to reclaim, and from the depths of sin and shame through grace he lifted me. Now on a higher plain I dwell, and with my soul I know ‘tis well; yet how or why, I cannot tell, he should have lifted me. From sinking sand he lifted me, with tender hand he lifted me, from shades of night to plains of light, O praise his name, he lifted me!”

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Thought

There are no atheists on the battle field

In the past month more coalition soldiers have died in Afghanistan than in any previous month. Many of them are young men. They died in a foreign land far from their families and home country. Our soldiers, alongside others, are seeking to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban and the world from terrorism.

As you read these words British soldiers will be on duty in Afghanistan putting their lives on the line again from snipers bullets and roadside bombs. All the soldiers I have heard interviewed have spoken with great dignity about their determination to do their duty. They know the dangers. They have seen some of their colleagues killed and maimed and know that one day the same thing may happen to them. Their courage is a great example to us all.

In a recent interview a senior soldier said, “There are no atheists on the battle field.” When men and women face the real possibility of death they inevitably ask vital questions which the rest of us seek to avoid. Many of us try to escape from reality and give little thought to the future and to eternity. When you carry the bodies of your fellow soldiers back to camp and know that you might be next it is important to find answers to the big questions.

The hope we all need is found in Jesus Christ. He died as a young man at the hands of those who hated him enough to want to kill him. Their hatred was irrational, but they saw him as a threat to their interests and their way of life. As he died he prayed, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Those who loved him took his body down from the Cross and lovingly laid him in the tomb.

On the third day Jesus rose from the dead! The tomb was empty and he appeared many times to his disciples. He gives a living hope to all who trust in him. The “intellectuals” of every age, in their comfortable little world, have scoffed at the idea and declared resurrection cannot happen. What do they know? Those who live in the real world, like the soldiers in Afghanistan, pray to the living God and commit their lives to Jesus. He always hears such prayers and promises that though we die yet shall we live.