Tag Archives: War

13 September: ‘We thought we were set.’ Shared table XXV.

dunes

The BBC Website includes a section on The People’s War, memories of the conflict from all over the world. It is worth visiting to learn how bad and how good people can be in times of stress, conflict and danger.

George Nolan Johnston was in the British army in the Middle East, sent on a long and apparently pointless journey culminating in a crowded train with no opportunity to get food or drink. Did the officer who organised it not know the men could not get food, or did he just not care?

Here is an extract from Mr Nolan Johnston’s story, but do read the rest of it.

We arrived at a way-side station in the sand. A fleet of trucks waited for us, we were transported some miles west into the sun, and dumped on the side of a desert road. Our patch was beside an east-west tarmacadam road bordered to the North and South with sand. The patch was equipped with open ablutions and latrines. We had neither food nor tents.

Shortly after we arrived a dispatch rider arrived on a motorbike. He bore a message from the officer in charge of the next camp, which was a mile up the road. If we cared to walk up, he would supply us with tea and sandwiches, he apparently had been similarly dumped a week prior to us. We were really starving so we queued up with our tummies rumbling and mugs at the ready. The last few yards were torture and when we got a full mug of sweet tea and a large thick corned beef sandwich, we thought we were set. Never before or since have I enjoyed anything better. We were so very much grateful to the unknown officer.

Compassion, imagination and sharing.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces

July 30. 100 years ago today: Prayer of a Soldier in France.

 _oiseaisne_ABMC_0109

Joyce (Alfred Joyce) Kilmer was an American Catholic Poet who died at the front this day 100 years ago. He is buried at the Oise-Aisne cemetery shown above. In this poem he comes to terms with the everyday suffering of the soldier by laying it alongside the passion of Jesus. Our second post today is a response to KIlmer’s verses from a living American poet, our friend Christina Chase.

I have found it difficult to reconcile the link people have made between Christ’s sacrifice and the soldier at war, prepared to be killed but also prepared to kill, for his country. What right does the country have to demand either sacrifice?

But here is one man. One man’s pain and suffering, offered, not to his country, but to the one true Man who was the one true God. A lesson in that for each of us.

Prayer of a Soldier in France

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

I march with feet that burn and smart 

(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart). 

Men shout at me who may not speak 

(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek). 

I may not lift a hand to clear 

My eyes of salty drops that sear. 

(Then shall my fickle soul forget 

Thy agony of Bloody Sweat?) 

My rifle hand is stiff and numb 

(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come). 

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me 

Than all the hosts of land and sea. 

So let me render back again 

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen. 

Joycekilmersignature

Oise-Aisne Cemetery,  official site.
Signature: Open Access, via Wikipedia  

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces, poetry

26 July: Mio Nido.

Alfred Noble, inventor of dynamite, hoped his high explosives would make an end of war sooner than international peace congresses. Mutually Assured Destruction as a deterrent has turned out to be MAD indeed. Nobel himself died, a lonely man, in his Italian Villa, ‘Mio Nido’, My Nest. But he left his prizes.

In 1955 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for what is a practical work of peace. Here are a few excerpts from the acceptance speech of the High Commissioner, Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart.

“Der Mensch braucht ein Plätzchen

Und wär’s noch so klein

Von dem er kann sagen

Sieh’ hier dast ist mein

Hier lebe ich hier liebe ich

Hier ruhe ich aus

Hier ist meine Heimat

Hier bin ich zu Haus”.

(A man needs a little place, small as it may be, of which he can say:This is mine. Here I live, here I love, here I find my rest. This is my fatherland, this is my home!”)

The essence of the refugee problem is very, very simple. It is: to find ‘ein Plätzchen,’ to find a ‘Mio Nido’ for people who for reasons of persecution have been obliged to leave their native country and who have therefore become ‘uprooted’ and homeless.”

The refugee problem has nothing to do with charity. It is not the problem of people to be pitied but far more the problem of people to be admired. It is the problem of people who somewhere, somehow, sometime had the courage to give up the feeling of belonging, which they possessed, rather than abandon the human freedom which they valued more highly … And the refugee can solve his problem only by striking new roots.

Many years ago I participated in a discussion on the problem of international education. After many experts had presented their complicated theories, an old headmaster of a certain school got up and quietly said: “There is only one system of education, through love and one’s own example.” He was right. What is true for education is true also for the refugee problem of today. With love and our own example – example in the sense of sacrifice – it can be solved. And if in the cynical times in which we live someone might be inclined to laugh at “love” and “examples” as factors in politics, he would do well to be reminded of Nansen’s hardhitting, direct and courageous words, based on a life full of sacrifice and devotion: “Love of man is practical policy”.

Find the full text here. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

75 Years ago.

Hamburg plaque. 174px-Gedenktafel_Feuersturm_1943

We were only discussing carpet bombing yesterday, since Joe is resident in Hamburg – and I in Canterbury.

Then today Joe had a message from a friend to remind him that on this day and those following, the RAF and USAAF flattened Hamburg and 40,000 people lost their lives in the firestorm.

Thank God for the years of peaceful co-existence between our countries since then, and the structures that have helped to ensure that it has been more than the absence of war.

MB

PLaque on a house, destroyed 1943, restored 1957

Leave a comment

Filed under Interruptions, PLaces

May 30: P is for Portsmouth and car Parks

southsea.jpg

This shows the Southsea end of Portsmouth from the Isle of Wight Ferry. I went to school behind those trees.

Genteel Southsea rather held its skirts away from the main city, I felt, a city that had not recovered from the Second World War and the subsequent reduction in British sea power. Once, on the way to the ferry, I took my family to sea the ugliest building in Britain, the brutalist Tricorn car park, a favourite suicide spot. Our big car park in Canterbury was not so ugly, except that it too attracted would-be suicides. Whatever the buildings’ style, they were places of great sadness; we are better off without them.

Of course getting rid of multi-storey car parks cannot take away people’s distress. But sometimes it falls to us to help, even if just to be there with them.

The rest of this post is from the Samaritans’ website. Worth reading for the odd moment when something feels not quite right.

MMB

How you can help

Suicidal feelings can be overwhelming, but they will pass.

How someone behaves in this brief window is as unique as the individual themselves. But there are signs you can look out for.

Signs someone may need help

  • Looking distant, withdrawn or upset
  • Standing alone or in an isolated spot
  • Staying on the platform for long periods of time/failing to catch trains that stop

Someone looking out of place or a feeling that ‘something isn’t quite right’. If you feel that way about someone, trust your instincts and try to help.

Approaching someone in need

We know that when a person is suicidal having someone to talk to them and listen to them, and showing that they are not alone, can encourage them to seek support. There is no evidence that talking to someone who could be at risk will ‘make things worse’.

A little small talk can be all it takes to interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and help start them on a journey to recovery. If you think that someone might need help, trust your instincts and strike up a conversation, with a comment about the weather for example. Life-saving questions used by rail staff to help people have included:

  • Do you need any help?
  • What’s your name?
  • It’s a warm evening isn’t it?
  • What train are you going to get?

So strike up a conversation if you feel comfortable and it’s safe to do so. Or tell a member of staff or call 999. Your involvement could help save someone’s live.

What you can do if the person needs further help

If you sense the person might need help after your initial approach, then you could ask directly if they’re ok.

You could introduce yourself and encourage them to talk if you can, and listen. You could then offer to take them to a safer environment where you’re able to get them the right support.

Tell a member of railway staff as soon as you can, or call 999.

Rail safety

We do not recommend you make any kind of physical contact. If the situation is an emergency, eg the person in on the track, tell station staff or call 999 immediately. Do not go onto the railway line under any circumstances.

Looking after yourself

Interventions make a huge and positive difference. It can be emotional and if you feel you would like some support after making an intervention or would like to talk to someone about it, you can speak to Samaritans by calling 116 123.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces

May 29: Relics XII: To everything a season, turn turn.

sewing machine.png
When L’Arche Kent were looking for a home for this machine, I remembered:
Back in November 1979, there were a few hand-powered machines on a shelf at L’Arche. Four years before, I had scrounged the shuttle for one of them from a reluctant salesman at the Singer shop in Canterbury. He could not sell me one, as fittings had changed since 1914, but we got that machine working again after he rather exasperatedly let me take the shuttle from a broken machine outside the shop door. Back then Singer’s offered £10 part-exchange on old machines for new, but destroyed the old one. Obviously there was no commission coming my transaction!
 So, in November 1979 Janet and I were visiting Little Ewell together, and she asked Sue Dolan if she could buy a machine for her own use. Sue told her to help herself to whichever she liked; the community did not need a treadle machine and three hand-powered.
Over to the workshop in the dark, and which machine did we choose?
No prize for guessing! But there was another reason for choosing it, though it was not the best of the three. This was a German machine, made around the time of the Great War, which belonged to a Mrs Day of Dover. In 1940 her daughter was a pupil at Miss Kennet’s private school out at Temple Ewell where she was when the German bomb fell on the house, killing her mother. All that was salvaged was the sewing machine; its case was beyond repair, the base badly damaged.
Miss Kennet was an early supporter of L’Arche Kent. We knew her as ‘Ken’. She had taken in the shell-shocked ‘Daisy’ – as we called Miss Day, and had looked after her ever since. In her turn Daisy cared for Ken up in Canon’s Cottage in Barfrestone Village, after they retired from the school. It was a privilege to be invited for afternoon tea.
The school house served as a base for a changing  group of Assistants until it was sold and 20 The Glen Shepherdswell, at walking distance from Barfrestone, was bought. But that’s another story or two: this one is about a relic from the earliest friends of the community. A story about The Glen was told last June, see :
MMB

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, L'Arche, PLaces

21 May: How do you find treasure in a field?

 

NAIB and I were awaiting the rest of our party in the hotel lobby. I pulled out the leaflet about Beeston Castle, which we had visited half a lifetime ago.

370 years ago it was the scene of a siege during the last civil war in England, after which it was demolished by the parliamentary forces removing a threat to nearby Chester.

Naturally we were more concerned to recall our visit than the long siege of 1644-45. It was February when we were there and the nettles were no more than brittle grey stalks, the ground beneath them bare.

Here and there were stones and the odd shard of pottery. NAIB and I both found scraps that looked like the reconstructed 17th Century wine flasks in the museum. George, her younger brother, was becoming frustrated that he had found none, and his mother was getting anxious to return to base before dark.

His sister offered him one of her pieces; no, that was not finding it for himself.

Here’s one’, said his mother, but that was not finding it for himself.

What worked was for one of us to spot a shard on the surface, but not to touch it, nor to point at it, but just to wave a hand over it and say, ‘This looks like a good place for pottery.’

George went on his way rejoicing with his own piece of pottery, after finding it for himself.

aberdaron.children.digging

It seems to me that each of us has a ‘treasure hidden in a field’ that the Good Lord allows us to find for ourselves, even providing endless clues to guide us. Let’s be open to that guidance, not consumed by frustration, fear or anger.

Come Holy Spirit!

Beeston Castle by JMW Turner

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces

2 May: Suspended

.ccant.cath.suspended.

When I went to the Cathedral yesterday I found myself in the nave rather than the crypt. It was still early in the day; the guides and welcomers were just arriving, tidying up their desks and welcoming each other. There were the usual builders’ noises, and someone testing organ pipes: in short, there was the usual silence!

I had time to sit by the font and contemplate the installation ‘Suspended’. The garments hanging above the congregation came from refugees on the Isle of Lesbos or the camps around Calais; clothes they were glad to discard when they were offered a clean change. I hope they found something they liked to wear! Their lives have been suspended between their old homes, destroyed or stolen, and who knows what future.

There the clothes hang, reminding us that these refugees are sisters and brothers of ours, thrown on very hard times, as were others – including perhaps their grandparents – seventy years ago when Pope Pius XII wrote the words we read here yesterday.

Let us follow his call, and pray for peace, and support those who support the refugees.

MMB

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces

18 April : A comforting doctrine: telling the truth in art. (Telling truth II)

Normandy_June_1944-_Naval_Control_Post_on_the_Beaches_Art.IWMARTLD4392

Edward Ardizzone was employed as an official War Artist during World War II, serving in North Africa, including El Alamein, then the invasion of Italy and the Normandy Landings. How does an artist convey the horrors and humanity of War? Ardizzone’s soldiers and civilians are human, drawn with a loving understanding of our fallen but persistently rising nature. This picture shows a scene on the beaches during the Normandy Landings and is from the Imperial War Museum, released on the public domain.

A couple of months before he had confided in his diary:

[I] have a feeling that painters should not be interested in metaphysics – should be simple people entirely absorbed in what they do. If they are big themselves, what they do is big – if little, little; but only a matter of degree like major and minor poets and not to be bothered about. A comforting doctrine for me who am feeling incredibly small at the moment.

Let us pray that sometime today we may experience the grace of being entirely absorbed in what we do: loving what we do, as Ardizzone loved his work and the humans he was painting.

MMB.

Diary of a War Artist, Edward Ardizzone, Bodley Head, 1974. Worth seeking out.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Lent, PLaces

10 April: More vital than cake …

These days, I guess most of us think of an indulgence as something we can enjoy but do not really need. Like a slice of cake with your cup of tea. That’s a simnel cake, a sort of  English Easter version of the German stollen.  A daffodil for the risen Lord and eleven dots for the more-or-less-faithful  Apostles.

We know that there were no recriminations from Him in those weeks after Easter. They were forgiven. Full stop.

 

upperroom tomdog

So how the situation arose where people were selling indulgences, and many more people buying them, is hard to comprehend, except that if you were led to believe that paying down a week’s wages would secure your place in Heaven, well, What price would you pay?

That was an Indulgence in mediaeval times. Follow the link to an interesting article about an Indulgence on show in Manchester. And What price would you pay?

As our contributor Tom points out, you would readily pay a week’s wages for eternal salvation.

Here then is a connection to yesterday’s post, both about wartime, but this is a story of the aftermath of the Second World War.

The same day as I read this article I was in the Archive in Westminster diocese and found a 1947 exchange of letters between Miss Winifred Callaghan, head teacher of English Martyrs’ School in York and Cardinal Griffin in Westminster.

She writes:

Most Reverend Father,

Kindly accept the enclosed £1 as a small donation to your ‘Children of Europe’ fund, from the children and some of the staff of the above school.

We would have made it more but many local calls kept us collecting. But on Friday we had a quick whip round with ‘your’ box, as we call it, and £1 resulted.

We ask your blessing and a prayer for us all please. May God bless you dear Father, from the children and teachers.

And not an indulgence in sight.

How blest the children of York, to have had such a head teacher! The generosity of many people, rich and poor, can be traced in the correspondence. They were supporting Germans, as well as Poles, Hungarians, Yugoslavians, Estonians: people exiled from their homes across Europe, Germans stranded in the New Poland, many people who could not go home to what were now Communist countries.

Forgiveness freely given towards former enemies, and plain Christian charity.

And not an indulgence in sight.

MB. TJH.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter