Operation Market Garden – A Bridge Too Far!

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem otherwise known as Operation Market Garden. The successful D-Day landings in France had become bogged down in the slow and costly progress through the Normandy fields and hedgerows which the Germans defended tenaciously. Despite this, the Allies had made progress across France and Belgium, liberating both Paris and Brussels. Surely victory couldn’t be far away! Unfortunately, as the Allies pushed closer to Germany’s borders, the enemy forces were regrouping and resistance became stiff. General Montgomery believed that a powerful, narrow thrust deep into German lines would be more effective that a slow advance on a broad front and so on 17th September 1944, 30,000 British and American airborne troops (backed up by British & Polish forces on the ground) were flown and parachuted behind enemy lines to capture the eight bridges that spanned the network of canals and rivers on the Dutch/German border. Initially, things went well but British Paratroopers were soon under attack and, hampered by radios that didn’t work, they found that they couldn’t co-ordinate things properly. Ground forces found the narrow route treacherous as most of the bridges had been blown up before they could be captured. On the third day they reached the Nijmegen bridge where the Americans were still fighting but they couldn’t get across to join the British Paratroopers at Arnhem just three miles away on the far side. To tremendous cost, General Horrocks ordered American troops to attack across the River Waal. Half of the company were killed. Finally, they managed to storm the bridge but it was too late for the British Paratroopers because the Germans had moved their tanks into the town and were systematically destroying all the houses in which they were fighting. Eventually the Allied troops were forced to abandon their positions and fight their way out – their last radio message only heard by German intercepts was “Out of ammo, God save the King”. The desire to finish the war early by Christmas 1944 had failed. It had proved to be a bridge too far.

Perhaps, if we are honest with ourselves, in the light of our own personal battles, there are times when we too feel that things have got too much for us and that we have gone as far as we can go, with failure the only possible outcome. It’s at times like these when we need to remember those who gave so much for us in service of the nation and be encouraged and inspired by their example. It was always thought that the 10,000 men of the 1st Airborne Division would only be able to hold the Arnhem bridge for two days, but in reality, 740 men held it for almost twice as long against much heavier opposition than expected. Theologically speaking, the Christian is aware that we are not always called to be successful (as nice as that may be), but we are called to be faithful. We may not always win the battle because sadly some things may prove to be outside of our control to our disappointment, but how we fight the battle and conduct ourselves is a sign of God at work in us and can make a real difference!

Please may I warmly invite and encourage you to join us for one of the many Remembrance Day Services taking place across our benefice on 10th November as we remember with gratitude and grateful respect all those who have died in two world wars and other major conflicts. Not only will you be warmly welcomed but your presence will significantly enhance this special occasion.


Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15.13



Silence … We Will Remember Them

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‘Silence is golden’ or so we are told, but at 4.20am on the 11th November 1918, the last soldiers went ‘over the top’ and the world was far from silent or golden; in fact, it was dirty, dark, noisy and red. Although the Armistice was signed at 5.00am in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, France, it wouldn’t be until the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month that the guns of Europe finally fell silent. The Great War would be over, but not until there had been another 2,738 men killed and 10,944 casualties on that single morning alone. In fact the numbers of those who died during the First World War are staggering. In the UK around six million men were mobilised, and of those just over 700,000 were killed. That’s around 11.5% of all men that went to fight ‘for King and Country’. The Hall of Memory at the famous Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium contains the names of 54,896 unidentified Commonwealth soldiers. On completion it was discovered to be too small to contain all the names, so another 34,984 were inscribed elsewhere… and that’s just the unidentified soldiers. An estimated 16.5 million people (military and civilian) are believed to have died in total. With so many people killed and so many families torn apart as they bore the consequences of the conflict, it’s easy to see why this was considered to be the Great War, for the numbers are huge. Although these make fearsome statistics, we should never forget that these are all individuals, people who were known and loved by their families and friends; a point which remains true even for those whose names were eventually classified as ‘known only to God’.

This year on November 11th we will be holding our usual Remembrance Day Services across the benefice and I would like to invite you to strongly consider coming to one if you can as we remember with gratitude and grateful respect all those who have died in two world wars and other major conflicts. However, at All Saints Necton at 6.00pm we are going to be holding a special service to commemorate not only those who died in the conflict, but also to give thanks for the end of the First World War, as this year marks the centenary of its end. The service will finish with the bells in our church tower joining the nation in ringing a short celebratory salute to mark the end of the war. Please join us as we mark this special and significant occasion.


Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15.13



In Search Of Heroes – Lawrence Of Arabia

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It was 1917 and the horrors of the First World War were truly etched in people’s minds. Initial optimism that the war might be over by Christmas had been well and truly blown away in the dark clouds of 1914. Things if anything were getting worse. The bravery of so many young men who fought for ‘King and Country’ was not in question, but the dreadful stalemate of events on the Western Front had come at a terrible cost. In fact, danger was not so far away for on June 13th 1917, London suffered its highest loss of civilian casualties as German airplanes bombed the city. The Americans had just entered the war and the British were desperately trying to make headway in the muddy fields of Ypres (more commonly known as Passchendaele) but were being repeatedly pushed back by German artillery. In September the British revised their strategy but made slow progress (a mere 1000 yards), but edged ever closer to Passchendaele. What the country needed most of all was hope – and some good news. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, General Edmund Allenby began an attack on Turkish defences which stretched from Gaza to Beersheba in Southern Palestine. The Turks began to retreat towards Jerusalem with the Allies in pursuit. They were aided by a group of Arab fighters led by T.E. Lawrence, an Arab speaking English archaeologist later known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Lawrence and his guerrilla fighting force had already captured Aquaba on July 6th. So, aided by the photographer Lowell Thomas, Lawrence’s fame began to spread as he was depicted as a hero in gleaming white robes who rode to victory on a camel, a warrior-prince of the desert.

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Lawrence’s courage and resourcefulness were not in doubt but his depiction as a British hero was a real morale boost to all those who had suffered so much back at home. Finally, General Allenby was able to march on foot into Jerusalem thus ending the four century reign of that city by the Turks. The Prime Minister David Lloyd George described the capture as a ‘Christmas present for the British people’. Finally, Passchendaele also fell towards the end of the year.

This Remembrance Sunday we will be remembering all those ‘heroes’ who have served their country in times of war and of great need. We will remember those with great stories of their own alongside those whose stories are largely unknown but who suffered much – with many paying the ultimate price. In truth, no act of war can ever be called a ‘good news story’, but we can remember with pride and gratitude all those ordinary men and women, who didn’t think of themselves as remotely heroic, but still gave so much, so that we might be free – whose exploits we gratefully remember and commemorate on Remembrance Sunday.

The Christian will be familiar with another quiet hero who rode into Jerusalem so many years before (not on a camel, but a donkey), who also suffered much and eventually paid the ultimate price by his death upon the cross. At first glance his death seemed to be the epitome of innocent suffering and vanquished hope – but, in reality, his death was the means by which the greatest victory of all was achieved, offering the greatest prize of all, to all those who put their faith and trust in him – life in all its fulness and the forgiveness of sins.

So, please join us this Remembrance Sunday as we commemorate all those who gave up so much for others in the context of the one whose life, death and resurrection brings the greatest hope of all.


“On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us” 2 Corinthians 1.10b


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No Greater Love Than This …..

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“Some of us remembered that sunny last evening in June, when we had assembled with such high hopes in the trenches, the day before the Somme offensive began. How we had jested and joked, even collecting pieces of chalk wherewith to label as our trophies the guns we were so sure of taking! Some of us too, remembered the next night, when, with every officer but one a casualty, and our dead hanging thick on the German wire, we had been withdrawn, sweating and shaking and shattered. It took us three months to recover from that blow.” November 1916

These words are taken from Twelve Days on the Somme by Sidney Rogerson, and although they make uncomfortable reading, I think it’s right, upon this 100th anniversary, that we should be reminded of what life was actually like for those soldiers who endured that particular conflict.

The first war, was of course described as ‘The Great War’, the war to end all wars and with 20, 000 British troops dying on the first day of that particular battle, we can see why many thought that they had already paid a sufficiently high price to ensure the nation’s peace and trusted that surely, the world wouldn’t fall into such a sad and terrible situation again – and yet as we all know barely 30 years later the Second World war was upon us, and there have been various other conflicts since.

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We are mindful of the fact that Jesus said Greater love has no one, than he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13) and its significance for those who have died in conflict defending their country and way of life is obvious. Yet we need to remember that the context of this verse is not war, death or pain – but love, for it immediately follows the command to love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15.12). Military people know the importance of following commands and this is an important one for us all, for we must never allow anger, hatred or pain to define us as human beings. For if we do, then we have allowed these sentiments to rob us of a precious part of our humanity. ‘Loving God and our neighbours as ourselves’ doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight for what we know to be right or make sacrifices, but we do so precisely because we wish to preserve all that is right, decent and honourable. This sometimes means that we have to lift ourselves above a basic ‘tit-for-tat’ mentality (which may be no more than a basic desire for revenge) and strive to reach those higher standards and ideals that we cherish and wish all people to live by. The men who died upon the Somme and other such conflicts, ultimately did so because although they hated war, they were striving to preserve our way of life, freedom and peace. They were fighting for something greater than themselves. To this extent, their selfless act echoes the one made by Jesus when he died upon the cross, the one dying for the many, but achieving in his case for each one of us, the forgiveness of sins and salvation. It certainly wasn’t anger, fear or hatred which drove him to the cross but love, which is why we remember him and all those who have died in a similar selfless fashion with the greatest of respect, praise and gratitude. ‘The Great War’ may not have been the war to end all wars, but we value and respect all those whose efforts tried to make it so. Please join us this Remembrance Sunday as together we commemorate all those who have laid down their lives for us.


Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15.13


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Fury, Faith, Fortitude And Forgiveness – Reflections On Remembrance Sunday

Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell

As our nation turns once again towards Remembrance Sunday, we can note that 2015 has certainly been a year of commemoration, celebration and quiet reflection, marking as it did both the 70th anniversaries of VE Day (Victory in Europe Day, 8th May 1945) and VJ Day (Victory over Japan Day, 15th August 1945) along with the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The latter was marked by the magnificent sight and sound of 40 Spitfires and Hurricanes, and a single Blenheim, patrolling our coastlines once more back in September. No doubt there are many more significant occasions, notable events and distinguished acts of service that we as a nation should do our best to remember and take pride in. Not that we glorify war, because war is always a terrible thing and the cost of it purely in terms of human suffering is always immense, and yet despite its fury, we pay tribute to all those whose stoicism, faith and fortitude preserved our freedom, values and British way of life, remembering especially those who died in the process – and to this end I would like to invite and encourage you to join us at one of our Remembrance Day Services across the Benefice as we remember those who gave their lives in service of the nation, and give thanks to God for the freedom we enjoy.

Sadly our world is far from perfect, and when evil raises its ugly head we are constantly challenged as to what our response should be. It is Edmund Burke who is credited with the famous saying that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” and although it’s hard to pin down a definitive version of that phrase or even its attribution to Burke, we all know what it means. Ultimately, we all need to be prepared to ‘stand up and be counted’, for when it comes to challenging evil we appreciate that we can’t always pass that particular responsibility on to others. One such person was Edith Cavell, the World War 1 British nurse who is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers in Brussels from all sides without distinction. As a nurse she refused to ignore the suffering of the wounded soldiers she came across regardless of their nationality, treating them all equally as human beings. However, her medical impartiality didn’t mean that she was neutral as far as the war effort was concerned, for with the help of Belgian and French colleagues she helped over 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. Eventually she was arrested and found guilty by a German military court of ‘assisting men to the enemy’, culminating with her execution by firing squad on the 12 October 1915. The railway carriage or ‘Cavell Van’ which brought her body back to England has recently been on display outside The Forum’ in Norwich to mark the centenary of her death. However, on the evening before she died, Edith Cavell wrote in her diary some very moving words. She wrote Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

Edith Cavell was a Christian woman who was magnanimous in death, even forgiving her executioners. Her actions were no doubt influenced by the example of Jesus, who had in life exalted his disciples not only ‘to love God and your neighbour as yourself’ but their enemies too, and forgave his executioners even as they put him to death upon the cross. As previously mentioned, war is a terrible thing and sadly sometimes can’t be avoided, but it shouldn’t be the war or acts of violence which define us. It should be our attitude to life and the way we choose to live it which should be our lasting epitaph.


Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6.31


888,246 Reasons To Remember

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On Saturday 11th October a small coach party left Necton on a trip to London. The original intention was to take the members of our church youth group to London to see the sights and play a Monopoly style treasure hunt game where the youngsters (having been split into two teams of boys against girls), had to follow various clues to famous landmarks and take a ‘selfie’ of their team at each place to prove that they were actually there. In order to make the coach trip a little more affordable we opened our invitation to other members of the congregation who might like to come with us. Naturally, as youth group leaders we all hoped that we would have a great day out and a lot of fun (which we did!), but it was also hoped that our trip would spark a moment of reflection, because we were deliberately starting our day at the Tower of London in order to see the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red art installation situated there. The artwork consists of a huge display of ceramic poppies progressively filling the Tower’s famous moat from the 5th August to 11th November – 888,246 poppies to be exact, each one representing a British serviceman killed in action during the First World War. Of course 888, 246 poppies is a huge number of poppies, and a number which is difficult to comprehend or imagine until you see it symbolically laid out before you. When you do see it, it takes your breath away, and of course each poppy represents an individual, each with their own poignant story to tell, and each individual represents a grief stricken family which had lost some one in the service of their country. We may be marking the 100th anniversary of the First World War, but the pain felt by each family then was just as acute as any that might be felt today; and of course the freedom that our youngsters enjoyed as they ran around London, and that enjoyed by each one of us in our daily lives is largely due to all those men and women who have served their country in two world wars and other such conflicts around the world. Their bravery and stubborn tenacity in the face of an overwhelming and fiercesome foe secured our freedom and the way of life we enjoy today. We had hoped to visit the Cenotaph in our travels, but unfortunately street protestors made that element of our trip impossible – and yet, of course freedom of speech and the right to protest is also a well won right and democratic freedom which we enjoy. Our day concluded back at the Tower in time to hear a ‘roll of honour’ and a bugle playing the Last Post, a sombre reminder that many people couldn’t return home as they had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Jesus said ‘that greater love has no-one than this, than he lay does his life for his friends” (John 15.13), a thought illustrated so vividly in the artwork at the Tower and in the lives of countless men and women who died in two world wars, and other conflicts, in the service of their country – but then you see, Jesus should know – from beginning to end the Bible tells us the story of another conflict, and another amazing battle for hearts and minds in the face of an overwhelming enemy. It’s the story of a pervading force called sin that destroys people’s lives and ultimately leads to their destruction, but it’s also the story of wonderful new life, love, joy, justice and peace born out of an act of tremendous bravery and self sacrifice. It’s the story of Jesus! Our coach party returned home from London with a new sense of gratitude and perspective on what had happened during the First World War and what was truly important. It’s my hope that as we remember with gratitude this Remembrance Sunday those who have served their nation and those who have died for it, we will also remember that greater story of which theirs is such a poignant echo, the story of Jesus whose life, death and subsequent resurrection has accomplished so much more for us than we can possibly imagine!


‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’. John 3.16