Sermon for the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, St Sepulchre’s, Remembrance Sunday 2013
Just over sixty years ago, on 9th June 1952 the First Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, under the command of Lt Colonel Dick Stevens marched through the City of London, past the Lord Mayor, on their way to lunch at The Guildhall. A fortnight later they sailed from Liverpool in the ship The Empire Halladale to join the war in Korea.
When they arrived in the Far East six weeks later, Major Terry Donnelly, commanding C Company of mainly Cockney Fusiliers joked with his men, “With a ladder and some glasses you could see the Hackney Marshes, if it wasn’t for the houses in between.”
The Korean War at this stage was mainly a night-time campaign with patrols creeping through the minefields to gather information. By day the soldiers lived a troglodyte existence in a maze of trenches. The major operation involving the battalion was OP PIMLICO. On the night of 24th November 1952, D Company, commanded by Major Mike Chard, were ambushed by a large Chinese force after they had set out to raid enemy lines. Great heroism was displayed by all the Company, but still fourteen were killed, nineteen wounded and eight taken prisoner. Fusilier George Hodkinson, the wireless operator who had taken command when Kit Hoare and all the NCOs had been knocked out, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his deeds on that night. Before being taken prisoner, and in spite of his wounds, George had calmly reported the battle over the radio and called down artillery and mortar fire on the enemy. His final words before capture were, “This is it. They are coming again in strength. We shall be overrun this time. Nothing can stop them now.”
Early 1953 saw the battalion in Corps reserve but they were soon back in the line again. In late May, the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, on the key strategic position of the Hook, were attacked in force. Ten thousand shells landed on their position on one night alone. The Fusiliers were ordered up to support the Dukes and they took over the hill on 29th May. The Hook battle took place at the same time as the climbing of Mount Everest and the Coronation of Elizabeth II, so there were very few reports back home in the press. But this battle was a major factor in contributing to the armistice which followed two months later. This is yet another example of Korea as “the forgotten war”. And it was not until 1987 that a memorial to those who fell was dedicated by the Queen in St Paul’s.
Now I have never been a soldier. But my father served in the RAF during the Second World War and my father in Law at El Alamein. I have numbered soldiers, sailors and airmen among my dearest friends and colleagues all through my career. In all this time, I have never met a soldier who wanted to go to war. Yet every soldier I have had the honour to meet always knew the truth of Edmund Burke’s saying: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
And I have been sickened in my lifetime to see how Remembrance Sunday has been hijacked in the schools by trendy teachers and in the churches by the sackless pacifist clergy. The only war poetry that gets read is the maudlin, cowardly stuff by Wilfred Owen. And in most churches on Remembrance Sunday, the prayers are always about the horror of war and the evil of war. Now every soldier knows more than these armchair politicos about the horror of war and the evil of war. But what the soldier also knows is that there are worse evils than warfare. Worse than warfare is non-resistance in the face of the aggressor who would kill or enslave you, your family, our nation.
The recently retired Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams thinks that we should not retaliate when attacked. In his book following the September 11th atrocities and called Writing in the Dust, he says, “If I decide to answer in the same terms, that is how the conversation will continue”. Well Dr Williams, bombing the heart of New York is a pretty strange way to start a “conversation”! There is a confusion here between revenge and justice. While I may seek on my own behalf to follow the teaching of Christ to turn the other cheek, I must not do this on behalf of those who have suffered innocently. It is my duty to take up the sword on behalf of the fatherless children and the widow. Not to do this is to concede victory to the aggressors, and that would be unjust. Anyone following Dr Williams’ pacifist line would have to argue that the brave men on 9/11 who first said The Lord’s Prayer and then cried, “Let’s roll!” and fought back against the terrorists in the fourth plane were wrong to do so. But if they had not summoned up oceans of courage and attacked the terrorists, then almost certainly the fourth plane would have been deliberately crashed into a densely populated target and the loss of life would have been catastrophically greater.
I spent a good part of my ministry in Yorkshire, and so I had plenty of opportunity to get acquainted with the York Quaker pacifist ladies. Let me tell you: this sort is not harmless; they are not merely picturesque quaint, high-minded eccentrics. Pacifism is the enemy of peace, because it is the enemy of justice and righteousness. For pacifism always prefers the triumph of evil to necessary resistance. Pacifism and the appeasement of the aggressor always leads to more trouble in the long run. If you appease the crocodile, don’t think he won’t eat you. He will just eat you last. If the governments of the allied nations had listened to Churchill, Harold Nicholson and Duff Cooper in the 1930s instead of to the treacherous Lord Halifax and the lying Rab Butler, Hitler could have been stopped in his tracks and millions of lives would have been saved.
The soldier-poet T.E.Hulme, killed by one of the last shells to fall in the First World War, wrote as follows: “The pacifists’ incapacity to realise the consequences of defeat arises from a relativist, utilitarian ethic. They live securely and comfortably, finding a sufficient support in a sceptical rationalism. But individuals in a condition of danger, when the pseudo-absolutes melt away into a flux require once more a real absolute to enable them to live”.
And a lot of modern churchmen forget that Christ who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” also said, “I come not to send peace but a sword”. I am tired of having to listen to the slander by those clergymen and schoolteachers who make up today’s liberal establishment in which they speak of patriotism, the love of one’s country and the willingness to lay down one’s life as “jingoism”. I cannot abide the fact that the memory of our valiant dead is ungratefully insulted in this way.
Here, from the First World War, is a memory of two soldiers from the seventh battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers:
“Private Bob Young was conscious right to the end. I lay alongside him and said, ‘Can I do anything for you, Bob?’ he said, ‘Straighten my legs, Jack’. But he had no legs. He said, ‘Get my wife’s photograph out of my breast pocket’. I took the photograph out and put it in his hands. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t lift a hand. He couldn’t lift a finger. But he somehow held his wife’s photograph on his chest. And that’s how Bob Young died”.
In short the Christian believes that death is not the worst thing that can happen: worse, far worse, than death is the triumph of wrong. This is why the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion in the now despised Book of Common Prayer – Articles which all the clergy are obliged to recite and affirm – contain these words: “It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons and serve in the wars”.
Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends
May God bless you all and all those who serve in our armed forces.