In Paradisum

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My father, Raeburn Simpson Hawkins, died 36 years ago. His Year’s Mind – the anniversary of his death – falls on this coming Monday, October 2. Born in Canada, he served in the Great War as a very young man in the Canadian Royal Artillery on the Somme and at Passchendaele. Returning from the war, he received his degree from the University of Fredericton, New Brunswick, and then won a scholarship to the London School of Economics; and, although his life moved in a very different direction thereafter, he retained his interest in economics (the “dismal science” as it has been called!) throughout his life. From London he went to Wells Theological College; and in 1927/28 he was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood in the Church of England by William Temple, then Bishop of Manchester but later to become on the of greatest Archbishops of Canterbury. In the Second World War my father served as a chaplain in the Royal Air Force, and his outstanding service was Mentioned in Dispatches. In the New Year’s Honours List of 1963, Queen Elizabeth II made him an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (and my mother, my sister and I were present at the Investiture at Buckingham Palace). But, far more importantly, my father was a beloved parish priest in, successively, inner urban, industrial and country parishes. He was an Anglican. Was he then really a priest in the Church of God? By the understanding of Bishop Temple, in the understanding of the Church of England, in my father’s own mind and soul: Yes. In the understanding and hearts of the countless souls whom he absolved, for whom he offered the Holy Sacrifice, whom he accompanied to the gates of death: Yes. As a courtesy, at the very least, he is entitled to be addressed as a priest. Please pray for the repose of his soul.

 

 

 

 

 

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Who said this?

“The past is dead; let it bury its dead, its hopes and its aspirations; before you lies the future – a future full of golden promise; a future of expanding national glory, before which all the world shall stand amazed. Let me beseech you to lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling, and to take your places in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation devoutly to be wished – a reunited country.”

Was it those clamoring for the removal of Confederate memorials?

No: It was Jefferson Davis, in his last speech.

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The Purple Testament of Bleeding War — Shakespeare

 

This years mark the 75th anniversary of an event – the Dieppe Raid — in August of 1942, when I was eight years old.

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Dieppe 1942

But I need to start an account of my recollections of this catastrophe some two years earlier. My father, a Canadian by birth and upbringing — a fact that is not entirely irrelevant to what follows — who had served at a very young age in the Canadian Army through the horrors of the Somme, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele  in the “Great” War, was now (a priest of the Church of England) serving in the Second World War as a Chaplain in the Royal Air Force.

At the outbreak of war he was parish priest of St James, Hope, in the Diocese of Manchester (a large industrial city in the north of England).

Hope Vicarage

St James Church, Hope, with the Vicarage

The picture above – a watercolor painted in 1911, long before the events which I now relate – shows the church and the vicarage. Maybe a mile behind where the painter is seated is the Manchester Ship Canal, lined with engineering factories and an oil refinery. A quarter mile to the painter’s left is a very large hospital. Note, if you will, the grass banked up below the ground floor windows on the house. My father (who had experienced the trenches of Flanders) had arranged for the cellars below the house to be strengthened and for the construction of an escape route (convex on the outside so that it could not easily be blown in by explosions, but concave within, so that it could easily be knocked out with a sledge hammer which was kept to hand for that purpose).

The UK had been under nightly aerial bombardment for eight months. The “blitz” was intense throughout the Fall of 1940, with the alarm sirens sounding daily as darkness fell until the “all clear” was sounded at dawn. Every night my sister and I, as children, went to bed in the bunks that had been built into the cellar.

My father spent those nights on the streets of the parish, looking to provide help and guidance where needed in the total darkness of the mandatory “black-out”. Many parishioners had “Anderson” shelters in their gardens; but these were prone to flooding – and the rain, typical of Manchester, had been heavy for weeks. Thus my father brought many children back to the extensive cellar beneath our house. There was, at that time, an epidemic of whooping cough; and all we children duly caught it from each other.

The ferocious bombing reached its climax late on Christmas Eve of that year. The incendiary bombs that struck the church had been extinguished, but huge high-explosive bombs on three sides of the house had rendered it uninhabitable. The hospital had been hit; the oil refinery was burning.

The escape hatch worked. A parishioner came to take us to the railway station. I remember being driven through the city center, seeing the Free Trade Hall (the home of the famed Hallé Orchestra) on fire. None of the main railway termini was functioning, so we had to go some way out of the city to find a train. And so it was that my mother, sister and I went to live with my grandparents for almost the whole remaining duration of the war.

Of course, I did not receive any of my Christmas gifts until, some time later, they were retrieved from the wreckage of the house. I remember that one of them was a tin locomotive shed for my model railway. When, eventually, I got it, it was bent and dented. I held – and still hold – Adolf Hitler personally responsible for this affront.

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Manchester at Christmas 1940. The cathedral, itself badly damaged, is in the background

On that Christmas morning my father, whom we had left behind, celebrated the early Eucharist in a church lit only by the altar candles; and he told us that he could hear his people crunching through broken stained glass as they came to receive Communion.

Soon thereafter my father left his parish in the care of a priest-in-charge in order to serve in the RAF as a chaplain. By the summer of 1942 he was chaplain to the Royal Air Force (Coastal Command) base at Thorney Island on the southern coast of England, on Chichester Harbour, linked by causeway to the mainland. When it was possible to do so, my father would try to arrange for my mother, my sister and me to spend some part of the summer school holidays near his base. And so it was that we spent some time in August of that year in the small coastal town of Emsworth, from which there was a more-or-less (but this was wartime!) regular bus service across the causeway.

Although we were on the coast, there was ordinarily no possibility of the usual sea-side and beach pursuits. The enemy was a very short distance away to the south across the English Channel, and so the beach was heavily mined and completely covered in barbed wire. However, on the coast road several miles west of the air base a mock, decoy “airfield” had been constructed – using ground markings, some lights, imitation aircraft (made at a film studio, using wood, wire, canvas and paint) – to deceive Luftwaffe visitors in the area, inviting them to attack here rather than at the actual base. This installation was manned by a small group of the Royal Air Force Regiment soldiers, in a bunker there, who would activate it as necesary. These ingenious men had found a way through the adjacent barbed wire and around the mines, so that they could gain just enough access to the sand and the sea for bathing. My father knew them, of course; and thus we spent a sea-side afternoon on the beach.

At the end of that idyllic afternoon, and after a cup of tea with the men in the bunker, we went up onto the coast road the catch the bus back to Emsworth. And it was there, sitting on the upper deck of the bus, that we saw a German Me 109 fighter (basically on a reconnaissance mission, I am sure, given what was to follow) in a low approach and firing at our bus. Given the plane’s speed it was gone almost instantly; but there were several holes in the bus roof over us. The bus driver did not stop. There would be no purpose in doing so.

That night Emsworth was not its usual quiet self. Throughout the night we were kept awake by the constant rumble of tracked vehicles passing through its streets. As we learned later, they were assembling along the coast at several points between Portsmouth and Newhaven in order to launch, on 19 August 1942, a major raid on the French coastal port of Dieppe. Operation Jubilee was the first Canadian Army engagement in the European theatre of the war, designed to test the Allies’ ability to launch amphibious assaults against Adolf Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.” The plan was to take Dieppe, hold a perimeter around the town, destroy the harbour facilities, and then withdraw by sea. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, led by Major-General J.H. Roberts, formed the bulk of the infantry assault force. As Roberts told his troops before the raid — “Don’t worry men, it’ll be a piece of cake,” — a comment that would haunt him for years afterwards. I believe that there is evidence of the involvement of French double agents who may have given the alert to the German occupiers.

The raid was a disaster. The raid was over by mid-day. In nine hours, 907 Canadian soldiers were killed, 2,460 were wounded, and 1,946 were taken prisoner. That’s more prisoners than the Canadian Army would lose in 11 months of fighting during the Northwest Europe campaign of 1944-1945. Fewer than half the Canadians who departed for Dieppe made it back to England. Perhaps the finest tribute to the men who fought and died at Dieppe is the official report on the battle in 1942 by the German army: “The enemy, almost entirely Canadian soldiers, fought — so far as he was able to fight at all —well and bravely”.

As small children at the time, my sister and I were not unduly alarmed by our proximity to these events at Christmas 1940 nor in August 1942. Our parents protected us from the most frightening things and fears. I can only imagine what the Canadian heart of my father must have endured on that August day.

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Thoughts on Mothers’ Day

Thoughts on Mothers’ Day, and as we welcome into our family our beautiful, new-born, adopted twin grandchildren, Samuel and Thomas.

Some thirty-five years ago I attended a conference in Indianapolis on preaching. One of the featured speakers at that conference referred to The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Airport, and to The Poseidon Adventure – epic disaster movies that were popular at the time – as indicators of the mood of a society that had lost hope and could see no bright future.

In recent days several commentators, including Mark Steyn and William Kirkpatrick, have drawn attention to the stark reality of what this has come to mean. As Mark Steyn has said: “The future belongs to those who show up for it”. The implications are sinister, as we witness the demographic collapse of Western civilization. As William Kirkpatrick says: “It’s not a good omen when the leader of your nation doesn’t have to worry about what sort of country his or her progeny will grow up in.” To quote Mark Steyn again: “ …, with the arrival of President Macron in the charmed circle, the leaders of Europe’s biggest economies and of all the European members of the G7 are childless: Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s Theresa May, Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni …. Indeed of the six founding members of the European Union – France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg – five are led by childless prime ministers.”

Now, lest we lull ourselves into careless sleep, we need to recognize that this is not merely a European problem. The Lord God says, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God … for that means life to you and length of days …” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

How can we possibly imagine that our society has chosen the better part, life and blessing, when it has acquiesced in, and promoted, the abortion – and let’s be clear that that means the murder, slaughter, dismemberment, the “Final Solution” – of some 60 million innocent, God-given children since the 1973 death-and-curse choice of Roe v. Wade.

And there is more. Our society has acquiesced in, and celebrated, the utter barrenness and the selfishness of the homosexual lifestyle.

But the eternal and luminous fact is that, in the words of William Ross Wallace, —

THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE IS
THE HAND THAT RULES THE WORLD.

BLESSINGS on the hand of women!
Angels guard its strength and grace.
In the palace, cottage, hovel,
Oh, no matter where the place;
Would that never storms assailed it,
Rainbows ever gently curled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

Infancy’s the tender fountain,
Power may with beauty flow,
Mothers first to guide the streamlets,
From them souls unresting grow—
Grow on for the good or evil,
Sunshine streamed or evil hurled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

Woman, how divine your mission,
Here upon our natal sod;
Keep—oh, keep the young heart open
Always to the breath of God!
All true trophies of the ages
Are from mother-love impearled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

Blessings on the hand of women!
Fathers, sons, and daughters cry,
And the sacred song is mingled
With the worship in the sky—
Mingles where no tempest darkens,
Rainbows evermore are hurled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

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September 8, 1966

The Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, September 8. It was on this day fifty-one yenotre-dame-du-chene-de-p723i1_0ars ago today, 1966, that I first celebrated Mass at a Roman Catholic altar. I was a young priest, serving as the Anglican spiritual director of an Anglo-French, Anglican and Catholic ecumenical pilgrimage – on the first night of which we had arrived at a small Marian Shrine, Notre Dame du Chêne, in the Diocese of Le Mans. Unsure of where I might be able to celebrate a Mass for the Anglican contingent, I consulted my Catholic colleague, Père Gaudin (whose regular assignment was as chaplain to a Catholic high school in Rouen). He told me to meet him in the sacristy on the following morning. I did; and I found that everything had been prepared for me – vestments, bread and wine, and an altar in the shrine church adjacent to the altar at which Père Gaudin would himself be saying Mass for his people at exactly the same time. We could see each other, hear each other, as the mystery was unfolded and the Holy Sacrifice was offered in precise parallel. “That they may be one” as our Blessed Lord prayed. Many days of prayer and pilgrimage later, Père Gaudin and I had come to know each other well. In the great cathedral in Lyons he and I talked yet again about our longing for that unity for which Christ prayed. We had talked of the great apostle of unity, Père Paul Couturier (who is buried in Lyon), and his Anglican friend Father Geoffrey Curtis of the Anglican Community of the Resurrection. He had come to know that I had been ordained by an Anglican bishop who was himself in both the Anglican and the Old Catholic lines of succession. Taking me by the hand in Lyons Cathedral (where, incidentally, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England under King Henry II, had taken refuge in the early 12th century), he said: “You are very priest”. So I believe. That was fifty-one years ago, and so much has happened in the intervening years. As the commercial for Farmers’ Insurance puts it, “We know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two”!

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Historical Discovery, maybe

Waiting for a train the other day at Poitiers Gare, sitting on a bench and sipping a bottle of chilled Evian (alas, there was no Vittel available at the Relay), I happened to see a sign as shown on this photograph.

Maquis

My French is adequate but not wonderful, so I puzzled idly for a while over what “ORTIE” might mean. I had not previously encountered this word; maybe it was some sort of error for the city’s name of Poitiers. But no, that couldn’t be.

And then it dawned on me: the word was meant to be SORTIE – the French for “Way Out” – and, somehow, the first letter had faded, fallen off or been erased.

And so, again, it dawned on me. This was a relic of World War Two, when the Nazis occupied France. Obviously, the Maquis – the rural French Resistance that was active in this part of the country – used a kind of secret message system, of which this sign was an example. The letter “S” was deleted from “Sortie”, and this was an indication (for the initiated – or better, perhaps, the “uninitialed”) that secret information would be revealed by deleting the first letters of subsequent words on the sign. So there it was, obvious to those who knew: “Bus” becomes “us” and “Taxis” becomes “axis”. There you have it: go towards the left and you will find “us”, friendly people. But if you move to the right, you will run right into the Axis, the  enemy forces.

What could be simpler? But I am joking, of course.

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Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget, lest we forget …….

… words from Ruyard Kipling’s Recessional. We came to do what we had to do. We did not forget. On June 12 we were at Bailleul, in Flanders on the French-Belgian border, to be present at the grave of my uncle, for whom I am named, on the exact centenary of his death in the Great War of 1914-1918. The Commonwealth War cemetery there contains the remains of more than five thousand British and Commonwealth dead. Not far away, on the Menin Gate there are inscribed the names of some 54,000 others. And in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris there is a modest and simple tablet that records the fact that a million – yes, million: with six zeros – British and Commonwealth soldiers died in the Great War; and it also notes that the vast majority of them rest in French soil.

notre-dame-cathedral

We do not know the exact details of Allan Jones’ death, but it is probable that he died of his battle wounds in a Bailleul military hospital – of one of such Seigfried Sassoon was later to write:

But death replied: “I choose him.” So he went,                                                                            And there was silence in the summer night.

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Here is what I said (apart from some personal and family words about my mother’s inconsolable love for her only brother) at his graveside:

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Almighty and everlasting Lord, God of the spirits of all flesh: We commend to you the soul of Allan Jones, and the souls of all who rest in this place, pleading that the memory of their devotion and courage may ever be an inspiration to us, and that we too may serve you faithfully all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no more war, no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no voice nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal posession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitation of your glory and dominion, ever without end. [This lovely prayer is, apart from three words that I added, the work of John Donne.]

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

God grant to the living, grace; to the departed, rest; to the Church, the Queen, and the Commonwealth, and all mankind, peace and concord; and to us and all his servants, life everlasting.

And may the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Sprit, be with us and abide with us always.

So we left, as it were, a bouquet of poppies and roses. Just two years before my uncle’s death, and very close to Bailleul, at the second battle of Ypres, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote what is surely the most famous of all war poems – In Flanders Fields:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

The song “Roses of Picardy”, with lyrics by Frederick Weatherly and music by Haydn Wood, was published in 1916 and was widely sung by British soldiers as they enlisted for the battle front on the Somme:

Roses are shining in Picardy, in the hush of the silver dew,                                                             Roses are flowering in Picardy, but there’s never a rose like you!                                                 And the roses will die with the summertime,                                                                               and our roads may be far apart,                                                                                                     But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy!                                                                                  ’tis the rose that I keep in my heart!

I think that one of the things that distinguishes the “Great” War from World War Two is indicated by the way in which the former produced so much poetry which resonates to this very day. My late brother-in-law, Dr Frank Field, whose special interest concerned the intersection between early twentieth century history and the culture of the period, wrote a book (published in 1991) entitled British and French Writers of the First World War: Comparative Studies in Cultural History.

The Cambridge University Press said this of the book: “The First World War dealt a profound shock to European society. In this original and stimulating book, the historian Frank Field looks at the experiences of France and Britain during the war years as revealed in the work of some of their most prominent writers responding to the unfolding catastrophe. Brooke, Wells, Shaw, Kipling, Lawrence, Owen and Rosenberg are set alongside Jaurès, Barrès, Maurras, Péguy, Psichari and Rolland, as case studies of the war’s impact on intellectual life in their respective countries. The comparative perspective reveals deep differences between the French and the British experience, and yet a shared ordeal marked by the terrible ironies attendant on the shattering of common ideals. Literary images of war as a purification rite were effaced by the bloody realities of the conflict and the prophecies of writers who came to feel increasingly distanced from the essential innocence of the world before 1914 took on a new tone, grimly apocalyptic or bitterly disillusioned.”

For some reason, of which I am not aware, Frank made no reference to Siegfried Sassoon (a few of whose words I have already quoted, above). I first became aware of Sassoon, as a teenager, reading his Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man – an idyllic account of rural life in the golden Edwardian years between the death of Queen Victoria and the accession of King George V. And then came his Memoirs of an Infantry Office. Wounded several times, he had served with exceptional (and as Robert Graves described it) suicidal bravery – on one occasion capturing single-handedly a German trench in the Hindenburg Line.

At last there came “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, bringing with it (11 A.M. on November 11, 1918) the Armistice which, it was fervently prayed, would bring an end to “The War to End All Wars”. And Sassoon expressed the inexpressible relief and joy of millions, as “Everyone Sang”:

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;                                                                                             And I was filled with such delight                                                                                                    As prisoned birds must find in freedom,                                                                                 Winging wildly across the white                                                                                          Orchards and dark green fields; on – on – and out of sight.

 Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;                                                                                              And beauty came like the setting sun;                                                                                           My heart was shaken with tears; and horror                                                                                  Drifted away – O, but Everyone                                                                                                    Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

And there is a footnote. Toward the end of his life, Siegfried Sassoon became a Roman Catholic. He was received into the Church at Downside Abbey where, only a handful of years later, our local SSC Chapter would make its annual retreat. He had hoped to receive instruction from the incomparable Monsignor Ronald Knox, but Knox was by this time too ill to do it. Sassoon, who died in 1967, was buried in the churchyard of St Andrew’s, Mells, in Somerset,  very close to the mortal remains of Father Knox whom he had so much admired.

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