Remembrance Day sermon at Christ Church Falkirk 2014

Last year you might remember we managed to find out a lot of information about the men from Christ Church who fell in the first World War. The ones whose names we read out at the beginning of the service. I had hoped to do the same with those from the Second World War this year but unfortunately the only church magazines cover 1940 and 1941 and there are only a couple of names mentioned.

There is one person I do know about, however, and he has been keeping me company on my desk for the past few weeks since Gill passed on an envelope to me. Let me introduce you to David Millar, Gill’s brother whose name we read out earlier. He was a Leading Aircraftman in the RAF and died in 1942. More of him later.

So although I didn’t find out much about all the names on our War Memorial, I did find out a little of what life was like here during the war and I’d like to share some of that with you now.

In June 1940 the Rector Ivor Ramsay wrote in his letter:

‘Strangers approaching Falkirk by all different roads can hardly fail to notice a series of indicators, newly set up, directing them to the First Aid Post, and if they follow out in that direction, they will come to Christ Church, for as we know, our Hall is an ARP Depot, and the recently-built, well equipped First Aid Post is on Bell’s Meadow just at the foot of the rectory garden.’

ARP stands for Air Raid Precautions and the ARP Depot would be where the Air Raid Wardens hung out. It was their job to enforce the black-out and help people into the shelters when there was an air-raid. They kept the registers of the area and were often accused of being nosy busybodies because of the enforcement work they had to do. However, if there was an air-raid they had to patrol in pairs putting themselves at risk of falling masonry and shrapnel. They also carried out immediate first aid and put out small fires until the Fire Brigade arrived. And they were not only men – one in six were women. Judging by the amount of activities going on here in Christ Church they were certainly kept busy.

One magazine article at the beginning of Lent made me smile. It began:

Lent will soon be here, presenting the age old problem: “What shall I serve today?”  And the answer?

The answer is PEAS. With a protein equal to meat, peas are a most sustaining food. 1 lb of peas is equal in food value to 1 lb of prime beef. Those of you who may doubt this statement should turn to the Book of Daniel 1:15. Read how the band of young men who ate nothing but lentils (peas and beans) ‘were strong and ruddy withal’ and excelled their meat-eating rivals in bouts of wrestling, running and leaping. Peas, we are told, are the oldest green vegetable known to man. And they are one of the few green veg that children really like. The magazine then went on to provide many recipes for using peas:

A Delightful Vegetable Soup
Salad Polonaise (beetroot, cold tatties, tinned carrots, and PEAS covered in salad cream with horse radish)
Vegetable Salad (with PEAS)
Scrambled eggs (with PEAS)
Poached Eggs (with tomato and PEAS)
Boiled Fish with PEAS

And if Peas don’t suit you, you could always try Ovaltine. If food rations have run out and if you are run down, then Ovaltine is the thing for you. You don’t have to drink it either, you can add it to practically anything and it will give you all the nutrition you need.

Another letter from the Rector spoke about evacuees. He had received a letter from a man who was evacuated from London to Falkirk in 1939 who had joined the Air Force and written to Mr Ramsay:

“Many thanks for the real welcome I received at your Church, to you for the book of prayers that I use morning and evening, and indeed to your whole congregation for the parcel just received. I am thoroughly enjoying life here, and I feel that I am now beginning to pull my weight in this fight against evil… I hope one day to return to Carronvale and renew my membership in your family of exiled Sassenachs!”

During the war time many English people found themselves north of the border and were welcomed into Christ Church, St Mary’s Grangemouth and St Andrew’s Dunmore. Those connections stayed even after they moved away again with parcels being sent, and much knitting done by the ladies of Christ Church which was sent out to the troops.

I also learned that Toc-H met in the Song School, now the St Andrew’s Chapel, on Monday nights. At every meeting they lit their oil lamp and said the words we began our service with today: They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn… Then silence was kept as they remembered the Elder Brethren. I’m not sure if the sister organisation The League of Women remembered the Elder Sisters or not. I did love their motto though –

Service is the rent we pay for our room on earth.

There was also a Fellowship of St Catherine of Siena who met in the Song School on Wednesdays. In fact, there was not a night when something wasn’t going on in that Song School – Guides, Scouts, and umpteen other organisations, including breakfast between services on Sundays. The Fellowship of St Catherine of Siena seemed to mostly knit comforts for the Forces and entertained the Troops by singing and performing plays.

At Christmas every member of Christ Church who was in the Forces received a pair of socks and a postal order from the congregation. I also learned that evening services had to be brought forward to the afternoon because it was going to be too expensive for black-out curtains for church. They did have lots of activities in the hall and in fact one night they were raided by the police at 1am after a Whist Drive and entertainment to raise money for soldiers. But a few months later there was a thank you to the Misses Gray-Buchanan for providing curtain material for church and for the Mother’s Union for sewing them. In fact each magazine had a thank you to what must have been each member of the congregation for donating something to the war effort. Everyone was pulling together, sewing, giving money, knitting, and sharing resources with one another to eke out rationing.

In November 1941 we contributed £25 to the Diocesan Fund which was one of the largest sums donated. That is really impressive for this church – to outdo most of the large churches in the diocese.

Ivor Ramsay finished his letter in 1940 with this:

To the First Aid Post – The final word of that direction should remind us of the present urgency, when everyone must be at the post of duty, wherever that post may be. As the indicators in the streets of Falkirk point towards Christ Church, so the church should inspire us all to regard our post of duty, whether in the Forces or at home, as a sphere of Christian witness. At a post of dangerous duty, before going into action in Flanders in 1915, there was formed the Silent Fellowship, that is now called the Mighty Million, to help people to put their faith into their work. Its members are bidden to hold fast to the faith that in our struggle for the freedom of mankind, we must and will prevail to discourage the spreading of rumours and to refuse to be unduly alarmed by any setbacks; to be thoroughly efficient, whatever our job may be, and to give our whole energy to the cause of freedom without counting the cost; to forego any selfish indulgences which may undermine the morale or waste the goods of the nation; and to make unity of the freedom-loving peoples a reality by being friendly and helpful to everyone.’

Perhaps we can hold to that message still today: especially to give our whole energy to the cause of freedom and peace on earth.

I did say I would come back to Gill’s brother, David Millar. I have here the telegram his father received on 1 February 1942.

Regret to inform you that your son 574130 Leading Aircraftman David Millar lost his life on the 24th January 1942. Cause of death to follow when known. Letter follows. Please accept profound sympathy.

and the letter read:

Dear Sir

It is my painful duty to confirm my telegram of the 26th January 1942 in which you were informed of the death of your son, No 574130 Leading Aircraftman David Millar, who was killed at 1.30pm on the 24th January 1942, and buried at 2pm on the same day at the place of death. The cause of your son’s death is not yet known by me, but the question has been taken up with Headquarters, Royal Air Force, Middle East and the information will be transmitted to you immediately on receipt in this office. The Air Council desire me to express their sympathy and deep regret at your son’s death in his country’s service.

I am,
Dear Sir,
Your obedient service
H W Saunders
for Air Commodore

Let me now finish with a Prayer for the Departed from the book of prayers given to every sailor, soldier and airman:

O God, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive; look favourably on the souls of the faithful departed, and grant them remission of all their sins; that, being loosed from the bands of death, they may attain unto life eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Remembrance Requiem altar2014

The Wall by William Sutcliffe – Book Group questions

Occasionally we choose a book for our Reading Group for which I can find no questions on the internet. It really helps the conversation if we have some questions to focus our discussion. Here are some questions I’ve come up with for The Wall by William Sutcliffe. Feel free to add any more suggestions in the comments.

THE WALL by William Sutcliffe

Is this book something you would normally read?  Did it win you over?

The book is written for young adults? Did that put you off?

The author says: “What I actually wanted to do is write the story of a kid brought up living a fantasy who happens across reality. For me, that was a lot more interesting.”  What is the fantasy about Joshua’s life?

The author is himself a Jew, so why do you think he wrote a book which was quite critical about Israel?

Did you find the story believable?

Why do you think he chose a young boy to be the main character and not an adult?  Joshua is 13 – the age a Jewish boy comes of age – so do you think he grows up in the novel? In what way?

What did you think about Joshua’s mother? Did you think she was weak?

What about his step-father?

Were there any bits you didn’t like?

It took great courage to go through the tunnel. What gave Joshua the courage to go again?

Did the life of Leila and her family shock you?

Why do you think Joshua took over looking after the olive and lemon groves? What were his motives? Did he make things worse or better for Leila’s family?

The author said “But it was really important to the authenticity of the book that it wasn’t a ‘everyone can be friends across the barbed wire’ kind of story. I guess I have an optimism about people rather than politicians – and a belief that most people want to live ordinary lives in peace.”  Do you agree?

What did you think of the ending? Was it what you expected?

Lost and Found

I’ve been going through our old church magazines from 1941 looking for information of those who died in WW2 for our Remembrance Sunday service. I have found all sorts of information, not least the following…

Various things are left in Church from time to time – gas-masks, umbrellas, scarves, gloves, handbags and the like – but  a month ago a worshipper, whether of the Forces Parade or of our own flock, left some false teeth! I have lacked the courage to mention this among the Church Notices, though I have asked various people if they are quite sure that they didn’t leave their teeth in Church.  I shall put them now in a little box, and leave them on the table near the electric switches at the door, and I hope that the rightful owner will come and take them for comfort’s sake.

In which Ruth ponders listening

Listening makes up a large part of my job. Listening to stories. Listening to the unspoken word. Listening to symptoms. Listening to sadness and worries and troubles. Listening to anecdotes and funny tales. Listening to overheard conversations.

Listening is really important in ministry. Listening and not leaping in with your own story. And that is sometimes hard to do. Sometimes I find myself biting my lip to prevent myself diving in with my own contribution. Perhaps it is worse when you are an extrovert, desperate to be witty and amusing and take over the centre stage. I have a tendency to do that. To wait for the gap, the breath when I can leap in. To lighten the mood, to not sit with the sadness. Someone recently told me that ministry wasn’t all about telling people that they are loved by God. Sometimes you need to sit with the dark bits.

Today I came across this poem/prayer so I share it with you (and me). (And I hope the author doesn’t mind me sharing it.)

How good are we at listening to other people? – Nov 06
I am listening to you, honestly,
But I’m also thinking about what I’m going to say next
I hate embarrassed gaps in conversation when no one knows what to say
I want you to think that I’m interesting, funny, witty
So I’m lining up my response, getting it ready

I am listening to you, honestly,
But I hope you don’t go on too long
I want to catch the final scores, to find out how my team has done
And I need to ring my friend before he goes out for the evening
Then ‘I’m a celebrity’ is on TV and I don’t want to miss that
So make it quick and you don’t need to repeat yourself

I am listening to you, honestly,
But I’m also thinking about what happened at work this week
And what I’ve got to do next week
I’m going to be in trouble if I don’t get that report written
And I need to work out why my colleague isn’t talking to me
So it’s quite hard to hear what you’re saying
over all this internal noise

I am listening to you, honestly,
But that group over there looks like they’re having a much better conversation
They’re laughing and joking
I’d really like to get to know some of them
Not that you’re not important – of course you are
I just wish I had the chance to speak to them too

I am listening to you, honestly,
But to be honest, I wish you’d really listen to me
Just for once, to pay attention to what I have to say
without jumping in with your experience and your solutions
I don’t want you to solve my problems
I just want you to hear me
To hear the me behind the words
To really listen

listening

Windsor Consultation October 2014

Every priest needs to nourish their own heart. Sadly, this is something that some of us are not good at doing. And we can be even worse at nourishing one another. I mean, if we don’t manage to look after ourselves, how can we make time to look after one another? We concentrate all our time, energy and prayers on our little flocks that we leave little time for caring for anyone else, including ourselves.

DSCF0007One of the ways we can do that is in Continuing Ministerial Development and most years I head south to Englandshire for a Clergy Consultation in St George’s House in Windsor. It all began when +Brian suggested I might benefit from attending a Consultation when I was looking for some more study. I’d thought about doing the MTh but couldn’t find the time for it, so doing a summer school or annual chunk of study seemed perfect. Over the years I’ve really enjoyed the courses in Windsor and benefited from meeting other clergy from around the UK.

This year the title was Nourishing the Pastoral Heart and was all about how we, as clergy, care for ourselves. The weather didn’t care much for us, it has to be said. with wind and rain featuring heavily. Much like home really. I had a good, fun home group in which to go over the talks we’d heard. We also shared stories of pastoral encounters which had stayed with us and offered advice and support when we could. We vowed to take days off every week, knowing that we probably won’t but know, without doubt, how important they are. (And not to be used for visiting sick parents either.) Although how my clergy friends with umpteen parishes manage, I don’t know.

One of the most wonderful bits about going to Windsor, for me, is taking part in the daily worship in St George’s. Yes, some of it is alien to me (all male choirs, evensnog in which we only get to say the Creed, and a slightly different liturgy – just different enough to make you think it is the same but then it trips you up) but then, as I’ve been over the years I have come to really enjoy it. Yes, I don’t get to say a thing at Evensnog but what a treat to sit so close to a wonderful choir and soak up the music. This year the morning Eucharist was moved out of the chantry chapel with my favourite little unicorn but it was a bit of unicorn Windsora squash and having it in the nave meant glorious views of the west window and who can resist gazing up to beautiful fan vaulting? It is all terribly macho of course. Let’s hope the next Canon is of the womanly variety.

The food is glorious, the afternoon cakes divine, the wine much appreciated, and we were always cared for by the staff. (Thank you to the lovely lady who stood waiting for me to appear for breakfast with a mug in her hand to present to me, so that I didn’t have to cope with the breakfast china tea cups and saucers!) And then there is my dear friend Canon James who provided humour and love in equal measures.

The Dean tried, yet again, to convert me to a love of poetry and almost succeeded. Although I still think that when I’m feeling low I will not rush to some sad poetry to help me sit with the pain but will phone a friend instead.

I came home, tired but refreshed, and promising to try and care for myself more.

Clergy Photo 2014

In which Ruth ponders National Poetry Day

I don’t really do poetry. I don’t get it. Well, most of it anyway. Poetry involves hard work and I’m a pretty instant kind of person. Instant food and instant gratification and instant feel good, that’s me. The problem is that lots of clergy love poetry. They read it, they quote from it, they preach it. And sometimes, dare I say it, there’s a wee bit of snobbery around poetry too. The more elusive the poem, the better it seems to be. But if I don’t get it immediately on first reading then I move on.

Mind you, I have been known to pen a wee ditty or two in my time. Not that I’d call them poems though. Just thoughts or ramblings or rantings even. But I mostly keep them to myself or pass them off as ‘meditations’. Meditations cover a multitude of sins.

However, there are some poets I quite like. Carol Ann Duffy, for one. I get her. Or maybe I don’t but think I do. You see, that’s the problem with poetry. You think you get it and then someone unpacks layers of meaning that you completely missed first time round. Maya Angelou – I love her stuff. And I’ve recently discovered Malcolm Guite and Ann Lewin. I also love Matthew Fitt and Maureen Sangster who write in Scots vernacular and make me smile.

So I’ve had a look through my Quotes Journals and here are a few of my favourite poems for National Poetry Day:

God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

I love that poem! Love Love Love.

Ain’t I a Woman by Erlene Stetson

That man over there say
a woman needs to be helped into carriages
and lifted over ditches
and to have the best place everywhere.
Nobody ever helped me into carriages
or over mud puddles
or gives me the best place…

And ain’t I a woman?
Look at me
Look at my arm!
I have ploughed and planted
and gathered into barns
and no man could head me…
and ain’t I a woman?
I could work as much
and eat as much as a man -
when I could get to it -
and bear the lashes as well
and ain’t I a woman?

I have borne thirteen children
and seen most sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother’s grief
none but Jesus heard me…
and ain’t I a woman?
that little man in black there say
a woman can’t have as much rights as a man
’cause Christ wasn’t a woman
Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothing to do with him!
If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it
rightside up again.

Perhaps poetry needs to be about the right topic to interest me? Hmm.

Waste by the Rev’d Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy (Woodbine Willie)

Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,

Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious Years,
Waste of ways the Saint’s have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God, -
War!

I do like some of the war poets and this one is just so succinct and kept coming back to me on my recent trip to Normandy.

The Hymn of a Fat Woman by Joyce Huff

All of the saints starved themselves.
Not a single fat one.
The words ‘deity’and ‘diet’ must have come from the same
Latin root.

Those saints must have been thin as knucklebones
or shards of stained
glass or Christ carved
on his cross.

Hard
as pewseats. Brittle
as hair shirts.  Women
made from bone, like the ribs that protrude from his wasted
wooden chest. Women consumed
by fervor.

They must have been able to walk three or four abreast
down that straight and oh-so-narrow path.
They must have slipped with ease through the eye
of the needle, leaving the weighty
camels stranded at the city gate.

Within that spare city’s walls,
I do not think I would find anyone like me.

I imagine I will find my kind outside
lolling in the garden
munching on the apples.

No surprises with that one then.

Please Bury Me In The Library by J Patrick Lewis

Please bury me in the librarybooks and coffee
In the clean, well-lighted stacks
of Novels, History, Poetry,
right next to the Paperbacks
where the Kid’s Books dance
with True Romance
and the Dictionary dozes.
Please bury me in the library
with a dozen long-stemmed roses.
way back by a rack of Magazines,
I won’t be sad too often
if they bury me in the library
with Book worms in my coffin.

Just delightful!

Blame The Vicar by John Betjeman

When things go wrong it’s rather tame
to find we are ourselves to blame,
it gets the trouble over quicker
to go and blame things on the Vicar.
The Vicar, after all, is paid
to keep us bright and undismayed.

For what’s a Vicar really for
except to cheer us up, What’s more,
he shouldn’t ever, ever tell
if there is such a place as Hell,
for if there is it’s certain he
will go to it as well as we.

My party piece on more than one occasion.

The Late Bride by Veronica Zundel

And so she finally
after all those years
opened the box.
And out flew
nothing.
And was that all, she cried
there was in it?
Then why did I dream and yearn
scrabble and fight so long
to get my hands on it?

That was at first
it was only later she learnt,
slowly, so slowly
to fill the box with
the treasures she had
unknowing, owned all along.

Just lovely.

So there we have it, some of my favourite poems for National Poetry Day. Want to convert me? Send me your favourite then!

In which Ruth ponders what Scotland means to her

Last week the people of Scotland turned out in droves to vote for or against independence. For weeks and months before social media was buzzing with comments, threats, fears and hopes. Deliberately, I chose not to voice my opinion. Some of my little flock were expressing concerns about what the aftermath would be like and I figured that ministering to them would be easier if I was neutral. That didn’t mean that I didn’t feel strongly about the vote, however.

I was brought up in a fiercely Scottish household. By that, I don’t mean that we were all SNP voters. I just mean that we were really proud to be Scottish, we love our country and its contribution to the world stage. If asked for my nationality, I always put down Scottish rather than British if I could – and objected if I couldn’t!  When I travel abroad to Englandshire or further afield there is always a surge of passion in my heart as I cross the border back home. I love my capital city of Edinburgh, and in IonaCrosssmall doses I adore the countryside which I think is uniquely beautiful. I am a socialist at heart and am troubled about the gap between rich and poor in my country and the world. Having been homeless and poor, I know what it feels like, and I care deeply that there are still people in my land who have to rely on handouts for their daily bread. I see on a daily basis what changes in benefits are doing to disabled people and my heart aches for them.

Having said all that, I am not a politically active person and I know I should probably do much more than I already do. In the campaign leading up to the Referendum I tried to follow the arguments for and against. My initial assumption was that I would vote Yes, but I was prepared to think it out more carefully. However, I have a deep distrust of politicians and the press and found it all horribly confusing. Who to believe? Experts contradicted each other on a daily basis and I really didn’t know who was telling the truth.  I admit to being shocked by some of the things friends were saying on Facebook – on both sides of the debate – and also sympathised with others who obviously held passionate beliefs. In the last few days I actually felt ill with worry about how it was all going to pan out, and how we’d recover after. I didn’t sleep well and realised that this really did matter to me and my future.

In the end I made my vote with my heart. I voted Yes. I voted Yes in the hope of a better future for my children. It was a risk, perhaps, as all my questions weren’t answered about what that future might bring but it was a risk I was prepared to take. I didn’t believe everything I was told by either side but in the end thought that for those with nothing there was a better hope with the Yes crowd. Who knows if that was right or wrong, but my passionate Scottish heart wanted to believe that there was a better way forward for my country. And I really didn’t vote for myself because I don’t believe I had very much to lose. A couple of wee pensions and that’s it really but there are so many people who had far more to lose than me. And I’d happily pay more tax if I thought it was going to those who needed it most: the poor, the hungry, the marginalised, the homeless, the disabled.

On the 18th September I went to my polling station in the high flats near my rectory and cast my vote. There was a lovely feeling of excitement and anticipation and the whole station cheered a young 16 year old who was casting his first vote. I chatted to the Polling clerk who told me he was a Baptist and it was all in God’s hands now. I disagreed with him, but know he meant well!  And I went home to wait. Would I stay up to hear the results or go to bed? I’ve never stayed up before at an election but this felt so much more important. In the end, I went to bed for a few hours sleep and then got up about 3.30am when the results started to come in. In a few hours it was all over and the majority of those who voted had elected to stay within Britain. What I didn’t expect was how upset I would feel. I hadn’t realised how many hopes and dreams had been making up my thoughts and prayers in the days leading up to it and now they were all to come to nothing. I heard a quote which kept going round my head: I feel as if my lover is leaving and there’s nothing I can do to make him stay. Interestingly, it could have been said by either side.

Then there was gloating and reasoning and riots and resignations and it felt out of control for a while. It was a horrible feeling and it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. My church leaders plead for us to work for reconciliation and pray for healing. Lord knows I’m trying but its the feelings of social justice which really concern me now. These same concerns are real, I know, for those who voted No, many of whom are my friends. Because in the end we all wanted the best for Scotland.

Yesterday at church I looked at my little flock and wondered how they were feeling. I don’t know how many of them voted but I do know from conversations and social media that some of them were hurting too. I felt particularly close to them yesterday. But that doesn’t mean that I loved the others less. Today we all pray for a better future. Today I feel that I might have to become a little more pro-active in making that happen.

Normandy D Day Fahrt 2014

Forty four Fahrters set off from Linlithgow on 4 September to travel together to the Chateau du Molay near Caen in Normandy on our D Day Expidition. We are Fahrters who have travelled before to many gorgeous places in Europe for fun, frolics and fahrts. (If you don’t know – Fahrt = German for travel, journey.) It was organised by my dear friend Bruce Jamieson, retired history teacher from L’gow, and a few years ago he said ‘no more Fahrts’. I suspect the organisation of these trips takes it toll on a perfectionist. However, we had heard so much about these wonderful school trips that he did with his pupils that he agreed to do one more for the 70th anniversary of D Day.

We travelled overnight on the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge in Belgium which brought hilarity in narrow bunks and much fun in the Moonlight Bar. Lunch was at the Somme estuary with ducks and the first of many baguettes with jambon and fromage. (Why can’t we get baguettes like that at home?) Our next stop was the Bayeux War Cemetery where we laid a wreath at the memorial and poppy crosses at the graves of three Linlithgow men. Fellow Fahrter John McIntosh had brought his Bose and hid behind the memorial cross and played the Last Post when we laid the wreath. As all the war graves we visited, this cemetery was beautifully kept, immaculate lawns and clean grave stones shining brightly in the hot sun. I have visited WW1 war graves at Tyne Cot and they never fail to move you deeply as the graves stretch out forever, each one telling a story of a life lost.

DDay Baeyux cem headstones  DDay Bayeux cem me put cross  DDay Bayeux cem trees

After getting lost in the hedgerows of the countryside we eventually rolled up to the Chateau du Molay in acres of beautiful countryside. The Chateau is used for school trips so the accommodation was a trifle basic and there were competitions on who would fit into which bunk bed. But we gathered in the bar, ordered local cider, and scoffed our dinner with wine galore. Who cares about a narrow bunk bed after that?

DDay Chateau bunks

On Saturday we drove to Arramanches and visited the Diarama up on top of the hill where we saw incredible footage of the D Day landings. Staggering out into the sunlight looking down on Mulberry Harbour it seemed incredible to actually be standing there on a beautiful September day remembering the deeds of that awful time. A statue of Our Lady looks peacefully down on the beaches where storms brought danger to the thousands of men who risked their lives on that day. Into Arramanche for the museum and more films and lectures on the making of the Mulberry harbour, and then lunch and a wander along Gold Beach. There are still pieces of the harbour remaining, large jagged pieces of metal sticking out of the golden sands.

DDay Arramanches BVM  DDay Arramanches Christ  DDay Mulberry harbour remains  DDay Mulberry harbour wreck

We then drove to La Cambe German Cemetery which had a very different feel to it. The grave markers are flat not upright in dark basalt lava, not white marble. Throughout the cemetery there were groups of dark crosses and a large central memorial where you could climb to the top and look down on the graves. The memorial sits atop a mound six meters high under which lie 207 unknown dead and 89 from a mass grave. No wreaths of poppies there, but wreaths of corn and pine cones, with a harvest feel about them. Originally this area had been for American and German soldiers but after 1945 the Americans were moved to St Laurent-sur-Mer and the fallen German soldiers from there to La Cambe. There are now 21,139 German soldiers laying to rest here.

DDay La Cambe German cem overview  DDay La Cambe crosses  DDay La Cambe headstone  DDay La Cambe Memorial  DDay La Cambe wreaths

Our days were to prove very moving and breathtaking at times. Yes, there were tears at times. At times you just had to wander off on your own and spend a moment with sorrow and memories. Would I be so brave? I think not. Just before I left I had read Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, a children’s book about two brothers in the war. If you don’t know it, I can recommend it and won’t spoil the story here but it kept coming back to me as I looked at all the graves and heard the stories about incredible heroism. Whether you are a pacifist or not, you can’t help but swallow the lump in your throat.

At night, however, we gathered in the bar to reflect on the sights and stories we’d heard and then to singalong to some war songs. The young staff in the Chateau gathered at the door of the lounge marvelling at these old wrinklies enjoying themselves and singing so loudly. Gracie Fields and Vera Lynn have nothing to fear from our singing. Some of us took part in an Allo Allo sketch which Bruce had written. I was Michelle from the Resistance (‘Leezen verry carefully, I shall zay zis only once.’) with a deep and husky voice as I’d picked up a chest infection on the day before we left. More tears, with laughter this time.

After breakfast on Sunday we headed off early back to Bayeux so that some of us could visit the Bayeux Tapestry which was incredible. Not a tapestry, of course, but embroidery. I’d seen the pictures of course, but nothing compares to actually seeing the needlework up close.

We then drove on to Omaha Beach (opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan) and visited the American Cemetery and Memorial which sits on the top of the cliffs. Nothing had prepared me for the sheer size of it. As you walk from the car park you look down on Omaha beach and then walk through the Garden of the Missing where a 22-foot statue ‘The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves’ looks west on headstones. White Lasa marble crosses and Stars of David stretched in straight rows for what seemed like miles (actually 172.5 acres). Among oak trees, topiary shrubs and beds of roses they shone in the sun. There are over 9,000 headstones among whom are 45 sets of brothers, and 1,557 missing in action. Half way down the beautiful manicured paths there is a Peace chapel where Jewish and Christian iconography sit side by side. I tried sitting down there to say a wee prayer but the clicking of cameras and loud exclamations made it difficult. (Yes, I took photos too but the beauty of the Tablet is that there is no click!) At the east end of the cemetery there are two statues of Italian Raveno granite representing the United States and France.

DDay Amer Cem crosses w star  DDay Amer Cem crosses2  DDay Amer Cem Chapel  DDay Amer Cem Memorial  DDay Amer Cem chapel quote  DDay Amer Cem chapel quote2  DDay Amer Cem France statue

From there we went to the Overlord Museum at Colleville then to Pointe du Hoc.

After we stopped at Sainte-Mere-Eglise where the American paratrooper John Steel got stuck on the belltower and had to pretend to be dead, hanging there all day long, in case the Germans shot him down. At night he was able to climb into the belltower but the ringing of the bells all day had made him deaf. There is a dummy of him still hanging from the steeple! The church inside is old and shabby but it dedicated to Peace. There was some beautiful modern stained glass and I lit a rainbow candle there and said some prayers. It was Sunday, after all.

DDay St Mere Eglise  DDay St Mere Eglise belltower  DDay St Mere Eglise candles  DDay St Mere Eglise altar  DDay St Mere Eglise Mary Candles  DDay St Mere Eglise Peace Chapel

Back at the Chateau we had frogs legs and snails for dinner (deliciously like chicken and very garlicky) and then a French sing-song which provided much hilarity and even more young staff members coming to join in. There was much rolling of Rs and my fruity chest infection helped greatly with some of that.

Monday was my birthday and we packed up to move out of the Chateau as 100s of school kids were about to arrive. We drove to Pegasus Bridge and another museum. This one had lots of artefacts in cases, including an interesting one full of medical equipment. Pretty barbaric stuff. Some stayed for the film but I’d had enough and was in desperate need of a coffee so a few of us crossed the bridge to have a quick snack. There we were greeted by the grumpiest french woman I’ve ever met who practically threw the food at us, forbidding us to sit at most tables as they were set for lunch (at 10am!). No decaff (‘We only do proper coffee here.’) Then the bridge opened up to let a boat through and the rest of our party got stuck on the other side for about half an hour until the bridge opened again.

DDay Pegasus bridge new  DDay Pegasus Bridge old  DDay Pegasus Bridge cafe

We eventually went on to Ranville Cemetery which was smaller but contained a lot of Black Watch and Argyll soldiers. We laid another wreath, played the last post, and found the last Linlithgow man. Rest Eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace and rise in glory. That was all I could think of saying when asked to lay the wreath. I found a headstone for an Army Chaplain age 30, Rev R A Cape MA, and I’m going to try and find his story.

DDay Ranville cemetery  DDay Ranville chaplain headstone  DDay Ranville memorial cross2  DDay Ranville poppy wreath

From there we drove to Ouistreham and then Merville Battery where we visited the underground bunker to experience the sound and light show which recreated what happened there on the night of 5 June 1944. The sign said ‘this show is extremely realistic representation of combat and is not recommended for children under 8, persons of a nervous disposition or suffering from heart, or claustrophobia’. I risked it and it wasn’t that scary at all. Loud rumblings certainly and a wee puff of smoke and a lot of shouting but we survived.

DDay Merville bunker  DDay Merville path  DDay Merville Museum figures

Then on to Caen Peace Museum. This was the best museum we’d visited and was modern and enormous. We watched a movie of the D Day landings and then wandered through the museum. I had time to visit the other museum which focussed on the earlier war and it was really harrowing. I got lost in it because I was on my own and got a bit panicky because it was hot and dark and was so relieved to finally find my way out. At that point I knew I’d had enough of war and museums. Best framboise tart ever and coffee to recover.

We stayed overnight at the Kyriad Memorial Hotel in Caen and was thrilled to have a double bed and a shower which didn’t throw more water out of it than in. Dinner was served by the receptionist/barmaid/waitress and it was a bit Fawlty Towers but much wine was consumed for my birthday treat, as well as getting some lovely poppy pottery stuff from my friends. That night I took my swollen ankles to bed with a litre of Evian and woke up just fine.

Tuesday saw us head off back to Belgium stopping at a huge shopping mall where some stocked up on French wine and then back to Zeebrugge for our ferry home. We watched The Longest Day movie on the bus amid exclamations of ‘Oh that’s whatsisname that was in what was it called!’ There was a beautiful sunset which dragged us out of the Duty Free with our cameras. Much perfume was purchased with birthday money and Ruth is happy once more. The cabins were very hot and stuffy and I think I kept my German neighbours awake all night with my coughing which by now sounds like the worst case of consumption ever. I’m sure I will have passed it on to all 44 of my comrades and some small part of Europe.

DDay sunset from ferry  Group photo  DDay coffee in Bayeux

Wednesday was a sad journey home, watching Saving Private Ryan on the bus. Looking back I must confess that I didn’t know very much about the D Day landings before I went but it was an incredible trip. The images spoke for themselves and I know will stay with me forever. Yes, it was sad and harrowing at times. Thankfully the crowd I was with were the sort who looked after one another in the sad times and cheered one another up at other times. My team lost in the D Day quiz on the bus back home but I think we had some of the funniest answers!

In which Ruth ponders 10 books

books and coffeeFollowing Father Kirstin’s example, here are the 10 books I was asked to pick quickly that have stayed with me. It is a meme on Facebook just now and has turned out to be such fun and a welcome break from ice-buckets and Scottish politics. For those of you not on Facebook you might want to join in so please do below. We were told not to think about it too hard so these literally are the first ten which came to mind, and why. Since then I have read all my friends’ lists and could add a thousand more.

  1. Skallagrigg by William Horwood. This book was introduced to me by a friend Sheena Liddell who recommended it highly. It was such an unusual book and held me horrified and intrigued. I couldn’t put it down and have since recommended it to loads of folk. I then went on to read his Duncton Wood series which were spiritual and mole-ish and lovely.
  2. The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. Not long after I started going to church I asked my priest if there was such a place as hell and this is the book he told me to go and read. I can still remember it vividly and often do the same to my little flock when they ask.
  3. Perfume by Patrick Suskind. This was a recommendation by a work colleague Mike Nicholson, now an author himself. He said the writing was incredibly descriptive and he wasn’t wrong. That first page! The smells! And how dark it was. Delicious. Not everyone agrees with me and I’ve done it in two book groups where folk hated it.
  4. Some Day I’ll Find You by HA Williams. This one came up in a conversation with a Roman Catholic monk who couldn’t believe that I hadn’t already read it. After I did, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t on our reading list in theological college. An autobiography that was honest and so easy to read. I loved it.
  5. Alan Ecclestone by Tim Gorringe. Was this on my reading list at theological college or did I find it on my own? I don’t remember but I do remember reading it at a summer school and underlining just about every line and shouting ‘Yes! I want to be a priest like that!’ I failed miserably but he is still a hero. And then, of course, that led me on to read Kenneth Leach and why didn’t I list any of his books in my top 10 which I also adored, and now count him as a friend.
  6. Crosstitch by Diana Gabaldon. Who told me to read this one? Sheena? Sally? I know we all read them at the same time. Magic, Scotland, Highlands, Culloden, and the beloved Jamie. A great series to begin with but I did go off them when it all went to the USA. But that first one will always be the best. (Now called Outlander in some parts of the world and about to be a TV series and I can’t wait.)
  7. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I think this was suggested by a friend Irene Hutchison and introduced me to women of Arthur’s court. Love powerful women in a book and there is a whole series. Not sure how many I’ve read and still have some in my unread pile.
  8. The Once and Future King by TH White. Now funnily enough, this came up in a conversation with Bishop Michael Hare-Duke when he spoke to me on a retreat about the unicorn (don’t ask me why) and love but the unicorn got me interested.  Merlin, Arthur again and unicorns. What’s not to like?
  9. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I read this many, many years ago and fell in love with the story about how the author wrote the story. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve given it to and they all love it as well. You never look at cathedrals in the same way again.
  10. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. There were so many that I could have chosen by this children’s author but I think War Horse is my favourite. I went through a period of reading children’s books just a few years ago and was enchanted to find such good stuff in that genre: Madeline l’Engle (via Mother Kimberly); Mallory Blackman (via Louise Daly); and a host of others. 

So that was my quick ten books. Since then I’ve been reminded of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Miss Garnet’s Angel, Take This Bread by Sara Miles, Anne Lamott’s books, Nadia Bolz-Weber, The Owl That Called My Name, Birdsong, Pat Barker’s trilogy, Kate Atkinson, and of course all my lovely Phil Rickman and other clerical crime ones. OK I’d better stop there.  I could go on and on and on. I now have a bookcase jammed full of unread books and a Kindle packed with classics and bargains and other recommendations and just not enough time to read them all. I think it was last year that I made a resolution to try and get through the year without buying any more books and just read the ones I had. I think I lasted until May and it was hell.

The delightful thing about this has been reading other friends’ lists. Some familiar, some unknown but loads more to add the wishlist. I’m so glad to have booky friends.

In which Ruth ponders end times (again)

My doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting anyone so that means whoever is there might be a pleasure or not. When I say ‘not’ I mean salespeople, who I know have to make a living, but sometimes it is just annoying. Through the glass I could see an elderly couple – strangers. In the few seconds it took me to get to the door things go through your mind…

  • They want food.
  • They want money.
  • They want the guest-house down the road which has no sign.
  • They want to tell me about Jesus.
  • They want to join the church (I’ve never actually had any of those but I live in hope).
  • They want to sell me something.

elderly-old-couple-in-love-walking-streetThis couple didn’t seem to fit into any of these categories as far as I could guess. The elderly gentleman introduced himself and told me he wanted to ask me a question. Uh-oh. Do I invite them in? Or is this safer on the doorstep? Opted for doorstep. And his question? 

Will you bury me?

What? Right now?

It turns out he used to be a member of Christ Church but stopped going some years ago. But he was worried, as he got older and his health deteriorated, that there would be nobody to take his funeral. He had asked a previous rector who had agreed that he would do it but as he was passing and saw a new name on the board (I’ve been here 4 years!) he thought he’d better check. 

I told him I’d be delighted to bury him. And yes, his wife too, although she didn’t look quite so enthusiastic. And I also told him that he could come back to church any time he liked. Neither looked very enthusiastic about that.

It is a funny old world, right enough.