When the nation prayed
May sees the 60th anniversary of the end of the war inn Europe
Many Christians see the providential hand of God in many of the things which happened.
On May 27, the German High Command announced: ?The British army is encircled and our troops are proceeding to its annihilation?.
Churchill said: ?I thought ? and some good judges agreed with me that perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 men might be re-embarked. . . The whole root and core and brain of the British army . . . seemed about to perish on the field or be led into captivity.?
But the previous Sunday May 26, at the request of His Majesty King George VI, had been observed as a National Day of Prayer. In a stirring broadcast, the King called the people of Britain and the empire to commit their cause to God. The whole nation was at prayer. Three miracles then happened: (1) Hitler stopped his general advance, (2) a storm of extraordinary fury grounded the German Air Force on May 28, and (3) a great calm settled over the English Channel for several days.
335,000 men of the British army were evacuated from Dunkirk!
The Battle of Britain
Hitler did not follow on after Dunkirk to cross the Channel and invade Britain, whose army had lost most of its weapons. He continued to hesitate all through June 1940, giving Britain a breathing space. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, was asked: ?What are your plans for defeating an overwhelming number of the German Air Force?? He replied: ?I believe in God. And then there is radar.?
Field-Marshal Goering told his Air Commander that the way ahead for launching an invasion was to destroy the Royal Air Force.
On August 30, 800 enemy aircraft darkened the skies of southern England, flying in to put key airfields out of action. By September 6 Fighter Command was in serious trouble. Aircraft and pilots were being lost at a rate far in excess of replacements. Defeat in the air appeared inevitable, and this would open the way to invasion.
Hitler suddenly ordered the Luftwaffe to switch its attack to London and this saved Fighter Command. For the Germans it was a catastrophic blunder. Fighter Command built up its strength. Dowding later said: ?By mid to late September, we were all right for aircraft. I think it was because we had faith.?
The King, as if gifted with some foreknowledge, had expressed the wish that Sunday September 8 should be fixed as a National Day of Prayer. There was a tremendous response. At a crowded service in Westminster Abbey, the final prayer began: ?Remember O God, for good, these watchmen, who by day and by night climb into the air. Let Thy hand lead them, we beseech Thee, and Thy right hand hold them.?
On September 17, a tele-type message clacked out from the German High Command postponing the invasion of Britain ?until further notice?.
There were later divine overrulings in the Mediterranean, the outstanding example being Malta, which lay in the path of Italy?s vital supply lines to North Africa. With the fall of France and the entry of Italy into the war, Malta was hemmed in by enemy powers. The island was virtually unarmed, having only 16 anti-aircraft guns and four Fleet Air Arm Gloster Gladiators in crates in store!
General Dobbie was appointed Governor of Malta. He was a Christian, a man of faith who testified to the power of prayer. He issued an Order of the Day to the garrison which included the following: ?I know that the courage and determination of all ranks will not falter, and that with God?s help we will maintain the security of the fortress.?
Miracles in the next two years
Remarkably, Italy did not attempt invasion. God sustained all on the island through the devastating 2,000 aerial bombardments. Also, remarkably, the German General Rommel, did not invade either, in spite of the island hindering his supply route. Brigadier Desmond Young noted later that the Germans seemed strangely blind in failing to see that the key to all supply problems, and, indeed, the key to control of the Mediterranean, was the capture of Malta.
At the gates of Cairo
After the fall of Tobruk, the Eighth Army was in full retreat, reaching the El Alamein line of defence on Monday June 29 1942. Rommel?s army came up to it next day. The German radio boasted that Rommel and the Afrika Korps would sleep in Alexandria on Saturday night. Suddenly the advance stopped, the panzer divisions rolled westward. This sudden receding of the tide remains a mystery. Rommel, in his Papers, said: ?Our strength failed in front of El Alamein?.
Two dedicated Christian men were appointed to the most responsible positions in the Middle East on August 15 1942: Field Marshal Alexander as Commander-in-Chief and General Montgomery as Commander of the Eighth Army.
On September 3, according to the wish of King George VI, there was another National Day of Prayer. People flocked to the churches all over Britain.
On October 23 Montgomery issued this Order of the Day to the Eighth Army: ?Let us pray that the Lord, mighty in battle, will give us the victory.? A succession of remarkable occurrences followed. When the attack on the German forces was opened, Rommel was in Germany, sick for the first time in his life. General Stumme, appointed to take his place, died of a heart attack the next day, leaving the German High Com-mand in a hopeless state of confusion. At the same time, Rommel?s Chief of Staff was actually on leave. And, due to faulty intelligence, the Afrika Korps was completely taken off its guard when the bombardment began. Then, too, Montgomery?s tremendous pre-offensive build-up had remained completely hidden from the Germans, although it included the movement of 900 tanks. Finally, the German Military Attache in Rome, responsible for ensuring that supplies of petrol reached the Afrika Korps, had been on leave and was unable to give sufficient attention to the problem.
By the time Rommel arrived back at his headquarters in North Africa on October 25, the battle was already lost. As his General Cramer said: ?Alamein was lost before it was fought. We didn?t have the petrol.? Surely none of these things could have been due to coincidence. Churchill said afterwards concerning the battle of Alamein: ?Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.?
A bumper harvest
During 1942 shipping normally used to bring food to these shores from overseas was urgently required for carrying men and munitions. Yet Britain had to be fed. A supreme effort was made by British agriculture and a degree of co-operation and united labour was achieved as never before in our history. Added to this were the prayers of innumerable people that God would bless their efforts.
There was a bumper harvest! It had become apparent to R.S. Hudson, the Minister of Agriculture, that God had been with us, for in a postscript to the BBC nine o?clock news on Old Michaelmas Night 1942, he said: ?But this I would also say to you, in humility and seriousness. Much hard work and technical skill have played their part in these mighty yields, amongst the richest of all time, but I believe we have a Higher Power to thank as well, and from the depths of our hearts. Some power has wrought a miracle in the English harvest fields this summer, for in this, our year of greatest need, the land has given us bread in greater abundance than we have ever known before.?
D-Day 1944 deliverance of a continent
The task was a huge one. There was also the preparation of the forces about to be involved in the coming invasion. The deputy Chaplain-General, Canon Llewellyn Huges, said: ?The consecration of our armies has not been a last-minute effort. We were asked, and strongly asked, to make our men as Christian as we could, to preach the Word faithfully because it is true; to bring men to God that he might make them good. Most of the men are not regular churchgoing men, but they are God-going men, and they have their picture of the King of Kings in the sanctuary of their hearts. And when General Eisenhower and General Montgomery in their final Orders of the Day asked us all to pray that God would prosper us, that prayer went up, and went up from honest hearts, freely and fully convinced that the business in hand was a liberation according to the will of God.?
The decision when to invade
The Supreme Commander, his Commander-in-Chief and their Chiefs of Staff met at 4.00 am on Monday June 5 for ?the final and irrevocable decision ?. Messages went to all the vast forces concerned: the invasion of France would start on the morning of the next day. General Eisenhower gave testimony to the effect this had on him, when he was speaking in Abilene, Kansas, his home town on June 4 1952 (Time magazine June 16 1952). ?This day, eight years ago, I made the most agonising decision of my life. I had to decide to postpone, by at least 24 hours, the most formidable array of fighting ships and of fighting men that was ever launched across the sea against a hostile shore. The consequences of that decision at that moment could not have been foreseen by anyone. If there was nothing else in my life to prove the existence of an Almighty and merciful God, the events of the next 24 hours did it. The greatest break in a terrible outlay of weather occurred the next day and allowed that great invasion to proceed, with losses far below those we had anticipated.?
On VE Day the Prime Minister spoke from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. He was one who had always been conscious of that over-ruling providence, that guiding, guardian hand. He must have come straight from the Thanksgiving Service in St. Margaret?s, Westminster.
His Majesty King George VI then stepped quietly to the microphone. He said with great emphasis: ?We give thanks to Almighty God for the victory He has granted us in Europe.?
Used with permission, and acknowledgement and thanks to Tremore Christian Fellowship, Tremore Manor, Bodmin PL30 5JT (01208 831204).