Clergy Letter - 

by The Rev'd Adrian Leak



We were in Normandy, staying in a cottage belonging to friends. Around us, as far as the eye could see, were lush pastures, little streams, apple orchards and the occasional half-timbered farmhouse. It was so beautiful. We could not have wished for more.

And yet that delightful and idyllic landscape was once, and not so long ago, torn up by war: its orchards uprooted, its houses burnt, its livestock lost, its people dispersed (many injured, and some killed) as seventy-four years ago the soldiers and the tanks of six nations – American, British, Canadian, French, German, Polish – slogged it out in the final battle to liberate Normandy. We were plum in the middle of what came to be known as the Falaise Gap. The little hill at nearby Montormel  (a hamlet  no bigger than Friday Street) was the pivot. It was the scene of unbelievable, suicidal, courage and terrible slaughter on all sides. Chiefly, it was the outnumbered Poles who bore the brunt and secured the victory.

Some of the older locals recall that for days afterwards a black cloud covered the landscape; this time it was not the smoke of shells, but a dense, vast, buzzing swarm of flies. For two months the stench was unbearable. Like Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo, General Eisenhower came to inspect the battlefield, and was sickened by what he saw. Amongst the bodies recovered was that of a young German soldier. He was thirteen years old. 

Time passed. The orchards and crops grew again. The landscape recovered. Hostilities receded. Peace replaced and outlasted war. But not all injuries have been healed and not all rancour cured. Remembrance Sunday is an occasion to ponder these things.

War memorials, particularly those of the two World Wars of the twentieth century, are harsh reminders that it is the young and unknown, not the old and famous, who so often pay the highest price. But there are exceptions. In a small town in Northern France there is a memorial to those who fell at the nearby Battle of Crecy in 1346. Among them was King John of Bohemia. He was killed, as were a large number of the French nobility, under a hail of arrows from the English longbows. He was an old man, and he was blind. He had ridden into battle, with his charger roped to the horses of two knights who rode on either side. 

Shakespeare’s Othello, that great commander, spoke nostalgically of war:

                      Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,                                                                             The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,                                                                                   The royal banner, and all quality,                                                                                                           Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war.

But at what cost? A thirteen-year-old boy dead? A blind, old king unhorsed and killed? All those people whose names are recorded on our war memorials in Bramley and Grafham robbed of their young lives?   Another poet, Wilfred Owen, awarded the MC for courage and killed on the Western Front a week before the armistice in 1918, put the matter more starkly when he wrote about ‘The pity of war’. The heart-wrenching, mind-searing pity of war.




Father God

During this vacancy,

guard and grow the people of this benefice as we serve you together

in this period without an incumbent.

Lord Jesus, teacher and friend

We know that you have plans for us

and that these plans are good.

We ask now that you will help us to share responsibility,

grow in faith, love one another, care for those in need,

reach out to others, and welcome newcomers.

Holy Spirit, gentle guide,

Please inspire those who are seeking the right person for us,

and those who are seeking the right place for their ministry,

That together we may discover your way for the future

and see your kingdom grow.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen