The Parish Churches of Ranworth with Panxworth,
South Walsham, Upton with Fishley and Woodbastwick

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Remembrance Day sermon 2021

Sermon for Remembrance Sunday
8th November 2020
South Walsham

Then are they glad because they are at rest; and so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.
(Psalm 107, 30. AV.)

Today either in church or at a distance these words give some form and shape to our acts of Remembrance. We are called to make some mention in our hearts of the sacrifice made by those men and women in defence of our country and all that we hold dear in order that we may live in freedom. Though our county regiment the Royal Norfolks is now part of the Anglian Regiment it remains part of our tradition and it has a history to be proud of; winning as it did in the Second World War not one but five VC's. This year we especially remember the 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions, they were local men who gave up their spare time to learn their soldiering skills on parade nights in Norwich, Holt, North Walsham and other Norfolk towns. They were sent to help in the defence of Singapore and after only seventeen days of fighting they were part of the British Surrender and spent the rest of the War in captivity subject to the brutality and degrading conditions imposed on them by the Japanese.

“In spite of all the humiliations inflicted on them, the men of the three battalions never forgot that they were the Royal Norfolks: their steady discipline, their courage under fearful hardships and a native dignity peculiar to Norfolk men enabled them to triumph over their ordeal.”

This year is the Seventy Fifth anniversary of the end of the War in the Far East so it is very important that in whatever ways we can, we must ensure that the sacrifices made by those men are not forgotten. Many did not survive and those who did were marked by it for the rest of their lives, as they grew older, medical conditions caused by their years of ill treatment grew worse. Twenty five years ago the Fiftieth Anniversary was marked by a service in St Paul's Cathedral, attended by the Duke of Edinburgh. It commemorated and gave thanks for the Victory over Japan and remembered those who had died in South-East Asia, the Pacific and the Far East. The bidding prayer gave thanks for the lives of those men lost in the RAF, the Royal Navy and the Merchant fleet.

“We remember too thousands of our own men and women including civilians who suffered great and terrible deprivation as prisoners of war and as internees in labour camps. We must also remember our allies in the then British Empire and the losses incurred in the Forces of the United Sates of America. It is said that time is a great healer and it is fortunate that many were able to recover from their ordeal but one is aware of the fact that there are still some today who have not been fully healed by the passage of time.”

With those in mind the reading from the New Testament chosen for the service was the parable of the Wheat and the Tares. There were at that service survivors whose injuries had made them unable to forgive their captors. The sermon was preached by a former prison camp padre who spoke of “Our God being alone able to reap the harvest”. His prayer was that the terrible memories of the past might be lifted up in true humility and confidence that in the fullness of time we would come into the arms of a loving and righteous God, who would wipe away all tears. So today we not only remember those who served and those who fell in the War in the Far East but in our own lives we examine our hearts and see where healing and forgiveness still need working on. We can look at the experience of those in the Japanese POW camps. Two such men were airmen from 84 Squadron who were captured and taken to Japan. One man named Cyril kept a diary on lavatory paper and if it had been found he could have been executed. His friend named Fred died of his ill-treatment.

February 1944

5th Very mild, still on pap, nearly better now, cold wind stops sun from giving its full heat. Terribly damp every night.

6th Moon nearly full. Very cold. Did coldest night guard ever. Easy day at most 2 died today.

7th Yasimi day (no hard labour just work around the camp) Lots of PT and parades. Fred still bad, his foot is hurting.

8th Many chaps getting badly beaten for trivial offences. Falkner died of beri- beri. Fred very sick.

9th Frost on waking, 6 tablets very 4 days. Rumours of 400 new men coming to camp. Food issues badly cut.

11tth Issued an orange. Jack Hopkins killed.

12th Bob Slinger injured with Horne at work. Scrap iron again. Locke died today. Fred seriously ill but still having to work. Fred carried to work.

13th Yasimi day. Saw Fred again. Very ill with dysentery and weaker. Warmer today. Tough died today.

14th Cold again today. Scrap iron. Some parties worked over at B....Fred beaten after fainting.

15th Bitterly cold. Grim food. Fag paper. Fred collapsed at work. Saw him at 3 am. Very sick.

16th Fred died at 10.30 am. Taken to hospital at 7.30 pm. Every body badly shaken by the cruel way he died. Collected personal things.

17th Fred cremated. Very cold day. Feeling dejected and miserable.

18th Snow. Poor soup and food. Nips kept 30 men in camp, light work.

Cyril survived but wanted no part in the Victory celebrations and refused any offers of medals. He could never forget the incompetence that had led so many brave men to unspeakable suffering and death. He visited Fred's family and told them that Fred had died of a heart attack. After teaching woodwork in a Borstal he retired and led an isolated life due to deafness a result of prison beatings. He enjoyed working as a river bailiff where his dogs acted as his ears alerting him to people and all other sounds.

Reconciliation has been possible in some instances and as we experience conflict in our own lives we can look to those heroic acts of reconciliation to learn of what can be possible. If we suffer, the past is to be used and not to be allowed to undermine us, lest it damage us twice.

Psalm 107 speaks of peace following terror and ordeal, “He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,and brake their bands in sunder....Then are they glad because they be quiet. So he bringeth them unto their desired haven.” (AV)

The psalm itself is psalm of thanks giving to be used at festivals, so it is a suitable hymn of victory over darkness, to remember those who died so senselessly as Fred did. Remembrance is a time of harvest honouring the memories who those who died and trying to learn from what Death has to teach us. Death educates us, it warns us not to think too lightly of life, When someone dies we begin to see their lives completely and in context, we start to understand them in a new way unclouded by the tarnish of day to day life. The season of remembrance is a time to reflect on the sacrifice that others have made and to let that knowledge change and improve our capacity to understand and therefore to grow, otherwise we are diminished by our indifference. We need our memories in order to grow because of them. The season of remembrance must never become superficial it should confront us. Our memories inform us and deepen the way we live. The least we can do in these coming days is to take time to remember because here is so much that we must never forget. Fred's parents are buried in Aycliffe church yard in a village near Darlington. Fred is a name on a War memorial in Japan.

Love is not changed by death,
And nothing is lost and all in the end is harvest.

Edith Sitwell

Like apples and cherries, so may we be gathered
Away from thy barns we are nothing but stubble and straw
Fit for an idle bonfire, a plaything for tempests.
Come then Master Gardener, gather us in
Even as Thou hast fashioned the way of our growing
Gather us in where we would be.

Reichenau Wandalbert 9th century