03/07/2016 Songs of Praise


03/07/2016

On Battle of Britain Memorial Day, Pam Rhodes visits RAF Duxford, a former Spitfire pilot shares his memories, and Laura Mvula performs a new song.


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Transcript


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In the summer of 1940,

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RAF Duxford in Cambridgeshire played a vital role in one

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of the most pivotal times in

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World War II - the Battle of Britain.

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If I had been standing here exactly 76 years ago,

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I might well have seen and felt the roar of 30 Merlin

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engines as Hurricanes and Spitfires just tore down the runway

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on their mission to defend the skies of Britain.

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On Battle of Britain Memorial Day,

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I'm at Imperial War Museum Duxford to remember a campaign

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in which one in five pilots died and we hear the moving stories of

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two people whose lives were changed by the events of that summer.

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And I'll be discovering how singer Laura Mvula has

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gone from the church to the charts.

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Back in 1940, my mum and dad lived in Kent which was the county

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that bore the brunt of attacks from waves of German fighters

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and bombers, and my mum rarely spoke of the time that she watched

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as a German plane was shot down in front of her and the pilot killed.

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But in her 80s when she was very ill, she was hallucinating

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and I watched as she relived the whole horrific experience.

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But that's war for you.

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You think you've buried painful memories

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and yet some just can't be forgotten.

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And it is important that we remember,

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so we're going to start today with an RAF hymn

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recorded in Kent in Holy Trinity Church at Folkestone.

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The words come from Psalm 46 but the tune is

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that iconic melody from Eric Coates' the Dam Busters March.

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Here at Imperial War Museum Duxford, in one of the original

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hangers, are the aircraft flown by both

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sides in the Battle of Britain including the plane that has

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become the symbol of British wartime defiance, the Spitfire.

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To be in this cockpit is quite a revelation

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because there are so many controls ahead of you,

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that the thought that one man had to fly the plane,

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had to be constantly on the lookout for enemy aircraft

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and be able to shoot and hit the right target is quite something.

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And sadly there are so few pilots left now who can tell us

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how it felt to be in a high-speed dogfight in the thick of battle.

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Altogether, there were 3,000 pilots, not just from the RAF

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but also from occupied Europe and the British Empire.

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Their bravery prompted Winston Churchill's famous

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words in a speech to Parliament.

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Never in the field of human conflict,

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when so much owed by so many to so few.

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Geoffrey Wellum was one of the few.

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He joined the RAF in August 1939 aged just 17.

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It's very vivid.

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The tranquillity and peace of predawn and quite often you'd look

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up at the sky and think it's clear, it's going to be a lovely day again.

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Oh, God!

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And you'd offer up, probably...

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I did more often than not, a little prayer.

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"It's going to be a very busy day overall.

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"If I forget you, don't you forget me."

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Just give me this day, please, give me this day.

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TELEPHONE RINGS

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Once the telephone went and you were scrambled,

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you felt a different person.

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In total war, mixed up with aeroplanes all over the sky,

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traces, smoke trails, bullets flying around.

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You were far too busy trying to do your job and shoot down the enemy

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and at the same time, trying to survive to do it another day.

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I was frightened at one time when I got caught by a

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Messerschmitt 109 that was right behind me.

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And I remember thinking, "I'm going to die."

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It was quite calm.

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After I'd managed to get away from him, then I felt fear...

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..stark, staring fear.

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But we never ever, at any time,

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thought we were going to be defeated.

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There was a sort of bond as one between you all.

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You can't go to war with a lot of blokes in Spitfires

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and expect to forget about it.

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It stays with you forever.

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Tommy Lunn, Roy Mottram, Tony Bartley, Bob Holland,

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Johnny Kent, Jock Sherrington, me.

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I remember them all. I can do better than that and see them.

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That was Faithful One by Canadian songwriter, Brian Doerksen,

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and it's a wonderful expression of God's enduring love.

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But, of course, it is sometimes very hard to feel God's presence

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and when Brian found himself in need of spiritual comfort,

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he turned to the old Testament book of Psalms.

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SINGING

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It's really the oldest and most loved Psalm book in the world.

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It survived for about 3,000 years.

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Here is a book of songs, poems, prayers that contain all

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the diversity of human emotion from the heights of joy,

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to the depths of sorrow and pain.

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A few years ago, I went through a number of combined crises,

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things that didn't have easy answers and I had no words left,

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no songs to write, no ideas for songs.

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And then I found, in the Psalms, these honest prayers.

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The ancient words are there and they're totally current.

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# Stronghold in times of trouble... #

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And I had this kind of crazy notion.

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I don't need to write a new song.

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Why don't I go back to the beginning?

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And rather than cherry pick my few favourite Psalms,

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I'll just trust that as I work my way through the Psalms in sequence,

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all of the different things I'm going through will be addressed.

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Brian and his band, The SHIYR Poets, began adapting each Psalm

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and setting it to music.

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Audiences more familiar with Brian's worship songs weren't quite

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sure what to expect.

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When we set about to sing the Psalms, people maybe thought,

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"Are they going to like chant them,

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"are sing them like a traditional choir?"

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No, we're going to sing them in our mother tongue, which is

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folk rock style and influenced by popular music.

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# Great things the lord has done... #

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The Psalms and the words within don't easily

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fit into a three-minute pop song format.

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They're not neat and tidy.

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They've got rough edges but they always lead us

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into a place of hope and redemption.

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So far, Brian's group have written around 30 of the Psalms

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and they're not shying away from covering all 150.

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-# Why...

-Why...

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# Do you stand...? #

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Some people have said to me,

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"This is quite a task you've undertaken",

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and I go, "Yeah."

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# Far away... #

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You know, it would take us...hm...

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..15 to 20 years.

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"OK, let's go for it, then."

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-# Why...

-Why... #

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When you think about the psalms,

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that are full of these dark and difficult emotions,

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one of the great concerns people have,

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"Oh, if you sing these, everybody is going to get depressed."

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But the exact opposite thing happens.

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So this is the thing, you know, -

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like, I have never had such a good time singing sad songs,

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because those sad songs lead me to joy.

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-# Arise...

-rise...

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# Lord, my God

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This used to be the officers' mess here at RAF Duxford,

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where the pilots would come to try and get as much rest as possible

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before they were called out for yet another flight.

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But the pressure they faced must have taken its toll.

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On hand to support and counsel where the RAF chaplains,

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like Guy Mayfield, here at Duxford, whose diaries captured

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the reality of what these young men were going through.

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Peter appeared with a beer, and questions,

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following on Trenchard's death.

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It was a relief to be able to talk realistically to him

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about the things which we keep concealed for the most part,

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beneath the surface.

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"What happens when you die?"

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"Is it wrong to be frightened of dying?"

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"How should you live if you are 20

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"and will be dead by the end of the summer?"

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CHOIR SINGS:

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ALL SING:

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We often feature solo singers on Songs Of Praise

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and usually, it is easy to describe their style of music,

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but Birmingham-born Laura Mvula has a sound that is all her own.

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David has been to meet her.

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# Take me outside

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# Sit in the green garden... #

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In the last two years, Brit award winner Laura Mvula

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has become a critically acclaimed artist,

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respected and loved by some of the biggest names in music.

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Her star continues to rise,

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but while Laura's songs are in the charts,

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her inspiration comes from the church.

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# She flies, ha-ha! #

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'My parents were quite keen for us

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'to attend several different churches.'

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I grew up listening to worship music of Matt Redman,

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Graham Kendrick,

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and also Kirk Franklin, Richard Smallwood,

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Kim Burrell, Israel Horton...

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This was church, to me.

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How did that eclectic mix

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of various strands of, you know, Christian music

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impact your music?

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For me, that meant, I think,

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that there are no limitations growing up.

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There was nothing that was not right, musically,

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and, um...when I was old enough

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to be asked to lead a church service from the keyboard,

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that was where I learned how to truly, creatively express myself.

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How much of that stays with you?

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And how is your faith influenced today by that?

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I feel so grateful...

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..for my experience, um...growing up in church,

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-and I don't mean just growing up in the building.

-Mm-hm.

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I mean, being a part of a community that raised me in love,

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and in the love of God,

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and I can say, in my songs that I write,

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that are in the charts, it is the same energy.

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It is the same love. It is the same freedom.

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Laura, tell us about the song you're singing, Show Me Love.

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It's a journey of yearning for a love,

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yearning for deep love, losing love,

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and then the hope of love in the future.

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The beauty I'm discovering more and more in the song,

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as I sing it, is that...

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It reminds me that we all universally understand

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what that feels like, you know?

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So Show Me Love, for me,

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probably is the most exposing song on my new album, um...

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And it is the only one where you hear voice and piano,

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which really is where most of my songs start.

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# I need to belong to someone

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# I miss the breath of a kiss

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# I miss the wonder of a future with somebody

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# Oh, God, show me love

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# I miss belonging to someone

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# I miss the kiss of another

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# I miss the morning

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# I miss the waking up

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# I need someone to hold my hand, bigger than mine

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# Oh, God, where are you?

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# Show me love

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# Show me love

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# If it wasn't real then why does it hurt so bad?

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# Cos the thing that we had, it was everything

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# Never thought we would be

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# Torn apart by a change in the wind

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# Or a cloud in the sky

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# We were always

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# And you showed me love of the deepest kind

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# And I will never find another love like you showed me love

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# And now I see you

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# Now I see you

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# You showed me love

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# You showed me love of the deepest kind

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# And I will never find a love like you

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# You showed me love, you...

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# You showed me love

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# You showed me love

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# And I thank you

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# And I need you

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# And I miss you

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# You showed me love. #

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This is one of many operations rooms dotted across the south of England,

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and it was here that strategic decisions were made,

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that the movement of planes were plotted,

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and orders given for pilots to scramble.

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Many of the staff who worked here were women,

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members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force,

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affectionately known WAAFs.

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Edith Kup was one of those WAAFs.

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She was just 21 in 1940,

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working as a plotter in the Debden operations room in Essex.

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All right, scramble four squadrons, Debden.

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We had the headphones, so that once our aircraft were in the air,

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you shut up and you could hear the whole battle...

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..because they shouted at each other all the time.

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SHE LAUGHS

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You just hoped that they'd all get back safely,

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which, of course, they didn't all get back safely.

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We knew all the pilots, so whoever was shot down,

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it-it was...

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..heartbreaking, really.

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It was whilst at Debden

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that Edith met a young Spitfire pilot called Dennis.

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Apparently, he saw me,

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and he thought he'd like to have a word or two.

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We were engaged to marry as soon as possible.

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And as he said, "It would just be a small wedding,

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"we don't want a lot of fuss, you see."

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That was fine, to me.

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Anyway, sadly, it didn't happen

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because he was...shot down.

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I got a bit special leave and went and told his parents,

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because I didn't want them to get a telegram.

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I often think about Dennis

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and one day, I suddenly was conscious of him,

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and he was standing just beside the bed,

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and he leaned forward and kissed me and I actually felt it,

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and then he grinned at me and faded away.

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He was the love of my life, definitely.

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We've heard some remarkable and moving stories in this programme,

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from both the past and present.

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But let's leave the last word, and the choice of our final hymn,

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to our Spitfire pilot, Geoffrey Wellum.

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This is a hymn that... always brings back to me

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those final minutes in the air,

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coming back to Biggin at the end of the day,

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having survived, in the early dusk

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and the peace between landing that aircraft and the next dawn.

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MEN SING:

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WOMEN SING:

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ALL SING:

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On Battle of Britain Memorial Day, Pam Rhodes visits RAF Duxford, a former Spitfire pilot shares his memories, and Laura Mvula performs a new song.

Music:

God Is Our Strength and Refuge from Holy Trinity, Folkestone Faithful One, So Unchanging from St Thomas' Parish Church, Belfast On This Troubled Day - Psalm 10 by the SHIYR Poets Thou Whose Almighty Word from St Alban's Church, Bristol Show Me Love by Laura Mvula Ave Maria by Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended from Leicester Cathedral, Leicester.


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