A survivor shares their story of faith under fire and fighting the good fight on D-Day, 70 years ago.
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Stitch by stitch,
this unique work of art draws together the threads of
the biggest seaborne military invasion
in the history of the world.
This is the Overlord Embroidery, named after Operation Overlord,
the codename given to the Allied invasion of Nazi occupied France
which heralded the beginning of the end of World War Two in Europe.
And it all started on 6th June 1944, which is 70 years ago this week.
With hymns recorded over the years from congregations with
special reasons to remember D-day,
we hear how Christian soldiers kept the faith during times of war.
And we discover that not all war memorials
are made of stone and bronze.
Although Remembrance Sunday is marked just once a year,
war memorials stand at the heart of communities all over the country
to remind us of our promise that at every going down of the sun
and in the morning, we will remember them.
On this 70th anniversary of the largest mobilisation of troops
ever seen, I've come to Portsmouth.
This is the home of the D-day Museum.
And that's because this was one of the most crucial locations
along our southern shores from which troops set sail
on what has become known as 'the longest day.'
Today is Ascension Sunday when we remember Christ,
who had overcome death, ascending into heaven to reign as Lord,
which is how he is depicted in the D-day memorial window
of Portsmouth's Anglican Cathedral.
Based on the words of a 16th century military chaplain, our first hymn
reminds us that however frail or vulnerable we might be feeling,
we are assured of the might and protection of our heavenly Father.
By 1943, the Allies knew that if they had any chance of winning
the war, they had to invade mainland Europe.
Months of bluff and double bluff had tricked Hitler into thinking
the attack would come via Calais,
the shortest route across the Channel...
..when the real target was Normandy.
They came by air, just after midnight on 6th June 1944.
The first assault by 29,000 British, American, and Canadian paratroopers.
And amongst the first to jump was the late British film star
Richard Todd who, some years ago, described for Songs Of Praise
how he and his comrades prepared for battle with prayer.
On the day that D-day was to take place, in the early evening,
we had a drumhead service...
..with blackened faces, cos we'd been issued
with our camouflage paint, and, I suppose,
the thought probably occurred to me at the time,
the contrast between...
..what these chaps were preparing for and the job they were going to do...
..and the service they were taking part in at that moment,
it was a different world.
Here they were, singing, Onward Christian Soldiers,
and repeating their prayers. A few hours later...
..they were going to be in battle. Many of them didn't survive.
That's the way of war.
I think I'm probably a better person as a result.
I think I learnt a lot of humility.
I learnt how to care for other people, I lost a lot of friends.
And there's a great deal of my saying thank God
because whether it was someone up there, or wherever it was,
I was looked after.
Operation Neptune was the codename given to the seaborne assault
that followed at dawn that morning.
134,000 men left the shores of England in a flotilla
of 7,000 ships. 24 hours later,
19,000 of them had lost their lives.
The 50 mile stretch of Normandy coastline
was divided into five sections.
Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword, and Juno, which is where
this ship, now in Southampton docks, was then HMS Calshot,
a floating headquarters, which sent men, like Ted Turner,
just 18 years old, a British Royal Marine, struggling on to
Juno beach in support of a team of Canadian comrades.
Coming in that morning, nobody spoke, nobody said a word. It was quiet.
The only order we had was when we were going over,
when we left Portsmouth to go to going to Normandy,
if anybody fell overboard,
we just had to keep going, we couldn't stop.
Somebody else we hoped would pick them up.
As you got closer to the beach, the big guns started opening up,
and the noise, it was...
You never heard so much noise. It was terrific.
As we approached, you see, we were being fired at.
I could also see the Canadians getting off the landing craft,
and you could see them, they went onto the beach,
and a lot of them went down. So, they were being shot, you know.
You just hope and pray that you would get through it.
When it comes to things like going to Normandy,
then they start praying, even those that are not religious.
Everybody starts praying.
I don't know if we prayed together.
I think we just prayed singly, on our own.
Did you feel that God was on your side?
I think he's always been on my side. Even now.
How does going back to Normandy make you feel?
I go back to Normandy twice a year. My friends are over there.
And some people say they've got a brother, or somebody like that,
or a husband over there...
Well, I say, "When I go over there,
"I will put some flowers on their grave."
After the men had taken the beaches, supplies and vehicles were sent,
landing on offshore piers called Mulberry harbours.
Many of these were constructed
in the peaceful setting of Buckler's Hard,
an ancient ship building village
on the Beaulieu River, near Southampton water.
It's said that Isaac Watts was gazing across this view
when he was moved to write our next hymn,
performed for us now in Beaulieu Church by the Waynflete Singers.
One of the heroes of D-day was Army chaplain Henry Lovegrove.
His Military Cross is among the unique artefacts
at the British Army Chaplaincy Museum in Andover.
John Holliman, a former Archdeacon to the Army,
knew Lovegrove in later life.
Henry was a Baptist,
but it has always been the situation in the forces, certainly in recent
years, of not worrying about what denomination your chaplain is.
The most important thing is you've got a chaplain, and a man,
or woman, of faith serving you in that capacity.
Henry was one of those people who was quite humble about his whole history.
I am certainly aware that he managed to do a lot of rescuing of wounded
people in order to save others from having to see rather gruesome sights.
War is not pretty. Battles are even less pretty.
They are ugly, dirty, messy, bloody, and totally hellish.
And that's perhaps one of the reasons why
we actually need chaplains on board on such occasions
because people need reminding that there is a God after all.
People need reminding that there are things other than what's
going on around them in the battle.
They also need to know, it's sometimes said that,
certainly in my time, that soldiers, or a soldier,
wants to know that if he's wounded, he will get quick medical care.
But he wants to know if his mate is killed that his mate's body
will be looked after properly, and he'll get a decent burial.
A chaplain goes in as a non-combatant,
he's not taking part in the actual fighting bit of the war.
He is there to bring strength and hope,
and faith where it might otherwise be missing.
Down the years, men have traditionally marched off to war,
leaving women to support the war effort at home.
900 years ago, women whose men were away
fighting in the Norman conquest
used needlework to depict a timeless record of that conflict
in the Bayeux Tapestry.
More than two decades after the Second World War,
women once again got busy with needle and thread
to record the events of D-day in the Overlord Embroidery.
The Royal School of Needlework embroidered designs taken from
a series of 8ft paintings by artist Sandra Lawrence.
It took 20 of them five years.
And it took me four years to produce those panels.
I mean, the amount of different stitches you've got in here,
different sorts of fabrics, I mean, it's astonishing, really.
The beginning of it starts with what we term the Beleaguered Island,
where we're being attacked by Germany.
And it's the Battle of Britain.
And the fantastic fight that went on.
And then the Blitz.
And then the convoys going over to America for food
and then getting blown up.
Who came up with the idea for the embroidery in the first place?
20 years after the war, Lord Dulverton liked the idea very much
of commissioning a second Bayeux Tapestry so he discussed it
with some friends of his, and they thought, "What a good idea!"
We all used to meet every three months,
and they would tell me precisely what they wanted in the next panel.
And they were fabulous
cos they always talked in double-o hours, you know, very military.
It was very funny.
Some of those meetings were absolutely wonderful, actually.
The Admiral would practically fall asleep if there wasn't a ship to be seen in sight.
I think it's a wonderful thing that it's being portrayed.
I'm not saying by me,
but that it has been done
because it was a fantastic feat.
This is a tribute to all those people that participated in bringing
this great event about.
It is not a tribute to war, or the glory of war.
This is a tribute to every single individual that participated
making this happen, to fight this evil.
And it took a lot of guts and a lot of courage, and faith...
..I think is the operative word,
in the belief of good.
It's a memorial to those brave people that put their lives down
for our country, and for the freedom in this country.
And without that freedom, I wonder where we would have been today.
Coventry was a city flattened by World War II bombs.
Its cathedral is now dedicated to peace and reconciliation,
and has its own famous tapestry of the ascended Christ In Glory.
We talk of D-day, but although 6th June marked the beginning
of the end of World War Two, it would be more than a year
before peace would come to both Europe and the Far East.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the United States President
Franklin Roosevelt often prayed together during the war years.
our sons, pride of our nation...
..this day have set upon a mighty endeavour.
Lead them straight and true.
We've adapted a few words of Roosevelt's D-day prayer
and combined them with a brand-new version of the Evening Prayer,
sung by Portsmouth's own Convivium Singers.
We fought for liberty, justice,
tolerance and goodwill among all God's people.
We yearn for the end of battle and our return to the haven of home.
Embrace those who did not return, Father.
And receive them into your kingdom.
And for us at home - children, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands...
sisters and brothers of all brave men and women of the Forces.
Our thoughts and prayers are ever with them.
And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son
and Holy Spirit be with us all and those we remember ever-more.
At least 55 million people
lost their lives during the Second World War.
Yet amongst the unspeakable pain and horror
were countless moments of courage and sacrifice
by people willing to lay down their lives for others.
Christians have the certain hope of the resurrection and life
won by Christ's supreme sacrifice once and for all upon the cross.
And his ascension into heaven is our reassurance of His faithful
presence and His eternal glory.
Next week we celebrate the birthday of the church on Pentecost Sunday.
Diane puts on her dancing shoes to rehearse with the group Rebirth
and our hymns come from Leicester Cathedral
where a Pentecost treat is about to be unveiled.
Faith under fire! A survivor's story of how we fought the good fight on D-Day, 70 years ago.