D-Day: 70 Years On Songs of Praise


D-Day: 70 Years On

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,

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this unique work of art draws together the threads of

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the biggest seaborne military invasion

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in the history of the world.

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This is the Overlord Embroidery, named after Operation Overlord,

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the codename given to the Allied invasion of Nazi occupied France

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which heralded the beginning of the end of World War Two in Europe.

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And it all started on 6th June 1944, which is 70 years ago this week.

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With hymns recorded over the years from congregations with

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special reasons to remember D-day,

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we hear how Christian soldiers kept the faith during times of war.

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And we discover that not all war memorials

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are made of stone and bronze.

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Although Remembrance Sunday is marked just once a year,

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war memorials stand at the heart of communities all over the country

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to remind us of our promise that at every going down of the sun

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and in the morning, we will remember them.

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On this 70th anniversary of the largest mobilisation of troops

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ever seen, I've come to Portsmouth.

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This is the home of the D-day Museum.

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And that's because this was one of the most crucial locations

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along our southern shores from which troops set sail

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on what has become known as 'the longest day.'

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Today is Ascension Sunday when we remember Christ,

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who had overcome death, ascending into heaven to reign as Lord,

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which is how he is depicted in the D-day memorial window

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of Portsmouth's Anglican Cathedral.

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Based on the words of a 16th century military chaplain, our first hymn

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reminds us that however frail or vulnerable we might be feeling,

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we are assured of the might and protection of our heavenly Father.

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By 1943, the Allies knew that if they had any chance of winning

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the war, they had to invade mainland Europe.

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But how?

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And where?

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Months of bluff and double bluff had tricked Hitler into thinking

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the attack would come via Calais,

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the shortest route across the Channel...

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..when the real target was Normandy.

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They came by air, just after midnight on 6th June 1944.

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The first assault by 29,000 British, American, and Canadian paratroopers.

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And amongst the first to jump was the late British film star

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Richard Todd who, some years ago, described for Songs Of Praise

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how he and his comrades prepared for battle with prayer.

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On the day that D-day was to take place, in the early evening,

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we had a drumhead service...

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..with blackened faces, cos we'd been issued

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with our camouflage paint, and, I suppose,

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the thought probably occurred to me at the time,

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the contrast between...

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..what these chaps were preparing for and the job they were going to do...

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..and the service they were taking part in at that moment,

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it was a different world.

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Here they were, singing, Onward Christian Soldiers,

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and repeating their prayers. A few hours later...

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..they were going to be in battle. Many of them didn't survive.

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That's the way of war.

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I think I'm probably a better person as a result.

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I think I learnt a lot of humility.

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I learnt how to care for other people, I lost a lot of friends.

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And there's a great deal of my saying thank God

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because whether it was someone up there, or wherever it was,

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I was looked after.

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Operation Neptune was the codename given to the seaborne assault

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that followed at dawn that morning.

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134,000 men left the shores of England in a flotilla

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of 7,000 ships. 24 hours later,

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19,000 of them had lost their lives.

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The 50 mile stretch of Normandy coastline

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was divided into five sections.

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Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword, and Juno, which is where

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this ship, now in Southampton docks, was then HMS Calshot,

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a floating headquarters, which sent men, like Ted Turner,

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just 18 years old, a British Royal Marine, struggling on to

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Juno beach in support of a team of Canadian comrades.

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Coming in that morning, nobody spoke, nobody said a word. It was quiet.

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The only order we had was when we were going over,

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when we left Portsmouth to go to going to Normandy,

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if anybody fell overboard,

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we just had to keep going, we couldn't stop.

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Somebody else we hoped would pick them up.

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As you got closer to the beach, the big guns started opening up,

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and the noise, it was...

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oh...

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You never heard so much noise. It was terrific.

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As we approached, you see, we were being fired at.

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I could also see the Canadians getting off the landing craft,

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and you could see them, they went onto the beach,

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and a lot of them went down. So, they were being shot, you know.

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You just hope and pray that you would get through it.

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When it comes to things like going to Normandy,

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then they start praying, even those that are not religious.

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Everybody starts praying.

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I don't know if we prayed together.

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I think we just prayed singly, on our own.

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Did you feel that God was on your side?

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I think he's always been on my side. Even now.

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How does going back to Normandy make you feel?

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I go back to Normandy twice a year. My friends are over there.

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Very emotional.

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And some people say they've got a brother, or somebody like that,

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or a husband over there...

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Well, I say, "When I go over there,

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"I will put some flowers on their grave."

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After the men had taken the beaches, supplies and vehicles were sent,

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landing on offshore piers called Mulberry harbours.

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Many of these were constructed

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in the peaceful setting of Buckler's Hard,

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an ancient ship building village

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on the Beaulieu River, near Southampton water.

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It's said that Isaac Watts was gazing across this view

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when he was moved to write our next hymn,

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performed for us now in Beaulieu Church by the Waynflete Singers.

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One of the heroes of D-day was Army chaplain Henry Lovegrove.

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His Military Cross is among the unique artefacts

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at the British Army Chaplaincy Museum in Andover.

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John Holliman, a former Archdeacon to the Army,

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knew Lovegrove in later life.

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Henry was a Baptist,

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but it has always been the situation in the forces, certainly in recent

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years, of not worrying about what denomination your chaplain is.

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The most important thing is you've got a chaplain, and a man,

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or woman, of faith serving you in that capacity.

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Henry was one of those people who was quite humble about his whole history.

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I am certainly aware that he managed to do a lot of rescuing of wounded

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people in order to save others from having to see rather gruesome sights.

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War is not pretty. Battles are even less pretty.

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They are ugly, dirty, messy, bloody, and totally hellish.

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And that's perhaps one of the reasons why

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we actually need chaplains on board on such occasions

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because people need reminding that there is a God after all.

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People need reminding that there are things other than what's

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going on around them in the battle.

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They also need to know, it's sometimes said that,

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certainly in my time, that soldiers, or a soldier,

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wants to know that if he's wounded, he will get quick medical care.

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But he wants to know if his mate is killed that his mate's body

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will be looked after properly, and he'll get a decent burial.

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A chaplain goes in as a non-combatant,

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he's not taking part in the actual fighting bit of the war.

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He is there to bring strength and hope,

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and faith where it might otherwise be missing.

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Down the years, men have traditionally marched off to war,

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leaving women to support the war effort at home.

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900 years ago, women whose men were away

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fighting in the Norman conquest

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used needlework to depict a timeless record of that conflict

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in the Bayeux Tapestry.

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More than two decades after the Second World War,

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women once again got busy with needle and thread

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to record the events of D-day in the Overlord Embroidery.

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The Royal School of Needlework embroidered designs taken from

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a series of 8ft paintings by artist Sandra Lawrence.

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It took 20 of them five years.

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And it took me four years to produce those panels.

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I mean, the amount of different stitches you've got in here,

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different sorts of fabrics, I mean, it's astonishing, really.

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The beginning of it starts with what we term the Beleaguered Island,

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where we're being attacked by Germany.

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And it's the Battle of Britain.

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And the fantastic fight that went on.

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And then the Blitz.

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And then the convoys going over to America for food

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and then getting blown up.

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Who came up with the idea for the embroidery in the first place?

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20 years after the war, Lord Dulverton liked the idea very much

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of commissioning a second Bayeux Tapestry so he discussed it

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with some friends of his, and they thought, "What a good idea!"

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We all used to meet every three months,

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and they would tell me precisely what they wanted in the next panel.

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And they were fabulous

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cos they always talked in double-o hours, you know, very military.

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It was very funny.

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Some of those meetings were absolutely wonderful, actually.

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The Admiral would practically fall asleep if there wasn't a ship to be seen in sight.

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SHE LAUGHS

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I think it's a wonderful thing that it's being portrayed.

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I'm not saying by me,

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but that it has been done

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because it was a fantastic feat.

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This is a tribute to all those people that participated in bringing

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this great event about.

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It is not a tribute to war, or the glory of war.

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This is a tribute to every single individual that participated

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making this happen, to fight this evil.

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And it took a lot of guts and a lot of courage, and faith...

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..I think is the operative word,

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in the belief of good.

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It's a memorial to those brave people that put their lives down

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for our country, and for the freedom in this country.

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And without that freedom, I wonder where we would have been today.

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Coventry was a city flattened by World War II bombs.

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Its cathedral is now dedicated to peace and reconciliation,

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and has its own famous tapestry of the ascended Christ In Glory.

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We talk of D-day, but although 6th June marked the beginning

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of the end of World War Two, it would be more than a year

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before peace would come to both Europe and the Far East.

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Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the United States President

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Franklin Roosevelt often prayed together during the war years.

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Almighty God...

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our sons, pride of our nation...

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..this day have set upon a mighty endeavour.

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Lead them straight and true.

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We've adapted a few words of Roosevelt's D-day prayer

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and combined them with a brand-new version of the Evening Prayer,

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sung by Portsmouth's own Convivium Singers.

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We fought for liberty, justice,

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tolerance and goodwill among all God's people.

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We yearn for the end of battle and our return to the haven of home.

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Embrace those who did not return, Father.

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And receive them into your kingdom.

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And for us at home - children, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands...

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sisters and brothers of all brave men and women of the Forces.

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Our thoughts and prayers are ever with them.

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And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son

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and Holy Spirit be with us all and those we remember ever-more.

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Amen.

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At least 55 million people

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lost their lives during the Second World War.

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Yet amongst the unspeakable pain and horror

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were countless moments of courage and sacrifice

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by people willing to lay down their lives for others.

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Christians have the certain hope of the resurrection and life

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won by Christ's supreme sacrifice once and for all upon the cross.

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And his ascension into heaven is our reassurance of His faithful

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presence and His eternal glory.

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Next week we celebrate the birthday of the church on Pentecost Sunday.

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Diane puts on her dancing shoes to rehearse with the group Rebirth

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and our hymns come from Leicester Cathedral

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where a Pentecost treat is about to be unveiled.

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Faith under fire! A survivor's story of how we fought the good fight on D-Day, 70 years ago.


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