Rector's Letter - October 2001

My dear friends,

September saw my return to Holland to share in commemorations of the Battle of Arnhem.  Due to advancing years and failing health, perhaps only 300 British veterans were able to join us this time, though many thousands of British and Dutch were still gathered at the drop zone when we parachuted in and I led a simple Service of Remembrance.  Some locals, children at the time of the Battle, told me their memory of seeing the sky filled with white parachutes and wondering in their innocence why it was snowing in September.

If the Battle of Arnhem had been won in September 1944, the war in Europe might have been over by the end of the year.  The Allies would have beaten the Russians to Berlin, and the post-war division of Europe and the subsequent Cold War period avoided.  Extra resources would have been released to fight the Japanese in the Pacific, and the world may never have had to witness the atomic devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki…  But such theories are speculation because we did not win the battle for one Dutch bridge; "a bridge too far" some called it.

The Battle was desperately hard fought, but ultimately lost.  British and Polish Airborne Forces were outnumbered three to one, but fought on until they could fight no more.  Four out of five were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.  The Battle's loss was also a tragedy for the Dutch civilians who went on to suffer great cruelty and deprivation over the harsh winter that followed before the war eventually came to an end.  Many starved to death.  A most moving memorial stone now sits at the edge of Arnhem.  It was raised by the British veterans themselves and is an apology to the Dutch people for their failure.  They gave everything they had, but everything they had was not enough.

When war ended the British returned to Arnhem fully expecting bitterness and recrimination.  What they found were Dutch children carefully tending the graves, and their parents telling them stories of how these brave young men had fought and died so far from home trying to bring freedom and peace for people they never even knew.

It was a tragedy.  It was a disaster.  You run out of words to say…  But somehow it's been strangely redeemed.  I saw a little Dutch Muslim girl lay a bunch of flowers on the grave of a British soldier.  His headstone bore the Star of David.

I was reminded of the passage from St Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.  Many things will cease at the passing of this world, but Faith, Hope and Love will never end.  They have the touch of heaven about them.  They conquer all.  They outlast all things.

September 2001 saw global events take a terrible turn.  On our TV screens we all saw live, one event of such implication that some prophecy it may yet tip the whole world into deep darkness.  A war may have to be fought.  Young men may die in a foreign land.  Some battles may even be lost.  But don’t let us ever ever believe that these things will be the last word.  The sadness of these times will pass away.  For when the dust of all battles clears only Faith, Hope and Love will be left still standing.

                   Jeff Cuttell.

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