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Yesterday’s post looked at the life of Major Denis Arnold who served valiantly during the Second World War.
He, along with Baroness Platt of Writtle, today’s profile, and many others are what Britons refer to with regret as ‘a vanishing breed’. The Telegraph carries their obituaries, beautifully written and a pleasure to read.
Whilst Major Arnold was stationed in India and Burma, Beryl Catherine Myatt had just begun working for the male-dominated Hawker Aircraft.
Young Beryl’s father was an accountant. The family lived in Southend, Essex. Beryl became a Girl Guide and said that the Guide Promise was a principal mainstay in her life:
To do my best, to do my duty to God and the King and to help other people at all times.
Beryl was an exceptional student, the type meant to attend university. However, parents at the time — especially fathers — felt that higher education would be wasted on future mothers and homemakers. (The same was true for my late mother-in-law who deeply regretted not having been allowed this opportunity.)
One of Beryl’s teachers, the mathematics mistress, persuaded her mother that the girl should apply to Cambridge. Beryl later read that the university was looking for engineering students to help with the war effort. She attended Girton College and was one of five women reading Mechanical Sciences.
She graduated in 1943. Hawker Aircraft took her on as an aeronautical engineer:
preparing flight reports for Typhoon, Tempest and Fury fighter bombers. She often took control when her boss was away — “People would ring up and say ‘I want to know the cylinder head temperature of the Centaurus engine’. I’d rattle them off. There would be a deathly hush at the other end of the line and then they’d say, ‘How do you know?’ They assumed that if you were a woman you couldn’t be an engineer.”
Her obituary page has a Hawker employee photograph; she looks to be the only woman in a sea of men!
After the war, she left Hawker to work at British European Airways. She married Stewart Platt, a textile manufacturer, in 1949, to concentrate on marriage, home and family.
When her children were of school age, Mrs Platt devoted her spare time to volunteer activities in Essex. She started a young wives group in Writtle, Essex, where she and her family lived.
During this time, she began thinking of ways women could work outside the home without sacrificing family life. However, she would have to wait another quarter of a century before she could help to influence government policy in this regard.
In 1959, the local Conservative Party association asked her to stand as a candidate for the local council. She was duly elected and served in local government for several years. Between 1965 and 1985, she served on the Essex County Council.
In 1978, she was appointed a CBE — Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – and in 1981 was created a life peer, Baroness Platt of Writtle. (For my overseas readers: this put her in the House of Lords, the other parliamentary house.)
In 1983 — when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister — she was appointed chairman of Britain’s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and began earning a salary for the first time in decades.
Platt’s idea of feminism differed dramatically to the flavour of that time and ours. She saw women’s opportunities through the lens of someone who had to fight her way up in a male-dominated atmosphere. (Many years ago I saw a television interview of a woman in New York who did the same in the 1950s on Wall Street. She abhorred what passed for feminism.)
The Telegraph describes Platt’s job in the EOC as follows:
Brisk, kindly and bursting with good intentions, as chairman of one of Westminster’s least-loved quangos Lady Platt found herself cast as piggy-in-the-middle in the equality debate. “There are male chauvinists on one side, militant feminists on the other and me on a high wire in the middle,” she said. She was “passionately interested” in job-sharing, flexi-time and helping married woman to get back into the mainstream, but felt that this was better achieved voluntarily by employers than imposed by government.
So while she was lukewarm on some issues dear to the feminist heart, such as state-funded nurseries, and dismissed the EOC-backed case of two women against the Fleet Street hostelry El Vino [infamous haunt for male journalists] as “rather frivolous”, she was delighted when, for example, a woman crane driver won damages for victimisation at work: “That’s the sort of thing that will make employers think twice. It’s that, and not more legislation, that will bring about real equality in the end.”
Baroness Platt retired in 1988. Her great disappointment was that more young women were not enrolling in engineering courses at university. She blamed this on a cultural and educational bias towards feminine subjects for girls.
She lived and died a faithful Anglican, suggesting:
if people took to heart God’s commandment to love Him and love thy neighbour, “we should all be living in a very much happier and better community”.
How true. Would that we had more women like Baroness Platt today. A vanishing breed, indeed.
The obituaries in The Telegraph are often very well written, especially when they cover Britons who served in the Second World War.
In the United States, this age cohort is referred to as the Greatest Generation, coined by television journalist and author Tom Brokaw. His book of 15 years ago of the same name details lives of heroes from that era.
It is not uncommon for Telegraph readers commenting on British obituaries to say these people are ‘a vanishing breed’. Someone wrote the same of Major Denis Arnold, who died on January 14, 2015 at the age of 96.
Arnold was born and raised in west London. At that time, this area was semi-rural. It later became informally known as Metroland — freshly linked by the Tube and promoted as a newly desirable suburban community in the 1920s and 1930s. Today, it is fully built up and rather congested. Heathrow is the hub of employment for many residents.
Young Denis grew up in a wooden house in Hounslow. His parents had chickens and a goat. They also grew fruit and vegetables, allowing them to be self-sustaining where food was concerned. The family had no electricity. Nor did they have running water. They collected rainwater in old tubs and other receptacles.
Arnold left school at the age of 14 to work in the research laboratories of the renowned Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers, which, today, is part of the Blue Circle Group of companies. An adolescent who left school at that age back then was significantly better educated than 14-year olds today.
In 1939, he joined the RA Militia Regiment. At the time, war was imminent and the British government had reason to believe that Germany might invade the United Kingdom via Ireland. (There is much there which no longer makes the history books or school lessons. The evidence that some Irish were conspiring against Britain is now considered either politically incorrect or false.) Arnold was stationed in Northern Ireland to help fight off a German attack.
In 1942, Arnold was commissioned into the 13th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers and volunteered to serve in Nigeria’s Royal West Africa Frontier Force. He was later transferred to India and then Burma to be trained in long-range penetration operations.
On June 1, 1944, he made a courageous — and what could have been a disciplinary — decision. However, he had to act quickly and without permission:
He was leading a reconnaissance patrol along a narrow ridge path just north of the Kyusanlai Pass, overlooking Nammun, north Burma, and following the line of a Japanese telephone cable, when he saw the tops of the enemy bivouacs ahead on a steep knoll on the ridge.
He walked quietly up the path until he was within a few paces of a slit trench. Inside, there were four Japanese with a light machine gun who were not keeping a good lookout. Having decided to change his mission into a fighting patrol, Arnold retraced his steps. Dividing his platoon into two parties, he ordered them to stalk the enemy position and attack from the right and left flanks.
Arnold himself went back up the track and disposed of the gun crew with a grenade and his semi-automatic American carbine. His two sections closed with the enemy using small arms and grenades. The Japanese took heavy losses, but the attack could not be pressed home because of the steep slope and thick undergrowth.
Arnold and his men then made a fighting withdrawal. Grenades and automatic fire from four machine guns followed them down the hill, and they beat off an attack by a Japanese section which was pursuing them. Enemy casualties were estimated at 14 killed and as many wounded. Arnold’s force suffered one killed and one wounded.
Journalism such as that makes The Telegraph‘s obituaries worth reading.
The end result was that the enemy retreated. Arnold was given an Immediate MC (Military Cross).
Meanwhile, back in England, Arnold’s mother wrote him a letter and enclosed a temperance pledge card which she asked him to sign. Oh, my! A drink would have been most welcome under the circumstances, but there was none to be had.
Arnold was demobbed in 1946 and returned to work with the Blue Circle Group. His wanderlust did not leave him, and he became their overseas operations director.
Even after retirement in Kent, he continued to travel around the world.
In his leisure time he played golf until the age of 90. His wife predeceased him. Three of his four children survive him.
Reading about lives such as Major Arnold’s is most inspiring. He probably grew up reading Boys’ Own adventures and was taught to live for God, King and Country.
I cannot imagine that happening now, can you?
Americans interested in similar Second World War stories and profiles of brave servicemen would do well to check out Pacific Paratrooper, written by one of my readers. I have learned much about the war by reading it and highly recommend the site.
On February 21, 2015, British media carried the story of the three London schoolgirls who flew to Turkey with the objective of travelling to Syria.
The 15-year-olds are good students and gave no reason for family or teachers to suspect that they might be drawn into nefarious activities. It transpires that one of them was communicating via Twitter with a woman active in IS.
Last October and again this month, the French newsweekly L’Obs carried an exclusive on a French girl — also 15 — named Léa (not her real name). She was communicating with IS recruiters via Facebook. They offered her a virtual husband and were working hard to get her to Syria. She planned to leave home one day after school; her passport was already in her school bag. Her atheist parents, bemused by her increasingly reclusive behaviour, checked her Facebook account and saw the conversations she had been having. They notified the security police (DGSI) who began monitoring the conversation. Léa was arrested and held in custody for two days. She now deeply regrets having been drawn in so tightly into that network. She is also afraid of repercussions.
However, the fact is that whilst the number of jihadi recruits might be small, it continues to grow. The Guardian reported findings from a United Nations report on the phenomenon from October 2014:
“Numbers since 2010 are now many times the size of the cumulative numbers of foreign terrorist fighters between 1990 and 2010 – and are growing,” says the report, produced by a security council committee that monitors al-Qaida.
The UN report did not list the 80-plus countries that it said were the source of fighters flowing fighters into Iraq and Syria. But in recent months, Isis supporters have appeared in places as unlikely as the Maldives, and its videos proudly display jihadists with Chilean-Norwegian and other diverse backgrounds.
“There are instances of foreign terrorist fighters from France, the Russian Federation and and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland operating together,” it states. More than 500 British citizens are believed to have travelled to the region since 2011.
– 15,000 people from these 80+ different countries have joined fundamentalist groups in either Syria or Iraq.
– 1,130 of them are from France: 843 men and 243 women, among them 53 minors.
– Of these 1,130 people, 370 are currently in Syria and Iraq, including 88 women and 10 minors.
– There is no single ‘type’ involved. They can come from atheist, Christian or Muslim backgrounds. They come from poor suburbs as well as solidly middle class families (such as Léa’s). Some feel disaffected, others have a good social or scholastic background. (Furthermore, two-parent households can be affected just as much as those headed by one parent.)
– Recruiters urge their candidates to watch violent terrorist videos, some of which employ themes or elements of Hollywood films and popular video games.
– Not all those who make it to Syria or Iraq fight in the front line of terrorism. Some men — and now women — are part of the IS police force. Others work in administration. Many women are given roles involving childminding or teaching jihad to youngsters. They also become recruiters.
It is a phenomenon which should concern us. Parents really need to develop close relationships with their children and engage in conversation with them. Daily dinners around the table would make a fine start.
In the 16th century many parts of Europe experienced an uneasy post-Reformation convergence of politics, monarchy and religion.
In England, Henry VIII’s break with Rome brought decades of unrest, violence and secrecy.
His successor and son Edward VI appointed Archbishop Cranmer to write the first version of the Book of Common Prayer. ‘Common’ meant that everyone would worship uniformly as Protestants.
After Edward VI’s death, his half-sister Queen Mary — ‘Bloody Mary’ — sought to restore Catholicism. Dissenting Protestants who came to her attention were burnt at the stake.
After Mary’s death, her sister Elizabeth I, came to the throne and once again restored England as a Protestant country. She passed the Act of Uniformity, designed to unify England as a strong, independent nation of one religion. Those who disagreed with her were given fines or prison sentences.
Catholics secretly practised their faith during this time. The more influential among them hatched plots to bring Elizabeth I’s cousin Mary Queen of Scots to the throne in order to re-establish Roman Catholicism throughout the land. They sought the help of Bloody Mary’s widower, King Philip of Spain. Hence the attack — and Elizabeth’s sinking of — the Spanish Armada in 1588.
During this time of heightened religious tension, Elizabeth declared High Treason on any Catholic priest entering England. Any aiders and abetters were dealt with severely: prison, torture, death.
That said, a number of Jesuits sailed from continental Europe to England to lodge with prominent Catholic families or in safe houses. They supported the dissenters and provided them with spiritual comfort, Mass and the sacraments. England also had its share of Catholic priests who were lying low and seeking refuge. There were also humbler people who did not wish to renounce Catholicism and died for their faith.
Catholics during this time often communicated in secret code and symbols. They practised their faith discreetly and covertly.
Catholics who lived in grander circumstances built hideaways in their homes for their clergy. These are called priests holes. Historic UK describes these structures for us:
Hiding places or ‘priest’s holes’ were built in these houses in case there was a raid. Priest holes were built in fireplaces, attics and staircases and were largely constructed between the 1550s and the Catholic-led Gunpowder Plot [led by Guy Fawkes] in 1605. Sometimes other building alterations would be made at the same time as the priest’s holes so as not to arouse suspicion.
Not surprisingly, although a few larger estates also had secret underground chapels, most priests holes were tiny. Some could only accommodate one man, others several. However, there was little space to stand or lie down. (Illustration courtesy of Historic UK.) Most occupants had to crouch for hours or days at a time. There was no sanitation and no fresh air. Food was at a minimum or non-existent.
Elizabeth’s government had priest hunters called ‘pursuivants’, the French word for ‘pursuer’. The priest hunters were very thorough in their check of suspect properties:
measuring the footprint of the house from the outside and the inside to see if they tallied; they would count the windows outside and again from the inside; they would tap on the walls to see if they were hollow and they would tear up floorboards to search underneath.
Another ploy would be for the pursuivants to pretend to leave and see if the priest would then emerge from his hiding place.
Once detected and captured, priests could expect to be imprisoned, tortured and put to death.
St Nicholas Owen
A lay brother of the Jesuits and a skilled carpenter, Nicholas Owen, built a number of priest holes. He also created a network of safe houses for priests in the 1590s. In 1597, he helped the Jesuit priest John Gerard escape from the Tower of London. After the Catholic Gunpowder Plot failed in November 1605, the authorites arrested Owen and tortured him to death in 1606. Owen was canonised in 1970, which makes him St Nicholas Owen. He is the patron saint of escapologists and illusionists.
His masterpiece of priests holes was built at Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire. The stately home housed the Jesuit Henry Garnet for 14 years:
One hiding place, just 3’ 9” high, is in the roof space above a closet off a bedroom. Another is in the corner of the kitchen where visitors to the house today can see through to the medieval drain where Father Garnet was hidden. Access to this hiding place was through the garderobe (medieval toilet) shaft in the floor of the Sacristy above. A hiding space beneath the library floor was accessed through the fireplace in the Great Parlour.
Tatler magazine had a feature on priest holes in their January 2015 issue (pp. 90-95). These hideaways still exist today in a few estates under ownership of the original Catholic families who hid priests away during this era. The photographs are fascinating.
Equally fascinating is the fact that some of the newer generations did not realise their homes had priest holes until they had structural work done in the 19th or 20th centuries.
Georgina Blackwell’s article, ‘England’s Finest Priest Holes’, profiles four of them from all over the country:
– Ingatestone Hall in Ingatestone, Essex (p. 91): The Petre family have owned this estate for centuries. It has two priests holes which date from 1570. (Later generations did not discover them until 1855 and 1905. The children have since used them as spaces in which to play.) The Petres of Elizabeth I’s time harboured a Jesuit, John Payne, for several years beginning in 1576. He posed as the family’s steward but was really their chaplain. A servant betrayed Payne to the authorities. Payne was hanged, drawn and quartered at the marketplace in nearby Chelmsford in 1582. Sir William Petre, who had built the house, escaped prosecution and persecution by actually helping to dissolve the monasteries and then serve as privy counsellor to four monarchs, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I. Talk about discretion being the better part of valour.
– Coughton Court in Alcester, Warwickshire (p. 92): Coughton (pron. ‘Coe-ton’) Court has been home to the Throckmorton family for 600 years. It was built in the early 15th century. The aforementioned Nicholas Owen built a ‘double hide’ here. A second compartment lies hidden underneath the first. Rediscovered in 1910, it still contains the original rope ladder and bedding. The Throckmortons were among those grand families who attempted to overthrow Elizabeth I in favour of Mary of Scots. The family member who engineered it — Sir Francis Throckmorton — was beheaded. Those men involved in the Gunpowder Plot hid and amassed their ammunition here, too.
– Naworth Castle in Brampton, Cumbria (p. 94): Like the Throckmortons, the Howard family also built their home in the 15th century. A family member, Lord William Howard, built a stunning priest hole which is not only roomy but also has a window. Howard was known for hanging Scots — as many as 63 in a two-year time span. The hangman’s tree is still on the estate. A notable occupant of his priest hole was a Catholic activist by the name of Nicholas Roscarrock. Roscarrock is said to have been the last man to die on the rack. Some of the Howards spent a lot of time in the Tower of London. One of them, Sir Philip Howard, spent 13 years there; he was later canonised a Catholic saint. Another ancestor, Sir Charles Howard, played the system. During the English Civil War, he renounced Catholicism and followed Cromwell. Just before the Restoration in 1660, he helped bring Charles II to the throne. For his efforts, he was made Earl of Carlisle. Although he amassed a great deal of wealth, he, unfortunately, earned it via the slave trade. For this reason, the Howards call him ‘a particularly dodgy ancestor’.
– Ripley Castle in Harrogate, North Yorkshire (p. 95) – The Ingilby family (originally Ingleby until the late 18th century) did not find Ripley Castle’s priest hole until 1963. They were having the house inspected for death watch beetle and, in the process, discovered a tiny hiding place. It was large enough for a man to stay hidden, crouched down, and had just enough room for a candle and a Bible. Lady Ingilby told Tatler that priest hunters were very good at pointing swords in between floor panels to get an ‘Ouch!’. One of their ancestors is on the route to sainthood: Blessed Francis Ingleby, who was ordained in France before his return to England. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in York in 1586. Francis’s brother David was known as ‘the Fox’ and is considered to be the Catholic version of the Scarlet Pimpernel. He died undetected athough he was known to the authorities. The present day owner, Sir Thomas Ingilby, says that Elizabeth’s I spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, lived in fear of ‘the Fox’. Even later, during Cromwell’s Interregnum, the priest hole had its use. After the Royalist Sir William Ingleby returned to the house following the defeat at Marston Moor in 1644, he sequestered himself in the hideaway. Cromwell appropriated the house shortly thereafter as a billet. Whilst William hid, his sister Jane held up Cromwell at pistol point. The Ingilby family have lived at Ripley Castle since the 14th century.
Thus ends the intriguing story of priest holes. There are no doubt a few more, discovered and undiscovered, in grand houses around England.
This article gives a brief summary of her life as well as a video of her funeral. It also includes little-known facts about her.
– was born Alexandrina Victoria on May 24, 1819, at Kensington Palace, London. Her mother called her Drina. Her father — Edward, Duke of Kent — was one of George III’s sons. George III and the Duke of Kent died within a week of each other. Victoria was only seven months old.
– became heiress presumptive to her last surviving uncle William IV, who succeeded George IV in 1830.
– wore a wedding dress of white silk and lace when she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in February 1840. The dress was considered highly unusual at the time, yet is now the most popular attire for first-time brides around the world.
– did not enjoy being pregnant, although she gave birth to nine children.
– is considered the ‘Grandmother of Europe’ because most of her children married into other European royal families.
– helped to influence the Royal Family to this day by emphasising family values and morality.
On January 22, 1901, Queen Victoria died at her home on the Isle of Wight, of which she was fond. Her body was sent on the royal yacht Alberta to the naval town of Portsmouth on the south coast of England. From there, the coffin was sent by train to London. A military cortege then transported it to Windsor Castle on a gun carriage pulled by eight white horses.
Her funeral was held at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Along with her son, the new king Edward VII, her family and most of the crowned heads of Europe attended. She lay in state for two days, allowing thousands of Britons to pay their respects, before being buried in the Frogmore Mausoleum in Windsor Great Park, next to her husband Albert.
It is fascinating that Albert gave us many of our Christmas traditions and that Victoria gave us the wedding dress! This says much about the influence of our Royal Family on the rest of the world.
Events will be held throughout the UK to commemorate his life and achievements as our greatest prime minister in living memory.
The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust has a list of events which will take place throughout 2015. They will update the list as new ceremonies are announced.
A dedicated website, Churchill Central, has more information about the life of this great man and the organisations which carry on his vision.
A number of people in their mid-50s and older clearly remember Churchill’s state funeral on January 30, 1965. The whole nation was indescribably moved by his death. Those who could travel to London did so to pay their respects at his catafalque at Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament or to watch his cortege pass by.
The Telegraph has a report on what happened during that day, which makes for interesting reading. Not only does it have photos and videos but also scans of newspaper clippings. To read it, start at the bottom and scroll to the top.
If this event seemed extraordinarily well planned, there was a reason:
Churchill’s death had thrown into action a plan which was 12 years in the making. In 1953, during his second term as Prime Minister, Churchill suffered a stroke, forcing the new Queen and her ministers to consider his possible death. A suite of rooms in the Houses of Parliament were set aside for the task while aides began researching how Britain had bid farewell to the likes of Nelson and Gladstone.
Scotland Yard had 1,000 men on duty. They were in position by 10 p.m. the night before:
the most extensive security operation of this sort ever undertaken in England.
If we think that today’s security measures are onerous, Scotland Yard took no chances 50 years ago, either:
The name of every person in every building in the line of sight was supplied to the police beforehand. These names were checked with a national list of politically uncertain people who might bear a grudge against particular leaders.
French President Charles de Gaulle, the American ambassador to the UK David Bruce and Supreme Court judge Earl Warren were the first to arrive at St Paul’s Cathedral that morning along with a Russian delegation. (President Lyndon B Johnson was ill and could not attend.)
Those marching in the procession route included:
– 2,300 personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force, including regimental massed bands.
– 150 resistance fighters from France, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries.
Nearing St Paul’s, the procession scene was as follows:
Now, trundling past the windows of Bush House, comes the gun carriage itself. Royal Navy gun crews draw it along, and behind it are the women of Churchill’s family in five black horse-drawn carriages.
The funeral liturgy took place at 11:00 a.m. The Queen and hundreds of British and foreign leaders and dignitaries were at the Cathedral.
Afterward, the procession continued to Tower Hill, passing through the City, London’s financial district. One man, now 78, recalls watching it from his office window:
I decided to take an 8mm film camera plus a reel-to-reel tape recorder, too. I opened the window, and placed the microphone on the sill and set the recorder running. I used a camera to take stills of the procession including the gun carriage with the coffin on top of it …
I don’t think I welled up, but I was totally overawed by it – especially the noise of the wheels passing.
Once at Tower Hill, the procession moved on to Tower Wharf. Churchill’s coffin was loaded onto the Havengore, a barge. It journeyed down the Thames to Waterloo Station, where it was placed on a special train to his hometown of Bladon, Oxfordshire, for burial. For several days, the local churchyard was inundated with solemn crowds queuing up to pay their respects.
The Havengore sailed down the Thames on Friday, January 30, 2015, from the Tower of London to Festival Pier in commemoration. Members of the Churchill family were on board to remember their relative:
this country’s greatest ever wartime leader. In a scene seared in the memory of so many, even the huge cranes that lined the banks dipped in salute as Sir Winston Churchill’s lead coffin was carried upstream on board the Havengore.
Aside from those on the streets of London for the state funeral that day, this last voyage was televised across the world to some 350 million viewers. Nicholas Soames, who was aged 16 when his grandfather died, has said that recalling the sombre pageantry still leaves the hairs standing on the back of his neck.
This remembrance voyage passed by the Houses of Parliament:
As the clouds darkened and raindrops spat down, prayers were said and the national anthem played on board. Then, just beyond the stroke of 1.30pm from Big Ben, Last Post sounded across the water, and a green wreath – embossed with a golden V for Victory created for the occasion at the Royal British Legion Poppy Factory in Richmond – was gently dropped overboard by Colonel Anthony Mather, who led the pall bearers at the funeral, and Barry de Morgan, former adjutant of the Queen’s Royal Hussars who escorted the coffin. It was carried swiftly away by the swirling currents.
The Telegraph reported:
The voyage was just one event among several on this day of commemoration, which had begun with a service in the House of Parliament and concluded yesterday evening at Westminster Abbey.
Prime Minister David Cameron was one of the first to lay a wreath at the feet of the Churchill’s statue in the Members Lobby, paying tribute to a “great leader and a great Briton”.
Sadly, we will not see Churchill’s like again in our lifetime. British consensus says that his views would be out of place in today’s society.
How true. What a pity.
The Ministry of Defence is unable — unwilling? — to find £50,000 to maintain the Royal Air Force chapel which commemorates airmen who died in the Battle of Britain.
The Mail reports:
Defence Minister Anna Soubry said it ‘no longer provides support to an operational RAF station and as the number of serving RAF personnel using the chapel is very low, continued support to the chapel would be an inappropriate use of defence resources. My officials… have met with the local chaplaincy council to discuss the closure of the site’.
The fact is that the RAF left Biggin Hill in October 1992.
Furthermore, whilst there might not be many ‘serving RAF personnel using the chapel’, the Battle of Britain’s page on St George’s states:
Some 12000 people visit the chapel each year, and in addition to regular weekly services, special commemorative services are held on Battle of Britain Sunday and Remembrance Sunday.
There is an Anglican Service every Sunday at 9.30am and Roman Catholic Mass each Saturday at 6pm.
More than 25,000 visitors are expected to visit the chapel this year, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, ahead of its closure in 2016 if a benefactor cannot be found to keep it open.
RAF veterans and officers have voiced their disapproval of the MoD’s decision. It appears that the Government would like to see the chapel funded privately. However, £50,000 seems a small amount for the MoD to find.
Martin Michener has posted an online petition to keep the chapel open. The petition closes on March 30, 2015, so there is plenty of time for interested Britons to sign it.
The Telegraph article states:
The chapel floor is made of wood from wartime aircraft propellers and stained glass windows commemorate the dead, whose names are inscribed in a roll of honour.
Geoff Simpson, a Battle of Britain historian, said: “There’s a lot of distress about the decision.
“It’s a very historic place and a very moving place and it was certainly the hope of Winston Churchill that it should remain forever.
“Many people regard it as one of the major memorials to ‘the few’ and just to walk inside the door its an experience that anyone with an interest in the battle should have.”
It is also an international chapel, as Allied airmen who died are also remembered, including those from Commonwealth countries, Poland and what was then Czechoslovakia.
The construction of St George’s was a project close to Winston Churchill’s heart. He wrote personally to thank members of the public who donated to the building fund.
In 1951, when the chapel opened, he said (emphases mine):
As a nation, we have short memories, and it is well [that this memorial] should bring to our remembrance the cost of our victory in the days when one of our fighter pilots had to be worth ten. They died without seeing the reward of their efforts; we live to hold their reward, inviolate and unfading.
It seems that our Conservative government does indeed have a short memory.
Fortunately, the 26,000+ people who have signed Mr Michener’s online petition ‘hold the reward’ of the fallen ‘inviolate and unfading’.
It is to be hoped that their signatures prevail and that St George’s Chapel remains open.
Our priests raise associated questions and ways that our denomination and dioceses can be rescued, given less money and falling church attendance.
Yet, it is rare that we see a mention of ‘faithfully preaching the Gospel’ in these discussions.
Psephizo has two posts which typify the thinking of our clergy: ‘How to save a diocese’ and ‘How to save the Church of England’. These offer businesslike remedies. One illustration appears in each which states these objectives concerning the execrable strategy of church growth:
- Churches that have a clear mission and purpose.
- Clergy & congregations who are intentional about and prioritise growth.
- Clergy & worshippers who are willing to change and adapt.
- Churches where lay people as well as ordained clergy are active in leadership and other roles.
- Churches that actively engage children and young people.
- Churches with a welcoming culture who build on-going relationships with people.
- Churches that nurture disciples (offering specific encouragement through courses & activities).
- Clergy / leaders who innovate, envision and motivate people.
Fortunately, the Anglican dioceses in England state their objectives more spiritually. This list dates from the summer of 2014. Some of these are better than others, but one wonders how they work in practice.
Confessions of a Ridiculous Vicar has a post on the inadequacy of the church growth concept. An excerpt follows (emphases mine):
… If the push for Church Growth makes us resent our people, rather than cherish them, we are talking about it in the wrong way.
When we talk about Church Growth the focus seems to be on all the wrong things. On a recent course, (by a well respected national organisation) we were encouraged to start small, and find achievable changes we could make, to get us heading in the right direction. I’m in favour of starting with the small and achievable, so I was encouraged. Then I saw the list.
“Install Dimmer Switches” was the most memorable item.
There were other suggestions too. Serve better coffee, was another, and pay attention to the quality of your church notice board. They would all make the church a more attractive physical environment. But honestly, it felt more like advice from The Hotel Inspector than how to grow God’s people.
Did people follow Jesus because he had such a nice building? Or any sort of building at all? Because the loaves and the fishes were particularly good, organic loaves and fishes, from Waitrose rather than Cost-cutter?
Because his sermons were 10 minutes, rather than 12?
Because when they came to hear Jesus preach, they were welcomed by those with name badges and good small talk?
Because there was a special meeting, targeted precisely at just their demographic?
Have we lost confidence in what really matters? Like David as a boy, are we putting on all the armour of King Saul, trusting that it will help us to fight Goliath. Trying to wield a sword that is bigger than we are, and stand up in armour that is just wrong, we are trying to grow the church by all the wrong methods, but unlike David, we do not yet realise where our true hope lies – what it is we have of value, that can be found no-where else.
I agree, as would many other pewsitters.
The answer is simple: preach the Gospel faithfully and they will come.
How does John MacArthur do it? He explains what Scripture says, ties the Old Testament into the New. He helps people to understand the Bible and what our Lord accomplished on our behalf. He preaches the Gospel of grace. But, then, he has unshakeable faith. Not all Church of England clergy do, and that creates an insurmountable problem.
In ‘How to save a diocese’, reader Clive suggests:
They could try the really unthinkable thing of returning to Christianity.
Everywhere else in the world the Church that believes in Christianity is actually growing.
I am just aware that some clergy say the 39 Articles with their fingers crossed!
Article II affirms that Jesus is God’s word. It says:
II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father…
Article VI defines Scripture, in the Bible, as sufficient in all respects:
VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
Article XIX has the Bible preached to everyone:
XIX. Of the Church.
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached,…
Article XX puts authority in the Church only so far as Scripture allows:
XX. Of the Authority of the Church.
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written,…
The danger for any Church is that you simply become an extension of social services.
Reader Tony Oliver wrote:
Well in my church, which is supposed to be an Anglo-Catholic church, the worldview preached from the pulpit and announced on its web-site is that of “Progressive Christianity”. This was not always the case. Whatever “Progressive Christianity” is, it is certainly, to my mind, neither “Progressive” nor Christian…Now I’m confident that Progressive Christianity will wither on the vine; I just hope that the Church does not wither along with it.
When I attended the Living the Question course I got the impression that the teachings of the Buddha were highly regarded and so I’m sure it won’t be long before the Eight Points become indistinguishable from the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Let’s wait and see.
Another Psephizo post, ‘What does it mean to be “lost”?’ discusses the use of language in evangelism. Here again, we see only a few mentions of what true evangelism is, best summed up by Steve Hollinghurst, formerly of the Church Army:
… I find some who are lost and wandering, I find others who are one the road but off beam, I find others who have stppped and need to start moving and I find that I still am not always on course and I have some way yet to go – only the first of these are lost, but all of us need Jesus to change our lives and overcome the power of sin and death – oh and BTW I wouldn’t use the language of sin and death in my evangelism either – but I would want my witness to help people find God dealing with its reality.
I know of a Church Army member who was very schooled in Scripture and preached a great sermon at church, despite his young age. It was hard to believe he was an Anglican. He carried his Bible everywhere and, when preaching, would open it frequently to cite various passages which tied his scriptural message together. Unfortunately, he got fed up with the Church of England and left to attend his wife’s Evangelical (non-denominational) church which was more faithful to the Gospel.
Oh for the days of the great — and first — Bishop of Liverpool, J C Ryle, who lived in the 19th century. He was a man of great faith. This site has a collection of his sermons and another, Grace Gems, has more. Ryle once said:
My chief desire in all my writings, is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and make Him beautiful and glorious in the eyes of men; and to promote the increase of repentance, faith, and holiness upon earth.
May our clergy discard the emptiness of church growth and follow Ryle’s example. That is the only way the Church of England can be saved for generations to come.
Yesterday’s post discussed annual pledging in the Church of England and The Episcopal Church.
The Revd David Keen, the Opinionated Vicar, has his ministry in Yeovil, Somerset. Recently he wrote on the future of the parish system in the Church of England.
Our English dioceses are large, probably because we have an established (state) church. With declining membership and worship attendance, some will no doubt have to close. This brings the inevitable solution of closing churches and, possibly, holding services in people’s homes. After all, the reasoning goes, we are the Church. It’s not a building.
However, that seems to be part of the problem, as I see it, with the Church of England. If our bishops and priests preached and taught the Bible the way John MacArthur does at his church, our houses of worship would be filled to the rafters. Money would be no problem.
The comments following Keen’s post were many and varied. David Shepherd had the best suggestions. Would that our bishops — and priests — contemplate the following and bring them to fruition. Below are excerpts from Shepherd’s detailed thoughts on the matter. Emphases mine below.
I’ve spent some time looking at not only how the Parish Share is calculated, but also where it goes. For instance, the kinds of projects that gain Mission Development Fund grants may well engage with the community on some level, but they typically lack any evangelistic engagement. £1000 here for the Ukelele club. £9000 there for setting up community choirs. It all adds up. Meanwhile precious little is put towards intentional evangelism because it’s far too direct and is deemed to lack ‘incarnational’ halllmarks.
What those running these projects lack is the sort of charism and conviction of a divine encounter with Christ that characterised the early church. I don’t doubt their sincerity, but, to the public, they’re just another bunch of well-meaning unpersuasive ‘pillars of convention’.
You look at the New Churches and they’re full of anticipation that life-transforming encounters with Jesus can and do still happen every day. They aren’t steeped in recitations and rituals too mysterious for outsiders to unravel. They anticipate that they will be part of the great things that God will do. Even their laity have a better grasp of scripture than many CofE clergy. Most members can deliver a meaningful testimony about God’s practical goodness in their lives. And their congregations are growing.
My belief is that, in every aspect of church life, form and ceremony don’t connect with ordinary lives, however they are re-packaged, sorry, re-imagined by a plethora of Task Groups.
People empathise with stories of change and transformation. They’re all over YouTube. Honest testimony about how God has broken the power of addiction, instilled the discipline to pay off and stay out of consumer debt, transformed a failing marriage. People want to see the before and after. Most of the visioning in church is about the ‘after’ with no transparency about what any of us were like before. In contrast, the gospels present a ‘warts and all’ image of real discipleship, about how they learned to overcome rivalry, selfishness, and betrayal to serve a common purpose.
Notice that St.Paul encouraged giving, but only to alleviate genuine hardship and to support those of good reputation in ministry, especially in furtherance of evangelism and doctrine.
He wrote to the Ephesian bishop, Timothy: ‘Honour widows that are widows indeed, Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work…Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. (1 Tim 5:3, 17)
So, why is it that Mission Development is run along completely secular lines, like a Local Authority Community Development effort? Why do so many churches do little more than incidental public evangelism.
It may be right for dioceses to encourage giving. However, there should be more emphasis on evangelism accountability and financial prioritisation of teaching and preaching the gospel to adults, instead of just targeting measures aimed at reversing the CofE’s demographic time-bomb.
Of course, clergy stipends, parish staff, maintenance and running costs all have to be paid. However, I am gravely disappointed when any hobby that might engage a sector of the community can gain funding as mission.
This is why I and many others are hesitant about pledging when a goodly sum of our money will go to secular concerns instead of faithfully furthering the Gospel.
My other concern is the amount of money funding missionary activity outside of our local area. Ten years ago our vicar printed out how our parish church’s donations are used. Much of it went to the diocese which then sent a surprising amount to various ‘missions’. The names did not look familiar and few were operating within our parish. What were they? More information was needed.
I don’t have the sheet of paper, because on the back was a survey asking if we agreed with how our money was being apportioned. I suggested that most of what we pledge should stay within our parishes. I gave with the expectation that the majority of my donation maintained the local church of which I am a member. Seeing those figures in 2005 made me reconsider how much to give each year.
It seems to me, that with regard to missions, a better plan would be to have a special collection one or two Sundays a year during the service. People would then be able to donate what they wish.
I also agree with David Shepherd’s thoughts above. The Church of England should function as a church, not as another secular outreach vehicle. Unfortunately, I doubt many of our clergy have the faith in Christ to make that happen.