If the angels descended from Heaven and gathered all the tears shed by those fighting on the battlefields and their families, I fear the world would have to make place for a new ocean the depth of which could never be measured.
There were many incredible stories that were brought home from the battlefields, some of which are legendary. I invite you to sit back and relax as I share some of these with you today.
As we stop for a moment today in silence at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, we think not only of the moment gunfire ceased but of all those sons, brothers, husbands for whom it was too late. They would never return home to the welcoming arms of their loved ones. While people danced and cheered all around the streets and homes of Great Britain others wept bitterly in grief.
The brave heroes who returned home dreaming of peace and solitude could never have known that it would be in the silence of the night the roar of the battle would be at its loudest. They would carry the horrors of their experiences for many years to come.
Over 50 years later some of these brave soldiers would be interviewed on television and the pain in their eyes would show the world that they had never forgotten what they had seen. They would wear their medals with pride and talking about their comrades would still bring tears to their eyes.
There are many incredible and amazing war stories one of the most famous being the legend of The Angel of Mons. Many men and boys who had never given God, Heaven or the Angels a second thought, in moments of terror, prayed that there was a God watching over them. During the retreat at the Battle of Mons one young soldier cried out to St George for help. Arthur Machen, who fought at the Battle of Mons, was a writer and felt inspired to write the story which was printed in The Evening News. It told of how the young soldier’s prayers had summoned the Bowman from the battle of Agincourt and how their ghostly appearance could be seen by those on the battlefield.
It mattered not that Arthur Machen told everyone it was a fictional story because it was something to hold on to. Thinking there were angels protecting them on the battlefield boosted morale. If you do research it seems there are many other stories of soldiers that believed they saw angelic beings through the ghostly gunfire but those men are long gone and unable to confirm what they saw.
Did St George and the Bowman really turn up that day protecting and shielding our brave soldiers and bringing solace to the dying? I really would like to believe so, wouldn’t you?
Whilst reading about The Angel of Mons I came across another beautiful story of a man named George who in World War 2 found himself lost with 2 comrades in a jeep behind enemy lines. I watched this man tell his story and it brought tears to my eyes. George had fought in the Battle of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. He was a 20 year old baseball player and had been married only 6 months when he kissed his wife goodbye. His wife prayed all during the war for his safe return and it seems her prayers were answered. It was George’s job to deliver supplies to the soldiers on the front line and being lost in a combat zone was not a great position to be in. One can only imagine the fear that overcame him as he continued to drive on a long straight road, open fields on either side of him not knowing whether or not he was going in the right direction. Suddenly, a voice in his ear said, ‘turn around, turn around.’ George, paused only momentarily before continuing to drive straight ahead. It was then he saw an American soldier standing in the road ahead of him. That’s strange, thought George, why would a lone American soldier be standing there, was it a trap? George bravely went forward and stopped to ask the soldier for directions. ‘Turn around,’ the soldier said. ‘You do not want to see what is ahead of you.’ George thanked the soldier and turned the jeep around then decided to ask the soldier if he needed a lift but he was gone. The soldier was nowhere to be seen. All around were open fields and there was nowhere to hide. George was 90 years old when he told this story and his smile is beautiful to see. He believed then and believes now with all his heart that God sent an Angel to save him and his comrades from the Germans that were further down that road. ‘When I meet the Lord,’ he said, I will ask to meet that Angel he sent me and say thank you.
My final, and beautiful story, is of Theo who was presented with a medal and citation at the embassy in Seoul by the South Korean Government in gratitude for what the men and young lads did for their country. He too believed his life was saved by an angel and this is his incredible true story.
There was no mistaking the fear inside him today. Every single part of his body was shaking and he was afraid to open his eyes. The swell of the sea didn’t help. Theo had never been on a boat before and he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to again. The Devonshire, it was called, and soon it would be landing on Korean soil. There were so many of them and yet so little noise above the throb of the engines. They were playing cards, writing or reading letters. Theo was simply lying on his bunk looking up at the birthday card he had stuck above him to remind him of home. Today was his 19th birthday and he was a little afraid he might not see his 20th. Sign up voluntarily they had told him and you won’t be sent to Korea. They lied. 19 years old, a man, old enough to fight and die for his country and his throat was aching with the need to cry which was something he could not and would not do. He concentrated on the birthday card and began to plan his 20th birthday and his life ahead then closed his eyes and prayed for this fear inside him to go away and to give him the strength to stand alongside his fellow men and fight. He also asked for help to keep his hands still enough not to shake when holding his rifle. Please God, whispered Theo, before he finally fell asleep, if there are such things as Guardian Angels have a word with mine, I wouldn’t mind a friend along for the ride.
Theo was a night sniper and they had been asked for a volunteer to go into No Man’s Land to bring back a spy. This is it, he thought looking around him, at the men who had left behind wives and children. Theo stood up and volunteered. Now it was time to see what he was really made of he thought as he cleaned his rifle over and over, anything to keep his mind occupied. There was a strange silence considering there were so many of them in such a small space. Each man had his own thoughts, fears and prayers.
Theo stood tall, rifle in hand. No shaking now, no fear, no thoughts just a job to do, a journey to be undertaken. If it was to be his last then every ounce of strength would be brought to the fore and he would die as others had before, and would do after him, in the name of War. ‘Are you ready’ he had been asked? ‘Yes Sir,’ was his reply. What else was there to say? The Commanding Officer nodded and Theo, head held high, turned to leave.
Theo’s bravado was short lived as he began his journey. Both petrified, shaking and alone in the vast wilderness, tears began to fall. Then in the silence of No Man’s Land, out of nowhere, a beautiful voice whispered in his ear, ‘if you can survive the next 48 hours you will be fine’. Theo was stunned by what he felt was the sweetest voice he had ever heard. Dear God, was he hallucinating through fear? No he was not, he would believe, he had to. It helped. He walked, crawled, a spark of warmth inside him believing he would be safe, the owner of the voice crawling beside him, giving him strength.
On returning to base with the spy his Commanding Officer patted him on the shoulder. ‘Well done Theo, it took you 48 hours exactly, good man.’ Theo was stunned. That was exactly what the voice had said. Does that mean I will survive this horror he wondered as he shook the hands of his fellow men. He talked long into the night about his adventures in No Man’s Land, except of course for the voice. Theo was not ready to share that yet. Would he ever tell anyone? Maybe one day.
This war, they had said, would be over by Christmas 1950 and here they were in October 1952 still fighting. Theo wanted so much to go home, they all did. Home and family were what they talked about the most. They all carried their precious photographs, talked to them, touched them and believed with their whole heart and soul they would return home soon. They had to believe that.
There was no silence today, there was gunfire and smoke and Theo was moving forward his Commanding Officer at his side, simply focusing on one step in front of the other preparing for battle. Through the deafening sound of gunfire the voice suddenly said in Theo’s ear. ‘Flatten your officer now.’ Theo didn’t hesitate and jumped on top of his commanding officer flattening him to the ground. Through screams threatening Court Marshall and what he would personally do to him another blast of gunfire rang out as both men lay still. The backpack was blown away from Theo’s back and the lives of both men were saved. Theo had to smile to himself wondering how on earth he was going to explain himself to his Commanding Officer, still not ready to share his secret voice.
He returned from the Korean War a changed man as were many others. He got to celebrate his 20th birthday and many more still holding the secret of the voice until he met the girl he would marry and love for the rest of his life. Finally, at last he told her of the voice knowing she would understand and believe him. Theo and Sandra shared a love that was strong and would survive all that life threw at them, always there for each other, always supporting and caring.
It was many years later, Theo now in his late sixties had a job as a bus driver which he absolutely loved. Today was going to be a wonderful day as he always looked forward to this particular job, taking the children from school on a coach trip to Northumberland. Hearing the voices of the children singing songs all the way there and back, which they always did, never failed to lift his spirits. He was so glad that the rota had been changed at the last minute and he had been called in to drive the bus today. He was well known and all the children and teachers called ‘hello Theo,’ as they got on the bus ready for a fun day out. It was a clear bright day and perfect driving conditions.
‘Are we ready’ shouted Theo and laughed as all the children bounced about in their seats calling ‘yes Theo’ and cheering. The children sang and the teachers all had happy smiles on their faces as they joined in too. Theo was thinking what a beautiful part of the world Northumberland was with its green fields and pretty country lanes when suddenly through the sound of children’s voices he once more heard the sweet voice saying ‘pull into the hedge now.’ Theo was stunned for a moment and ignored the voice. Surely, not again after all this time. He waited for a couple of seconds until, for the first time ever, the voice shouted and Theo listened. He immediately slowed down and pulled the bus tightly into the hedge on the side of the road. There were shouts from the teachers. ‘Theo what’s wrong. Are you ill? Theo what is happening? Their words were drowned by the sound of a roaring
engine as an enormous lorry thundered round the bend towards them, out of control on the wrong side of the narrow country lane missing the coach by inches. As the children screamed and the teachers hugged and calmed the children Theo simply closed his eyes and said ‘Thank You.’
Theo was a hero and had fought many battles in his life and won. He had asked for help that day so many years ago on his 19th birthday and been heard.
During his marriage he had suffered and recovered from a serious head injury. He was nursed and loved by his wife Sandra. They fought together to get him better and although he was never the same again, Sandra never stop loving him or believing in him. He was her hero and they had faced all life’s challenges side by side. There was no battle they could not face and win together. Until now.
Theo was facing his final battle and he had never been so brave, so dignified. This was not a battle that he was going to win. Sandra sat by his side as he asked her ‘Sandra if we had to do it all again would you still marry me’. ‘I would’, she whispered, ‘ Oh Theo yes, yes, yes.’ Sandra held her husband’s hand as Cancer claimed yet another victim and Theo slipped quietly away.
On 8th April 2009 the men of the Northumbrian Branch of the British Korean Association stood tall and dignified as they formed a guard of honour for Theo Holden.
War hero, husband, father, step-father, grandfather, friend, a good and honest man.
The voice had finally called him home.
There are many other stories of courage and angelic intervention and today as I stand in silence at 11am I will personally thank each and every one of those who brave souls who fought for our freedom. I make a promise to you all that I will always remember you with empathy, compassion and gratitude.
In the words of Albert Pike, Ex Corde Locutiiones (1897)
What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.
Thank you so much