Latest Rector’s Letter

A Stream of Lights.

This year at the Battle of Arnhem Commemorations, I told the story of Major John Pott. He was badly injured during an attempt to relieve beleaguered paratroopers holding the town’s bridge across the Rhine
(the ‘Bridge too Far’ made famous by the 1977 film).
Pott’s focus on the task was not merely military, it was also deeply personal – his brother in law was one of the soldiers at the bridge. But three German bullets shattered Pott’s hopes, along with his leg and hand. His
wounded colleagues were too badly injured to carry him to safety and he commanded them to withdraw without him. For twenty hours he lay in Lichtenbeek woods, just outside the town. Believing he was about to die, he wrote a final note to his wife as best he could with his uninjured left hand.
But John Pott didn’t die, he survived – though the Battle was lost and the troops at the bridge were overrun.
That could have been John Pott’s story – one of loss and disappointment, failure and suffering. In fact, John Pott’s story ended up very different indeed – transformed, redeemed, by myriad small examples of humanity.
Before wounded colleagues withdrew from Lichtenbeek, they paused to gather jackets from the dead to lay over him and keep him warm through the night. In a very weak state at the end of the following day he was found by teenagers, rescued by a Dutch underground stretcher team and taken to a local doctor for treatment.
But Pott’s injuries were so severe that it was necessary to hand him into the care of the Germans. In hospital he was treated alongside a Wehrmacht officer wounded at the Russian front. John Pott and Werner Elfering would
become lifelong friends. When Pott escaped from the hospital on his crutches, Elfering and his wife faced questioning by the Gestapo. Pott later said that despite his ‘deep loathing for Nazism’ it was this
friendship and the care of German doctors and nurses that, in his own words, became ‘a strong bridge over the chasm of hatred for the German people.’
After the war John Pott regularly returned to Arnhem to attend the commemorations. Even now, twelve years after his death, his family still do. The story they share is not one of loss, failure or suffering. They tell of transforming kindness, the courage of Dutch strangers and a German enemy who became a friend.
Sometimes we think our life’s story is directed and defined by great disasters or victories. John Pott’s story shows how brief moments of courage, care, kindness, forgiveness and friendship can surpass such things. The Dutch place name Lichtenbeek, where John Pott was drawn close to the darkness by three bullets, can actually be translated into English as a ‘Stream of Lights’.
I don’t go to Arnhem each year to celebrate a Second World War battle, I go ensure that stories like this are told.

Jeff Cuttell.