Latest Rector’s Letter

The Rector’s Sermon when leading year’s Commemorations for the Battle of Arnhem in September, 1944.
(The service took place during torrential rain in the worst weather for the Battle of Arnhem commemorations in living memory.)
The Psalms in the Bible are wonderful! They give a voice to every human emotion: Psalm 9 says: ‘I will rejoice and be glad’ – a voice of joy and thankfulness. Psalm 13, our reading today said: ‘How long O Lord, how long’ – a lament of suffering and endurance: ‘How long O Lord, how long – will we sit in the rain while this man keeps on talking? . . . I will rejoice and be glad – he’s sat down and shut up!’
Seventy-four years ago the battle wasn’t with bad weather or long-winded preachers! ‘How long O lord, how long’ – as the 2nd Battalion held the bridge waiting for reinforcement in September 1944. ‘How long O Lord, how long’ – as Dutch civilians faced the terrible Hunger Winter in the long months before liberation.
Resistance is one of the themes for this year’s commemorations. And I believe that resistance can simply be this: Doing what you can do . . . and not being defeated by what you can’t do!
The heroes of Arnhem didn’t have names like ‘The Incredible Hulk’ or ‘Wonder Woman’ – because those names are given to figures of fantasy, they’re not real. The heroes of Arnhem were real people with real names . . . and they just did what they could:
A thirty eight year old mother of five children with no medical training just opens the door of her home to wounded soldiers . . .Kate Ter Horst.
A junior RAF officer flying a badly damaged transport aircraft just does his job. He holds his Dakota straight and level to allow cargo to be dispatched and to give his crew the chance of escape . . . Flight Lieutenant David Lord.
David Lord was awarded the VC and Kate Ter Horst was given the
name ‘The Angel of Arnhem’ . . . and thus, in our minds, they are immediately transformed into superheroes.
But two nights ago, Kate’s grand-daughter Claar Ter Horst spoke at the John Frost Bridge. Kate didn’t see herself as an angel. She thought, perhaps it was the Airborne soldiers who dropped from heaven who were the real angels! Claar Ter Horst went on to suggest any of us can become an angel. To become an angel, all you have to do, is what you can.
The day after I get home to England I’m taking the funeral of a friend. Philip was born just down the road from my church. For most of his life he was a gardener. Every week he would bring flowers to decorate our church. Each year, on my return from these commemorations, he loved to hear the stories I brought back.
But in the last conversation I had with Philip before his death two weeks ago at the age of 92, I discovered that as an 18 year old conscript in World War Two he served in the mortar platoon of 4th Battalion the Lincolnshire Regiment. In April 1945, alongside Canadian armour, Philip and his colleagues
fought their way through these green fields of Oosterbeek and the eastern approach to Arnhem . . . and he had never told me before!
He had never told me because he didn’t think he was a superhero. He thought the real heroes were the brave Dutch people. He thought the real heroes were the Airborne soldiers of the September before . . . Real heroes are awarded VCs . . . Real heroes get given names like ‘the Angel of Arnhem’. Philip thought he just did his bit. But look at the stories of Arnhem and you’ll find the truth is that our heroes start off very much like Philip.
To become like these people, all we have to do is what we can do
and not let ourselves be defeated by what we can’t. It won’t make us super heroes – but we might just become angels! Some angels are called Kate and care for the wounded at their door . Some angels are called David and just try to fly straight and level. Some angels are called Philip and never think what they did was important. And perhaps if we just do what we can do, then some angels might end up looking just a little bit like you and me.
Amen.
Postscript. After the Commemoration Weekend, I received several
messages which were read out at Philip’s funeral:
From Claar Ter Horst (Granddaughter of Kate Ter Horst, the Angel of Arnhem), ‘I suppose you will bury this week the man who did the flowers for your church and who only just now told you about his presence in Arnhem. Maybe you may say a word of thank you to him from me.’
From Lt Col Gerrit Pijpers of the RNAF and for many years the
organizer of the annual commemorations, ‘On May 5th we celebrate in Holland that we live in freedom. Philip, we salute you sir and thank you for the sacrifice you made so that we can enjoy this beautiful thing called “freedom”. You will be, forever, our hero.’

Jeff Cuttell.