THE MIRACLE OF BRITAIN’S SURVIVAL
This was published during the last war and is reprinted as a reminder of the gracious intervention of the Lord at that time. The psalmist writes “Forget not all His benefits”. Have we not done so and turned our back upon the God of Salvation.Â—EDITOR.
“Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”
(The prophet Samuel in c. 1140 B.C.)
The past four years of this second World War, years during which our country came as near to defeat as ever it has in its 900 years of freedom from invasion, have driven many to the belief that in the providence of Almighty God there is yet a purpose for the survival of the little island of Britain. In 1940, Poland, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France were overrun, dominated and occupied by the enemy. Britain stood alone with her Empire against a foe whose strength seemed to grow every month, and whose advance appeared quite irresistible. Not only was Britain standing alone within twenty-three miles of her enemy, but after the evacuation of Dunkirk she was a nation almost weaponless. No sooner was this memorable episode over than we were plunged into the Battle of Britain, the significance of which very few of us realised at the time. The narrow margin by which “the few” won that conflict for us has only lately been revealed. This was followed as none of us will ever forget, by the series of air blitzes which have left their scars in all the great cities of Britain. All through this time there was the constant threat of invasion, with the formation of the Home Guard and their promised armament of pikes for lack of anything else.
A year later, though Britain remained still undefeated, the threat of invasion still hung over the country, and to that was added the danger of famine and starvation through the serious shipping losses on the Atlantic life line. Norway had been occupied and the Balkan Peninsula, and the Afrika Corps was fighting on Egyptian soil. Our position in the Middle E,ast was precarious. The enemy, who had suddenly attacked Russia, were seriously threatening Moscow, and Leningrad, having overrun the whole of the rich Ukraine.
In 1942, in addition to the setbacks that Britain and her Allies had already experienced, the entry of Japan into the war, with her sudden aggression and easy conquests of almost undefended country, led to the loss of Hongkong, Malaya, Singapore and Burma. Australia became an outpost of Empire in imminent danger of invasion herself. Malta, having miraculously survived so far, was in danger now of starvation. Rommel was hammering hard at the gates of Alexandria. No German Army had yet been defeated. The Battle of the Atlantic was still going badly for Britain, and our Russian Allies were pressed further back into the Caucasus, in immediate danger of losing the invaluable oil of
the Maikop oilfields. The position was indeed grave, and the prospects of improvement looked very small.
On 3rd September, 1942, a Day of National Prayer was held to mark the anniversary of the outbreak of war. This time the Day of Prayer was held on a weekday, and it was the experience of many that it was observed far more sincerely and universally than any of its predecessors. Be that as it may, since that day there has been a turn in the tide of war in favour of our cause which can only be described as miraculous. We recall the victory of El Alamein and the Mareth Line, and the sweeping of the enemy right out of Tunisia after the successful occupation of North Africa by the Allies. The gallant outpost of Malta was at last relieved, Sicily captured, and the invasion of Europe begun, with the fall of Mussolini and the final capitulation of Italy. On the Eastern front these successes were paralled by victories which will go down in history in connection with the names, Stalingrad, Kharkov, Orel, Taganrog, Briansk, Smolensk and Kiev; 1943 has been an aniius mirabilis indeed.
When the full uncensored history of these years has been written, the survival of this little island within five minutes range of enemy aircraft, surrounded on two sides by enemy occupied territory, and on another by enemy infested ocean, will be something for which no historian who ignores the Law of the Almighty in the affairs of men will be able adequately to account. Let us consider some of the miracles of Divine Providence which the facts of these years bring before us.
Miracles of Leadership
When at last the “trumpet sounded from on high,” and our nation took up arms in a cause both righteous and honourable, in the Providence of God a leader came forward in Winston Churchill who, of all our political leaders, alone, it seems, could have led us through the valley of the shadow of death to the position of advantage and happy prospect in which we stand at the moment of writing. The leadership which this great man has given our nation in its hour of greatest need has been one of the chief factors, humanly speaking, which has led to our survival. Was it mere coincidence, or the hand of God, that Winston Churchill was there to become Prime Minister while no one else could have adequately filled the post?
Is it not a sign also of Divine care for our country that when we were plunged into war we had a King and Queen whose quiet Christian faith has been an example and inspiration to all? Who will forget our Sovereign’s Christmas message in the dark year 1940: “Put your trust in God as I do … ‘I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:Â—”Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown,” and he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way”.'”?
Only recently, too, our Queen, in speaking to the women of
our country, said this: “In these last tragic years many have found in religion a source and mainspring of the courage and selflessness they need … It is the creative and dynamic power of Christianity which can help us to carry the moral responsibility which history is placing on our shoulders.” Can we not believe that the hearts of kings are in God’s rule and governance, and that He does dispose and turn them as seems best to His Godly wisdom?
When our gallant Allies, the U.S.A., eventually threw their whole weight into the common cause, they had at their helm another God-fearing and capable leader in President Roosevelt. Alone of all possible candidates for that position could he have gradually educated that huge nation to appreciate the weakness of its insularity, and the cause of international responsibility. Alone could he unite such a medley of peoples in so great a venture. Was his rise to power at this crucial hour merely fortuitous?
When we look to the Far East and see the providential uprising of Generalissimo and Madame Chiang-Kai-Shek, combining in their personalities both a deep and well-tried Christian faith with the moral courage and clear vision that their country has needed during its six years of war, we are faced with the same question. The future of the Far East is in the hands of God’s prepared leaders. It was the Generalissimo who said in a broadcast to his country in 1938: “Let us bravely go with Jesus to the Cross, to seek the everlasting peace of mankind and the renewal of our nation.”
If we turn to South Africa, a part of the British Empire where disloyal elements sometimes gain undeserved sway, we find raised up there an old man, with the vigour of a “happy warrior” who has united that country as no one else possibly could, and who at the same time simply acknowledges the prior claims of the “Man of Galilee.” General Smuts still reads a chapter of the Greek New Testament every day.
When we recall the great men who have led our Forces through peril and sword to victory and triumph, we notice a remarkable combination of military efficiency and simple Christian faith. For instance, the Governor of Malta, during its darkest hour, was General Sir W. G. S. Dobbie, of whose practical Christian faith there have been many testimonies, and whose example steadied the morale of the Maltese in a way that only history will fully reveal. He has been succeeded by Lord Gort, who once reproved his nation for emptying the churches and filling the roads with their cars on a Sunday.
The North African campaign brought to light the names of General Alexander, General Montgomery, and General Anderson. The latter after the successful conclusion of the North African campaign said: “There is a great spiritual force, as well as a physical force, at work in our Army in this war. Sometimes we are too apt to take credit to ourselves for our accomplishments, and not to thank the Almighty for His part.” General Montgomery is almost proverbially renowned for his acknowledgment of the
hand of God and for his regular reading of the Scriptures and commending of the Bible to his staff and men. General Alexander is another who has publicly acknowledged his Christian faith
Brigadier Wingate is another. His words before the hazardous trip into Burma were quoted by Field Marshal Lord Wavell, Viceroy of India, in a recent speech, exemplifying his faith also; Â“Finally, knowing the vanity of manÂ’s effort and the confusion of his purpose, let us pray that God may accept our services and direct our endeavours.Â”
General Mac Arthur, of the United States Forces, now in command in the Far East, wrote after the Bisarck Sea battle to the Archbishop of Sydney the following words;- Â“This victory, even making due allowance for the human courage, foresight and efficiency, was so extraordinary and singular that some Divine power must have intervened. It is this, provided we make the maximum effort humanly possible, that will bring us victory.Â”
It is not in the Army alone that those who have been most successful in military accomplishments have been outstanding in Christian faith. Sir Andrew Cunningham, Mr. A. V. Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Sir Jack Tovey, General Paget, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Smith, Air Marshall E. L. Gossage, Lord Halifax and Mr. Ernest Brown, are some of the names that come to mind as men who are not ashamed of being believers in God. In the political sphere, as in the military __we can trace the same providential raising up of men of God for tasks of great difficulty fraught with tremendous issues for the future To give one example alone it is not tremendously significant that as President of the Board of Education we have a man in Mr. R. A. Butler entirely sympathetic towards the return of our national educational system to include teaching the Christian faith? How very different it might have been if there had been less sympathy at the top for what has been so widely and publicly demanded.
The above instances by no means exhaust all that might be said to draw attention to that striking combination of first class professional skill with outspoken Christian faith and a simple God-fearing ways in the men who have come into power at this time.
There are many who trace the hand of God in this miraculous provision for our need.
Miracles of Nature and Weather
It is not only in the sphere of leadership that supernatural influences can be traced by all but those who refuse to see them. In the sphere of nature and weather events have taken place during the war which can on no account be traced to human influences. For instance, the harvest of 1942, which has been surpassed by that of 1943, was, according to the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Hudson, without parallel in the history of our island. He said he believed Â“that we had a Higher Power to thank as well (as the workers) and from the depths of our hearts. Some Power has wrought a miracle in the English harvest fields for in this year, our
year of greatest need, the land has given us bread in greater abundance than it has ever known before.”
To take another instance, shall we ever forget the days of Dunkirk? At that time, when we were warned on the wireless, by our Prime Minister, that he had “bad news for us,” and that, of our Army in France, only some 30,000 were likely to be safely evacuated; 350,000 men, whose fate had seemed sealed, were safely transported across the Channel. When due allowance has been made for the selfless courage and sacrifice of those men who protected their evacuation, and fought to the last at Calais and elsewhere, it remains a simple fact that low cloud protected thousands from air attack, and that the wonderful armada of little ships that brought the men across the Channel found their work eased beyond anticipation by the smoothness of the sea, which is normally always rough at that time. In consequence, the task which no one could anticipate without apprehension became, not a victory, but a miraculous deliverance. “We were all praying as we have never prayed before,” was the testimony of hundreds of those men who saw the hand of God in their miraculous escape.
Less well known, but vouched for by the Daily Telegraph in its correspondence columns, is the story of the German invasion attempts and the effects upon them of the weather. The following letter signed by “A. T. Crowther” was printed under the heading “Our Guiding Hand”:Â—”After the evacuation, the time Hitler had set beforehand for the invasion (of Britain) was September 16th-20th, when the tides are such that attempts to swim the Channel used to take place,” the letter read. “The weather then is always calm, and there is a harvest moon. But the Unseen Hand intervened, and gales sprang up on the 17th, and continued till after the 29th. The invasion boats, collected at many points on the opposite coast, had to be taken into harbours, where they made good targets for the R.A.F., but many were swamped on the way. The Germans then announced that Providence had favoured the British twice (the first time during the miracle of Dunkirk, when the sea went flat and the tide stood still for us), and that we were totally unworthy of such favours. We had only to wait for the November and December fogs, for which the Channel is well known, to get our deserts. But, for the first time in living memory, there were no fogs that winter in the Straits. February 15th, 1941, was another invasion date, for which we were shockingly ill-prepared. But on February 14th a submarine earthquake, recorded at Kew, occurred in the Atlantic with hurricane damage in Spain. The effect on the tidal system round these islands was naturally censored, but it was immediate and prolonged. Ships were taken as much as 80 miles off their course, and on the River Stour here (the letter comes from Deal) it was high water, overflowing the banks, at times when the river should have been low. This was the last invasion scare (so-called) before the German armies marched East. Such deliberate acts of God, with their powerful and far-reaching effects, are not to be treated to the inane stupidity of the word “coincidence”. Mr.
Churchill knows the facts well, and with his forthright honesty gives the glory to God; others cannot, or will not.”
Commander Anthony Kimmins, in a recent broadcast description of the invasion of Sicily, made special reference to the fact that after an unexpectedly rough crossing which many of the troops found a great trial, they prayed, and the sea, just before the landing was made, became suddenly quite smooth. Again, in air raids upon this country in 1940, the hand of God prevented London from greater devastation than it actually experienced, when the blitz of the 29th December mysteriously and suddenly came to an end at 10 p.m. that night. This is what The Daily Mail air correspondent has to say about this: “Hitler meant to start the second Great Fire of London as the prelude to an invasion. This was the belief held in well informed quarters in London yesterday. Here are the real facts of Sunday night’s fire-raising raid as told me yesterday: It was one of the biggest night attacks on Britain since September. No R.A.F. fighters were operating over the London area, though some were doing so between London and the coast. Soon after 10 p.m. the German Air Command sent out instructions for all the bombers engaged to return to their bases, as the weather had taken a turn for the worse and fog was blotting out their aerodromes. It was because of the weather, then, and not our night fighters, that saved London from an even worse attack. The view is held that the assault was intended to be the fiercest of the war. Up to 1,000 bombers were to have been used during the night.”
Finally, although there may be many other instances which will come to light later on, the Russian winter of 1941, which according to Hitler himself came “weeks earlier than science could foresee,” and was “such as has been unknown for 40 years,” undoubtedly preserved that nation and gave them time for the recovery which has since been so outstanding. Are the Scriptures not right in their verdict, “even the winds and seas obey Him”?
Miracles of Warfare
We have seen how the hand of God has appeared on behalf of our country and our cause both in regard to the leaders whom He has raised up in the hour of our greatest destiny, and also in the unexpected manner in which nature and her elements have been so controlled as to bring deliverance where deliverance could least be expected.
There are four other aspects of the present war which history will be hard put to account for. The first was after Dunkirk when our country had lost practically everything except its soldiersÂ— and a great many of them had gone. According to Lord Beaver-brook, speaking in New York on 23rd April, 1942, “we had to begin all over again. There was nothing left to us but a portion of our Army. All our weapons had goneÂ—the cupboard was bareÂ— not even a rifle; guns were lost by the thousand; vehicles by the
50,000; almost all our tanks and many airplanes. Remember, too, that many valuable and essential raw materials were cut off when our source of supply fell under the power of Germany; three-quarters of our imports of iron and steel, and all the raw materials of our aluminium output, most of our wood products, including newspaper raw materials; but the biggest disaster was our naval losses. Forty-seven warships were sunk in operations off Norway and Denmark and when evacuation was over half our destroyer fleet lay awaiting repairs in our shipyards.” Yet; when things were so serious. Hitler left us alone at a time when we could not possibly have resisted the massed might that was at his command. He never invaded. Why? Was it the word of the Almighty, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further”?
The Battle of Britain
Lord Beaverbrook continued to say: “Hardly had we emerged from this peril (Dunkirk) when we were called upon to fight the Battle of Britain, and I must tell you that when that conquest began we had in reserve only five fighter planes in the storage units.” Little did those of us who were admiring spectators of the exploits of “the few” realise by how narrow a margin that battle of the skies was won. The loss of it would have meant certain invasion by the enemy, with all the horrors that that has brought on other lands. How was it that we won that battle? Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, who was in command of Fighter Command at the time, gives his considered answer:Â—”I pay homage to those very gallant boys who gave their all that our nation might live. I pay my tribute to their leaders. But I say with absolute conviction that I can trace the intervention of God, not only in the battle itself, but in the events that led up to it. If it had not been for this intervention, the battle would have been joined in conditions which, humanly speaking, would have rendered victory impossible.”
We are told that at the time when Italy entered the war Malta, whose strategic importance has proved itself throughout the whole of these years, had three obsolete Gladiators as her only defence from air attack. These planes were on their way elsewhere and stored away in crates. There were no fighter pilots on the island, but a handful of R.A.F. men put the planes together and by their resourcefulness and courage fought off the early attacks upon that island. Moreover, as Mr. A. V. Alexander recently confessed, after the loss of the Ark Royal the Mediterranean fleet was reduced to three cruisers. At a time when Malta could not possibly have protected herself with any success, why was she not invaded? Malta has been the thorn in the side of Italy throughout the whole of these four years and survived at the enemy’s hands, 3,300 air raid alerts. The loss of that brave little island might well have meant the loss of the Mediterranean war. What stopped Italy capturing
her when alone she could have done so? Was it chance, or God?
Surely, on the human level. Hitler’s crowning folly and our salvation was the eastward march of his armies without any warning against Russia? What made him do it? At a time when we anticipated invasion any moment, when church bells were silenced and reserved for use in such an event, we suddenly saw the attack upon what are now our Russian allies. If all the force that has been directed upon the Eastern front had been concentrated upon this small island, is it likely that we should have been able to survive? Is it possible that it was only for supplies of wheat and oil that the Fuehrer led his men into suicide on the Russian plains? Might it not also have been God’s way of bringing defeat upon his mighty hordes?
These instancesÂ—and undoubtedly there are many others which will be duly recorded when censorship is removed and history is writtenÂ—bring to our mind “the help of God of which we must all surely be daily conscious,” to quote our Prime Minister. The provision of leaders, the overruling of nature, and the inexplicable acts of war which we have tried to record, are matters which cannot be explained on any other level than that, as Mr. Churchill has said, “we had a Guardian who saw us through that danger (1940) because our cause was righteous, and Who will see us through to the end if we do not fail Him.”
The Final Question
It is impossible to recall the narrow margin of our survival, and the miracles of Divine intervention on our behalf, without asking ourselves the question, “Why?” “Why has God spared us?” “If indeed it is the Almighty to Whom we owe so much, for what purpose has He favoured us?”
It cannot be that we are more virtuous than others. The Germans and the Japanese have no monopoly of sin. This nation which has had the light of God for the greater part of its national history, is today far less God-fearing than twenty-five years ago, and the facts reveal a grave decline in morality and behaviour even during these years of divine preservation. It can only be that, unworthy though we are. God has a purpose yet for the British people. Maybe this will be our last chance to return to Him, and fulfil His will. But it would seem that for the rescue of downtrodden peoples, for the moral leadership of the world, and even as a centre of revived Christian faith, Britain has been brought through the deeps into easier places, soon, we pray, to find herself in the waters of peace after victory.
If this is true, and God has His plan for our country, then we are each of us challenged. First of all, we should be profoundly grateful to God. A moment’s thought of how different things might have beenÂ—fire, flight, evacuation, loss, rape, torture, and death through invasion; starvation, secret police, forced labour through
occupation; religious persecution and the concentration camp through enemy dominationÂ—from these horrors we have been saved in answer to our many prayers. Let us then, first and foremost, “render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at His hands,” and “show forth His praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to His service, and by walking before Him in holiness and righteousness all our lives.”
Secondly, we are challenged to be worthy of this honour. Is our nation, is our political life, is our social life, is our private, personal life, such as God can approve, and use for His purposes? When the bells of victory ring out, will our religious zeal die away with the echo? When the problems of peace begin to face us, are we sufficiently aware of God’s call to be ready to face them? We must be grateful and ready. And we can be if we dedicate not only our national life, but our own individual hearts and homes to Him, asking His forgiveness for our blindness, forgetfulness and sin, and praying Him to make us fit for the purposes for which He has so wonderfully preserved us.
“Remembering mine afflictions … my soul… is humbled in me. This I recall to mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not… The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him . . . Let us search and try our ways, and turn again unto the Lord . . . Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.”
(The prophet Jeremiah in B.C. 588.)
Reprinted by kind permission of the C.S.S.M., the original publishers.