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Stories of Faith and Courage from World War II

Stories of Faith and Courage from World War II


    The primary goal of Stories of Faith & Courage from World War II is to strengthen the faith of its readers by showing the power of others’ faith under the most extreme circumstances imaginable. This is accomplished through 365 one-page stories from America’s greatest conflict presented in a daily devotional format with relevant scripture readings for each day of the year. Additionally, the book presents a unique and concise history of World War II with summaries, maps, and photographs of the major campaigns of the war. On this level, the individual stories provide insights into the war and combat not found in typical historical accounts.
    2009 Silver Medal Winner from the Military Writers Society of America
    First Place Winner of the 2009 Bransom Stars & Flags Book Award
About the Author
    Larkin Spivey is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War and a retired Marine Corps officer. He commanded infantry and reconnaissance units in combat as well as being trained in parachute, submarine, and Special Forces operations. He was with the blockade force during the Cuban Missile Crisis and served President Nixon in the White House. As a faculty member at The Citadel, he taught courses in U.S. military history, a subject of life-long personal and professional interest. He is the author of God in the Trenches and Miracles of the American Revolution. He now writes full time and resides in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with his wife, Lani, and their four children. He is a lay eucharistic minister of the Episcopal Church and is actively involved in the Cursillo renewal movement and the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association.
    Jocelyn Green is an award-winning freelance writer who pens articles for dozens of magazines, including Christianity Today, Today's Christian, Today's Pentecostal Evangel, Baptist Bulletin, EFCA Today, InSite and more. She also writes for nonprofits, universities and corporations such as Juicy Juice, Nestle, Publix and General Mills. Wife of a former Coast Guard officer, she authored Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives (Moody Publishers 2008). She also edited and contributed to Stories of Faith and Courage from World War II by Larkin Spivey, a 2009 Military Writers Society of America Silver Medal Winner. She is a member of the Evangelical Press Association and the Christian Authors Network. She and her husband have two children, a dog and a cat, and reside in Cedar Falls, Iowa.



    This book is dedicated to the memory of James Arthur Norton Jr. and Edward R. Norton. These young men were pioneers of aviation in my hometown of Conway, South Carolina, and served together in the Army Air Corps during World War II. They were killed in action on May 17, 1943, flying together in a B–26 bomber over Nazi–held Holland. The Norton twins were my mother’s younger brothers and my uncles. I was three years old at the time of their death. Their adventurous and heroic lives were legendary in my family, inspiring my brothers to become Air Force pilots and me to pursue a Marine Corps career.
    The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.
—Isaiah 57:1

List of Maps

    1. German Invasion of the Low Countries and France May 1940
    2. Japanese Expansion in the Pacific July 1942
    3. The Battle of Midway June 4, 1942
    4. Operations in North Africa 1942–1943
    5. Advance in the Western Pacific 1942–1944
    6. The Fight for Sicily and Italy 1943–1944
    7. Across the Pacific 1943–1945
    8. Allied Landings on D–Day June 6, 1944
    9. Allied Advances in Europe 1944–1945
    10. Iwo Jima 1945
    11. Okinawa 1945


    I am grateful to Jocelyn Green for her many contributions to this book. Jocelyn is a respected freelance writer, editor, and author of Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives. In addition to her thoroughly professional editing work, she has written a number of daily devotionals in this book herself, each designated on the last line with her initials: (JG).
    I wish to express gratitude to my agent, David Sanford, for his encouragement and for creating the opportunity for me to write this book. I am also thankful to Dan Penwell of AMG Publishers for the genius behind the Battlefields & Blessings series and for his confidence in me to be a part of it.
    I especially acknowledge the great contribution of Catherine–Alexa Rountree, who has been a faithful research assistant throughout this project and is responsible for much of the material from which its stories are derived. In addition to her many amazing qualities, she is also my loving daughter.
    I thank the members of the clergy who have provided their expertise and guidance: the Reverends Robert Sturdy, Aubrey Floyd, and Carol Dickerson.
    I appreciate the wisdom and advice given daily by my wife, Lani. Her insights have added immeasurably to the spiritual content of this book. She has been my loving partner in this project, as in every other aspect of our marriage.
    Finally, I acknowledge my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whom I came to know late in my life, and who changed my life eternally. My career as a writer and speaker has had one goal: to glorify him. While writing this book I have prayed constantly for his guidance and inspiration. Although I can’t positively assert that he has always provided these things, I can assure the reader that I could never have completed three hundred and sixty–five daily devotionals on my own.


    Writing this book has been a privilege and a blessing. I have deep family roots in World War II and have always revered the “Greatest Generation” who endured and won that great conflict. I grew up building models of ships and airplanes from that era and listening to my own father tell of convoy duty in the Battle of the Atlantic.
    My previous books have been about God’s providential hand in America’s past, when the nation’s survival was at stake. World War II was clearly one of those times. Victory may seem inevitable now, in retrospect, but history reveals dark days for America and her allies, especially during the early years of that war, when the forces of Germany and Japan were advancing triumphantly around the globe. With obsolete equipment and meager numbers, British and U.S. military forces needed many miracles to survive and slowly turn the tide of the war. God did indeed bless these nations during their darkest hours.
    I want to assure the reader that I am not suggesting that God causes or even looks favorably on war. I emphasize my belief that this in not the case. Human nature seems to be the completely adequate explanation for conflict between individuals and nations. I believe that God is disappointed when wars occur and does not take sides in such conflicts. I do believe, however, that God has an agenda and can use any human event or condition to further it. I believe that one of his important agendas for mankind has been human freedom, and that this was the basis for his favor of the American and Allied cause during World War II.
    As a Christian and one who has fought in war, I condemn it. However, as a wise man said, “They are dead who have seen the end of war.” I have to believe that there are things worth fighting for, and that there are times when God blesses those who do. I admit that my attitudes are colored by my own career in military service. One of my reference works as a young officer made the following statement that I believe is true today:
    One may abhor war fully, despise militarism absolutely, deplore all the impulses in human nature which make armed force necessary, and still agree that for the world as we know it, the main hope is that “peace loving nations can be made obviously capable of defeating nations which are willing to wage aggressive war.”1
    These words come not from a warrior, but from the great intellectual and pacifist Bertrand Russell.
    This book is a daily devotional based on inspirational stories from World War II. Some of these stories reflect God’s miraculous intervention in the larger course of the war, but most deal with the faith and courage of individual soldiers, sailors, and citizens. These stories may reflect to some extent a universal tendency to turn to God in perilous times, however, I believe they more consistently reveal a widespread spirituality among the American and British populace and the leaders of that era. We can only pray that our nation continues to seek God’s favor and to fulfill God’s purpose now and in the future.
    As a daily devotional, this book is centered on the stories contained in the readings for each day of the year. There is also information intended to provide the historical context of these stories and to inform the reader about the course of the war at important stages. Each month presents a separate campaign of the war with an historical overview at the beginning of that month. Daily devotionals during the month pertain to that campaign. My selection of this material reflects my own understanding and interests. This book is not a complete history, and many important events could not be included.
The most inspiring image of World War II. Raising the Flag on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima


    In early May 1940 almost two million French and English soldiers waited anxiously for the long-expected invasion of France. Allied strategists were convinced the German attack would come through Holland and Belgium in a sweeping movement similar to the opening of World War I. These expectations were fulfilled on May 10 when massive German forces poured across the Dutch border. French and British units advanced immediately northward to the Dyle River where the opposing forces met in the opening clashes of the war.
    Unknown to the Allies, however, the German main attack came as Army Group A, under Gen. Col. Gerd von Rundstedt, penetrated the supposedly impenetrable Ardennes Forest, crossed the River Meuse on May 1213, and broke into open country. This force of more than eighteen hundred panzer tanks and three hundred Stuka dive-bombers knifed through the French 2nd and 9th Armies, reaching the English Channel on May 19. This bewildering success left large French units and the entire British Expeditionary Force cut off and surrounded, with their backs to the sea. This vast pocket centered more or less on the little port town of Dunkirk.
    As the German advance from north and south rapidly reduced the size of the Allied pocket, Lt. Gen. Allan Brooke, commander of the British II Corps, succinctly summed up the situation on May 23: “Nothing but a miracle can save the BEF.”2 On May 24 the first installment on that miracle came. Hitler ordered his panzer divisions to halt in place and to regroup. His generals persuaded him that the tanks were needed elsewhere and that the Luftwaffe and infantry units could finish the job of annihilating the remaining Allied forces in the pocket.
    To meet this crisis Great Britain mustered every seagoing vessel that could reach Dunkirk, assembling an armada of ships, ferries, tenders, yachts, and small boats to rescue its army. Between May 26 and June 4, more than three hundred thirty-eight thousand British and French troops were rescued despite bitter opposition from German aircraft, artillery, infantry, and patrol boats. Even though this was in effect a “retreat” from France, spirits soared in England at the sight of these returning troops. The new prime minister, Winston Churchill, called the dramatic rescue a “miracle of deliverance.”3 On June 22 France fell to the advancing German forces, but, with a large portion of her army on home soil, Great Britain survived to fight on.
    The fight did continue, but the scene shifted to a new battlefield: the airspace over England. By now Britain stood alone, and only the Royal Air Force (RAF) stood between Germany and complete domination of the continent. The Battle of Britain began in late June 1940. Aerial combat was unremitting as German bombers raided British airfields day after day, with the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the RAF rising to meet them.
    Encountering unexpected resistance and losses, the Germans changed strategy in early September. Turning away from Fighter Command bases, they focused instead on England’s cities. These attacks became known as the ‘Blitz,’ and would continue for much of the war. Although many cities were devastated, these attacks did not help the Luftwaffe achieve air superiority. The RAF fought on, with increasing effectiveness. On September 15, two massive raids were turned back and fifty-six German aircraft shot down during the Luftwaffe’s worst day. Two days later, Hitler canceled plans for the invasion of Great Britain.

January 1
New Year’s Day

    Myron Maycock was a British soldier who spent much of World War II as a prisoner of war. During his many trials he was comforted by a short poem:
I see not a step before me
As I tread on another year,
But I’ve left the past in God’s keeping
The future his mercy shall clear,
And what looks dark in the distance
May brighten as I draw near.4

    “Through the difficult days of captivity this verse was constantly before me, suggesting, as it did, a brighter path in the distance, to which the course of time with faith must ultimately lead me,” Maycock said. “The full beauty of these words came to me at the close of my last hour of freedom.”5
    This poem is appropriate for any day, but is especially perfect for this day. This is the time to look forward and not back. The past cannot be changed no matter how hard we try and is truly in God’s hands. Neither do we know what lies ahead, and it is just as useless to worry about that. Jesus’ instruction on this point is crystal clear: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”6 What we can do is concentrate on our actions in the present and look forward to the future with a joyful hope. Even though we have problems looming ahead, we don’t have to face them alone. Our Savior walks with us and guarantees us the strength to endure and to overcome. There is no darkness that will stand against the light of his presence.
    This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all… if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
—1 John 1:57

January 2
Into Darkness

    Christmas 1939 came in the dark winter of fear for much of the world. Britain and France had declared war on Germany after Germany’s invasion of Poland. An eerie calm settled over Europe as armed conflict drew inexorably closer. To provide a word of encouragement to his subjects, King George VI made a radio broadcast heard by millions. Not usually an eloquent speaker, his words on that day resound for all time:
King George VI. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)
    I believe from my heart that the cause which binds together my peoples and our gallant and faithful allies is the cause of Christian civilization. On no other basis can a true civilization be built.
    Let us remember this through the dark times ahead of us and when we are making the peace for which all men pray.
    …I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I would to say to you: “I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘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.’”
    May the Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.7
    What more can any leader do in a time of crisis than to show his own belief in the source of ultimate safety in this world? By articulating this faith to your soldiers, your employees, or your own children you give them a source of strength and comfort that can be found nowhere else. However dark the situation God’s hand is always our light.
    For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord… Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.
—Ephesians 5:8–10, 13–14

January 3
Tears and Sweat

    On the day Germany invaded Holland, Neville Chamberlain realized he could not continue as prime minister of Great Britain. At 5:00 p.m. on that day he went to Buckingham Palace, tendered his resignation, and advised the king to send for Winston Churchill. An hour later, Churchill was prime minister.
    At that moment the new leader was a controversial figure. Many doubted his ability to hold together a coalition government and to lead the nation in a time of such crisis. He clearly came into office in the most perilous circumstances ever faced by a new prime minister. Riding back to his office after his appointment, he commented: “I hope it is not too late. I am very much afraid it is.”8
    His first speech as prime minister was delivered to the House of Commons on May 13, 1940. Though he was received coolly at first, his words carried great weight:
    I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many long months of toil and struggle.
    You ask what is our policy. I will say, it is to wage war with all our might, with all the strength that God can give us, to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.
    You ask what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all cost. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory however long and hard the road may be. For without victory there is no survival.9
    Winston Churchill began to build his authority through his words. He didn’t sound like a politician. In a time of great uncertainty he did not consult opinion polls or use vague language. Jesus Christ demonstrated who he was in many ways, but his authority was evident from the beginning of his ministry by the nature of his amazing words. When the crowds heard his Sermon on the Mount, they knew that he was no ordinary teacher.
    When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
—Matthew 7:28–29

January 4
Men of Valor

    Winston Churchill’s first radio broadcast as prime minister came on May 19, 1940, the day the German advance in France reached the English Channel. The military situation in Europe was deteriorating rapidly. Fear and uncertainty were growing at home. Churchill spoke to the British people and adapted a quotation from 1 Maccabees 3:58–60, a book of the Protestant Apocrypha.
Winston Churchill making a radio broadcast. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)
    Today is Trinity Sunday. Centuries ago words were written to be a call and a spur to the faithful servants of Truth and Justice: “Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar. As the will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.”10
    With a biblical reference Churchill called his people to be courageous in the face of great danger. Throughout the Bible we find examples of men and women who faced danger and found their ultimate source of courage in God. Peter and John were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin for openly proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ. They refused to recant their public witness and told their accusers, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed” (Acts 4:10).
    When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus… Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.”
—Acts 4:13, 18–19

January 5
Unit Integrity

    As British and French troops began pouring onto the beaches and areas surrounding Dunkirk, some units were amazing examples of good order and discipline. The Queen’s Own Worcestershire Yeomanry marched smartly into the perimeter singing “Tipperary” to the accompaniment of a mouth organ.11
    The commander of the 8th King’s Own Royal Regiment reminded his men that they wore the badge of one of the oldest regiments of the line and that it was up to them to set an example for the rest. They marched to the beach with arms swinging in unison and weapons slung properly, in perfect formation.12 The 2nd Grenadier Guards marched in as if changing the guard at Buckingham Palace, erect, clean-shaven, and boots echoing on the cobblestone streets.13 The 1st Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders wore their kilts.14
    It is easy to see the benefits of belonging to a strong, closely knit military unit. Each member can depend on the other and draw strength from those around him. For Christians, unit integrity is found in the body of Christ, his church. There we find the support that we so urgently need to persevere in our beliefs and actions. We have safety in numbers and strength to do his work, as we are called by the old hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers”:
Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Brothers we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

    Our churches may not be perfect, but they are functioning the way Christ intended when we support and complement each other and move as one body toward the ultimate goal: reflecting the glory of God.
    The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ… God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
—1 Corinthians 12:12, 18, 27

January 6
Close-Order Drill

    Many units did not arrive intact on the beaches at Dunkirk. Countless men were separated from their units during days and nights of rear-guard fighting. Many units seemed to dissolve as they were drawn piecemeal out of the front lines, usually under cover of darkness, with vague instructions to move toward the beaches. Crowds of disorganized troops began to appear on the beaches, adding to the growing confusion.
    At one point an old Irish Guards captain, Tom Gimson, restored order in his area by commanding all present to “Fall In!” Amazingly, all within earshot complied with the familiar and age-old command known to every military man and woman. Everyone lined up as on parade. The captain then exercised them in close order drill. The familiar orders seemed to instill a calm confidence in the men. Order was restored and the embarkation was able to continue.15
    The men on the Dunkirk beaches recognized a voice of authority. They responded accordingly to the benefit of all. Our challenge is to recognize God’s voice, our ultimate authority. For his own reasons he seldom commands us directly or issues orders in an overt manner. He expects us to seek him and to make the effort to discern his guidance. In answer to our prayers, he speaks quietly. He works subtly through our conscience and through our Christian friends. Most often we hear him in Scripture. When we have a measure of familiarity with the Bible, we will hear God’s calming voice whenever we need it, even in times of strife.
    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
    Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
—Psalm 23:4

January 7
Surf Conditions

    Contemporary observers were amazed at the fortuitous turns of the weather during the Dunkirk evacuation. Surf conditions were critical to the boarding and movement of small craft along the beaches. Offshore winds kept the waters amazingly calm for all but one day, a very unusual occurrence in the English Channel. On the day after the evacuation, the wind shifted to the north and great breakers came rolling in along the Dunkirk coast.16 One noted weather expert commented, “By a twist of fate, or better yet a meander of the jet stream… the one set of conditions that most favored the Allied evacuation persisted for days.”17
    Most of us read about biblical miracles and don’t question God’s ability to perform such great acts. Still, I have heard Christians wonder why God did these amazing things only in the ancient past. It is my belief that there are many examples of his miraculous intervention in much more modern times. In the details of our wars we can see evidence of God’s providential hand moving to change the odds in crucial situations. Dunkirk was clearly a very critical episode to the survival of the Allied cause. The “Miracle of Dunkirk” was real and much more than a catchy phrase.
    Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
    One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.
    They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    And I will meditate on your wonderful works.
—Psalm 145:3 5

January 8
Cloud Cover

    The Luftwaffe staged numerous devastating raids on the port, beaches, and areas around Dunkirk. However, their effectiveness was mercifully limited by frequent low clouds, rain, fog, and smoke. Even though the sun shone brightly at the Luftwaffe bases, flying conditions were impossible over Dunkirk on May 28 and 30, and for parts of May 27, 29, and 31.
    Henry Bond was an engineer with the 700th Construction Company. His unit reached the outskirts of Dunkirk on May 27, and for two days they waited anxiously for instructions to embark, all the while under frequent artillery and air attack. When the call finally came, no vehicles were available, so the move had to be on foot, the slow and dangerous way. Bond wrote:
    Rain commenced falling heavily and in answer to our fervent prayers it increased and continued for the whole of our 4 mile trek along the wide promenade of Malo-les-Bains to the jetty at Dunkerque. Thanks to the providential rain and I feel that only, we were spared a bombing and machine gun attack along the prom where there was little or no cover.18
    In addition to the beneficial changes in surf conditions, the “providential” rain over Dunkirk was an equally amazing manifestation of God’s miraculous intervention. During biblical times there were many examples of God bringing changes in the weather. On the catastrophic level he brought the Flood, ultimately to give mankind a new beginning. On another occasion, he brought drought to Israel under the misguided reign of Ahab. He has often intervened in history, just as he does in our lives, to fulfill his own plans for mankind and for us individually.
    I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens.
—Genesis 6:17
    Now Elijah… said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
—1 Kings 17:1
Captured British soldiers at Dunkirk. (National Archives)
Soldiers wait to be evacuated. (Imperial War Museum, HU 1135, Collection of Major H. E. N. Bredin)
Troops lined up on the Dunkirk beaches. (Imperial War Museum, NYP 68075)

January 9
To Volunteer

    Nineteen-year-old Bill Towey was a medic with the 11th Casualty Clearing Station whose unit treated casualties throughout the campaign in Belgium and during the long retreat toward Dunkirk. Early on May 31 his commander announced that the time had come to pull back to the beaches. However, five volunteers were needed to stay behind with the wounded. The command was given, “Volunteers, one step forward, march!” More than half the unit responded. The process was repeated until, on the third try, Bill Towey found himself standing with four other men. They remained to care for the wounded until the end.19 Their thoughts are not recorded as they watched their comrades depart for the beaches and safety.
    Every modern recruit hears the age-old barracks advice, “Don’t volunteer for anything!” I have heard great Marines and selfless leaders repeat this advice. In military service you face inevitable risks. Why expose yourself to ones you can avoid? Everyone understands this logic and even pays lip service to it. However, in times of need, I have seen many unlikely men step forward in response to the call. God has given each of us gifts, and he expects us to put them to good use. However, he seldom commands. He waits patiently for us to volunteer. We each have to carefully discern our own call to action and take our own “step forward.”
    Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
—Isaiah 6:8

January 10
Unexpected Inspiration

    On June 1, Bill Towey was still caring for his wounded comrades. He was now with the last British forces defending the shrinking beachhead at Dunkirk. To honor fallen comrades, an officer in his unit held a hurried and informal funeral service for a score of soldiers laid out in rows in the darkness of the night. With no hope of conducting a proper Christian service, the officer gave his best effort, reading by flashlight. He chose a reassuring passage from Revelation:
    And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
—Revelation 21:4 (KJV)
    At this point in the long and harrowing campaign, these men had begun to feel as if hope was gone. Weeks of pain, sorrow, and death had begun to eat into their souls. John’s vision of a New Jerusalem brought hope and a spiritual uplift to those gathered in the darkness. In Towey’s words: “It would be difficult to convey the great impact of those words, in those special circumstances, made upon a very impressionable and religious 19 year old lad, but the scene has remained indelibly impressed on my memory in the 63 years and more since it happened and, no doubt, will continue to do so until my dying day.”20
    God doesn’t promise to shield us from trouble. He does promise that he will be with us through every trial. There is always comfort and hope to be found in his Word, no matter how dire our crisis might be.

January 11
Luck of the Draw

    After the 2:00 a.m. funeral service, Bill Towey waited through another long, dark night of uncertainty. He and his comrades continued to seek out the wounded and to get them to their makeshift aid station. Just before first light on June 1, an officer called the remaining medics together and told them that the Germans were just down the road and would soon overrun their position. He didn’t want them all to be killed or captured, but, again, they couldn’t abandon the wounded. To make a terrible decision, he put twenty pieces of paper in his hat. Eight had numbers, representing those who would stay behind. The men drew their lots. Towey drew a blank lot and was immediately dispatched with the others to the beach. He made it off the beach with the last of the survivors.21
    I believe that God blessed this officer’s attempt to be fair to all his men under the extreme conditions of the Dunkirk beaches. There are even biblical examples of the Israelites resorting to the casting of lots for certain decisions. In normal circumstances, however, God would not be pleased if we made our decisions by drawing lots or flipping coins. He expects us to go to great lengths to discern his will, including prayer, Bible study, and consultation with other Christians. We need to incorporate this thoughtful approach into our decision making and make every effort to hear God’s voice and his guidance for choices that we have to make.
    The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
—Proverbs 16:33

January 12
Leave It Behind

    Only the men could be rescued at Dunkirk. Everything else had to be abandoned and, to the extent possible, destroyed. Thousands of vehicles were drained of oil and left running until the engines seized. Mountains of uniforms, blankets, and equipment of every description went up in flames in the fields around the beaches. The voluminous smoke actually was a blessing as it helped screen activity on the beaches from air attack. One officer was observed trying to board the Brighton Belle, an old paddle steamer, with his golf clubs. A bearded sailor remedied this situation by dispatching the clubs into the surf. Arthur May suffered with the destruction of his battery’s howitzers. He was with the 3rd Medium Regiment, the same unit his father served with during World War I. As bad as times were then the 3rd never had to destroy its own guns. May’s conscience plagued him that he had “let the old man down.”22
    If the port facilities at Dunkirk had permitted evacuation of equipment perhaps the decision would have been different. We will never know. As it was, only the men could be saved. In a well-known Bible story, Jesus once healed a sick man at the expense of a herd of pigs. The townspeople were incensed over the loss of their property, ignoring the value of a human life. If we think about it, we have a choice in our lives that is even starker. We often have to choose between our spiritual condition and our possessions. Jesus clearly taught us where to put our priorities. If anything gets in the way of our relationship to God, we need to “leave it behind.”
    But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
—Matthew 6:20–21

January 13
One More Kick

    Pilot Officer G. W. Spiers was flying patrol over Dunkirk in a twin engine Blenheim IV light bomber when his aircraft was attacked and fatally damaged by a formation of German Messerschmitt 109 fighters. He knew he had to ditch the aircraft and struggled to keep it level as the water came up to meet him. After a violent impact, water rushed into the cockpit as a dam bursting. Spiers tried to get to the escape hatch over his head but his feet were slipping and he could make no progress toward it. He found himself underwater. “I had never prayed to God with such agony or earnestness… as I realized that I would not escape,” Spiers said. “I tried to suck water into my lungs to hasten the end, but I was unsuccessful and only swallowed it. My lungs were bursting and my pulse pounded in my eardrums, brilliant flashes and yellow spots appeared in front of my eyes.”
    Starting to drift downward, Spiers somehow found the reserve to give one more kick with his right leg: “I had sufficient consciousness to realize my right leg was straight and not in contact with what I thought was the floor of the aircraft. Thinking this may be a way out, I drew my left leg up to it and paddled my way down… after I had descended several feet I slowly backed away and then swam to the surface.”23
    A friendly trawler picked up the brave airman and delivered him back to safety in England where he was hospitalized for a broken ankle and other injuries.
    Fortunately, few of us are taken to the absolute limit of either our endurance or our patience. However, we all experience situations where “one more kick” might make the difference between success and failure. We sometimes call it “going the extra mile,” often so important in business and sports. We sometimes forget that such effort is also needed many times with friends and family. Meeting someone more than halfway can save a relationship. God is always there to provide that extra reserve when we need it and call on him for it.
    When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way.
—Psalm 142:3

January 14
Nerve Tonic

    Arthur Davey was an ambulance driver in the evacuation to Dunkirk. Air raids interrupted several attempts to bring his convoy to the port, and he endured two days of anxious waiting outside the town, as the bombs seemed to fall ever closer. Finally, late in the afternoon of the second day, an officer came with instructions to move to the port, one ambulance at a time, in three-minute intervals. The officer promised that this time, there would be air cover for the embarkation. Davey described what happened next:
    When we reached the quay, and drove onto the huge concrete jetty, now holed with craters, and jagged at the sides, where bombs had torn away sections of the concrete, no ship was waiting. We turned off our motors, and proceeded to wait for the ship or the bombers. After about 20 minutes, it seemed hours, had passed, about 30 planes appeared high in the sky, from seaward we thought they were our own at first, then, when they dived, we knew that the promised air protection was merely a ‘nerve tonic.’24
    The British soldiers apparently used the term “nerve tonic” to describe lies told in tense times to calm them down. I doubt that the practice was widespread, because such a breach of honesty would destroy a regular unit over time. Soldiers have to trust their officers and vice versa. The same is true in all organizations, including our families. It’s easy to make promises that we fail to follow up on later. We all are tempted to downplay the negative and to give hope for something good to come. However, false hope is good for no one. Sooner or later, reality must prevail. We can all deal with reality better than a loss of trust in a parent, friend, or employer.
    Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
—Ephesians 4:25

January 15
Never Surrender

    The evacuation of the army from Dunkirk offered hope and a brief respite for the British people. However, the Germans continued their drive through France, and the fate of Great Britain hung in the balance. Many British politicians were beginning to consider accommodations with Hitler that would allow the nation to avoid complete catastrophe. They wondered what would happen when the country stood alone against a Europe dominated by the Nazis. In this hour of fear and uncertainty, Winston Churchill addressed the nation to illuminate the difficult, but clear path ahead:
    We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!25
    Looking back we can now appreciate these bold words as heroic and inspiring but how easy it is to forget the uncertainty prevailing at the time they were spoken. It must have been tempting for Churchill to hedge his bets. He could have alluded to the possibility of some accommodation with Hitler that would have guaranteed Britain’s continued existence. He knew, however, that there was only one difficult path to long-term survival.
    The apostle Paul also painted a clear picture of our spiritual path and the urgency required to successfully pursue it. He left no room for half-hearted efforts.
    Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.
—1 Corinthians 9:24, 26

January 16
A New Spirit

    From the opening of the war to the evacuation at Dunkirk, the British Army suffered one traumatic setback after another. It became a soldier’s battle at every point as the “fog of war” descended over the vast battlefield. Coordination was difficult, reliable information scarce, and rumors were rampant. The junior officers, sergeants, and individual soldiers saved the army from disintegration by taking the initiative to keep their units together in the confusion of retreat. It was not pretty, but it worked. Instead of the greatest military disaster in British history, the army’s successful retreat and miraculous escape from Dunkirk became a source of national inspiration and hope. As one historian noted:
    Dunkirk had started something. The spirit of Britain was roused, a vast flame of self-sacrifice and endeavour which swept the country and kept it going through the next dark eighteen months. In this campaign there had been no differentiation by rank. Everybody, from the commanding general downwards, had faced the same conditions, the same dangers and the same hardships. All the privileges of peacetime had disappeared and there grew from it not only inter-service co-operation but also that tremendous comradeship that carried the forces through Alamein and Normandy.26
    Across the Atlantic, sensing this new spirit of defiance in the people and government of Great Britain, The New York Times proclaimed:
    So long as the English tongue survives, the word Dunkirk will be spoken with reverence. In that harbour… at the end of a lost battle, the rags and blemishes that had hidden the soul of democracy fell away. There, beaten but unconquered, in shining splendour, she faced the enemy, this shining thing in the souls of free men which Hitler cannot command… It is the future. It is victory.27
    But I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me.
—Psalm 55:16–18

January 17
We Had Winnie

    An American bishop asked an Englishman after the war, “How did you British survive that period during World War II between Dunkirk and the coming of the American personnel and supplies?” John Marsh, the principal of Mansfield College in Oxford, replied:
    We had Winnie [Winston Churchill]. Those speeches of his in the House of Commons were worth a million men to us. What he said compelled us by his persuasion to believe. He said that no matter what happened, we were going to win. He said, we were on the side that was going to prevail… we were going to win. There was no doubt about that.28
    It may be difficult to quantify Winston Churchill’s contribution to the war effort, but there is no doubt that his moral leadership was pivotal. There was an Old Testament leader who also had to help his nation overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. King Asa was the third king of Judah and was known as a man of great integrity. During his reign he instituted a moral revival and a renewal in purity of worship to God. When his country was invaded by a vast Ethiopian army, he was also able to inspire his troops by ensuring them that they were on the “right side.” He placed himself and his kingdom under God’s providential care and, through his faithfulness, led his nation to a great victory.
    Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O Lord, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you.”
—2 Chronicles 14:11

January 18
Prayer on the Beach

    As the British Expeditionary Force retreated toward Dunkirk, the Green Howards Regiment was part of the rear guard fighting to delay the German advance. This unit, like many others, had endured days and nights of constant action, and every man was bone tired, hungry, and anxious. On May 29 orders finally came for withdrawal to the evacuation beaches. A Green Howards rifleman described what he saw:
    We looked a sorry sight, covered with dirt and grime with hunger gnawing at our bellies. The going was hard, the sand being so soft and deep. Thousands of men were forming queues leading down to the sea and were in the water up to their shoulders, doing their utmost to get onto one of the small boats, which very often capsized. Beachmasters had a very difficult task keeping some semblance of order, but by and large the lads just waited patiently for their turn to come until the planes came over. Those in the water just ignored the bombs where could they run? I saw some poor lads crying and others, on their knees, praying. In the prevailing mood of many of the men it was common to see groups of soldiers being led by a Padre, in prayer.29
    Many men were reassured and comforted on the beaches of Dunkirk as they turned to God both individually and in small groups. In the midst of this chaotic and dangerous ordeal these soldiers were able to go to a quiet place inside, where God always waits. We don’t know how each prayer was answered, but we do know that each man was touched in some way and strengthened by God’s presence. This is God’s promise to each of us: if we call out to him, he will listen, and he will be there for us in every crisis.
    Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
—Hebrews 4:16

January 19
Calm in the Storm

    Twenty-one-year-old Pilot Officer John Beard was flying his Hurricane fighter at 15,000 feet, waiting for an attacking formation of enemy bombers and fighters to appear. Suddenly, his flight leader called out that he had them in sight. From a distance the other aircraft seemed like an unusual cloud formation, at first quite beautiful. Then, as they drew closer, the details began to stand out:
    I could see the bright yellow noses of Messerschmitt fighters sandwiching the bombers, and could even pick out some of the types. The sky seemed full of them, packed in layers thousands of feet deep. They came on steadily, wavering up and down along the horizon. “Oh, golly,” I thought, “golly, golly…”
    And then any tension I had felt on the way suddenly left me. I was elated but very calm. I leaned over and switched on my reflector sight, flicked the catch on the gun button from “Safe” to “Fire,” and lowered my seat till the circle and dot on the reflector sight shone darkly red in front of my eyes.
    The squadron leader’s voice came through the earphones, giving tactical orders. We swung round in a great circle to attack on their beam into the thick of them. Then, on the order, down we went. I took my hand from the throttle lever so as to get both hands on the stick, and my thumb played neatly across the gun button. You have to steady a fighter just as you have to steady a rifle before you fire it.30
    I doubt that all pilots were so calm going into combat. But it is surely a priceless ability to be able to quiet oneself in the midst of chaos. Some are able to accomplish this through the force of their own will power. Whether you and I have that capability is an interesting question. Fortunately, we know that we don’t have to rely on our own resources in times of trouble. Christians are blessed with knowledge of the sure path to inner tranquility in all situations. When we place our trust in Jesus Christ, we are assured of the most lasting and perfect peace possible to human beings.
    And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4:7

January 20

    John Beard found himself in the midst of a swirling melee of fighters and bombers. At one point a German Dornier 17 flew across his path followed by a pursuing Hurricane. Behind the Hurricane came two Messerschmitts. With a kick of his rudder he lined up on the German fighters, thumbed his gun button, and opened fire.
    The first burst was placed just the right distance ahead of the leading Messerschmitt. He ran slap into it and he simply came to pieces in the air. His companion, with one of the speediest and most brilliant ‘get outs’ I have ever seen, went right away in a half Immelmann turn. I missed him completely.
    At that moment some instinct made me glance up at my rear-view mirror and spot two Messerschmitts closing in on my tail. Instantly I hauled back on the stick and streaked upward. And just in time. For as I flicked into the climb, I saw, the tracer streaks pass beneath me.31
    Checking his cockpit, Beard saw that his fuel supply and ammunition were low. He knew that he couldn’t take on two enemy fighters. At that point, however, the Messerschmitts broke off their attack and turned for home. A flood of relief washed over him as he put his nose down and did the same thing.
    A religious person might attribute this flash of “instinct” to God’s saving grace. A skeptic would undoubtedly chalk it up to good luck. As a former skeptic I can understand the latter attitude. In thinking about my experiences in combat, I have wondered about the amazing extent of my own good luck. Did God intervene on my behalf? I can’t prove it to a skeptic, but I believe earnestly that he did. I thank God daily for watching over me in the past and for keeping my family and me safe through all the dangers we face now. The question for me is no longer Has God saved me? but Why has he done so? And what should I be doing in response to this amazing grace?
    Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever.
—Psalm 100:4–5

January 21
Trust Your Instruments

    Hugh Godefroy was one of my great heroes: a Spitfire pilot during World War II. In 1940 he was an engineering student at Toronto University. He left school to volunteer for the Royal Canadian Air Force and to join the air battle in defense of England. Early in his training he encountered the difficulty of flying in clouds with no horizon or other outside reference points.
    One day I spent doing nothing but cloud flying. We had to master the technique of fighting the vertigo which plagues pilots flying on instruments.
    In the early days often I found myself sweating. I felt as though I were spinning in a spiral dive. One had to say to himself, ‘The instruments are right, and I am wrong.’ Finally I would break cloud, and find to my great relief that I was flying straight and level. We never worried in England at that time over what else might be flying in the same cloud. We never gave it a thought.32 In the early days of aviation, pilots had to fly “by the seat their pants.” There were no instruments to guide them. Now there are myriad devices that enable flight in darkness or clouds without visual references. Like most pilots I have experienced the overwhelming sensation while flying on instruments that the aircraft was doing something totally different from what the instruments were telling me. It became a struggle between my feelings and my knowledge of what was correct.
    In our daily lives, our “instruments” are God’s words as revealed in the Bible. Sometimes biblical instructions are also counterintuitive. Jesus’ entire Sermon on the Mount is a departure from what then was considered ‘conventional’ wisdom. Even when our hearts attempt to steer us in the wrong direction, we must instead move in the direction God provides in his Word.
    You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
—Matthew 5:43
British Spitfire fighter. (Imperial War Museum, E(MOS) 1348)
Children in London after bombing. (National Archives)

January 22

    As a Spitfire pilot with combat experience, Hugh Godefroy took some pride in his lack of superstition. He summed up his own attitude: “I was not superstitious, and finding someone who was, had always made me want to prove them wrong.” One day he was preparing for a patrol over enemy territory. One of his fellow pilots pointed out that it was the 13th of the month, also reminding him that he had been hit several times before on that day. In spite of his disdain for such thinking, he was suddenly struck with a mortal fear that he had never before experienced. For the entire mission he flew with a sense of dread. He unaccountably kept repeating the only prayer that he could remember: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”
    When a group of enemy fighters attacked, he suddenly found himself flying and fighting for his life. He fatalistically resolved to sell himself dearly. Finally, grey with strain, nauseated, and out of ammunition, he sensed the end. With a Focke-Wulf 190 still on his tail, he turned for England, straightened out, and closed his eyes. After waiting for what seemed an eternity, he opened his eyes to see the enemy aircraft beside him, the other pilot looking over. After a few seconds the German broke off and headed back to France. Alone, on the ground, sitting in his cockpit, Hugh surveyed the holes in his damaged Spitfire and contemplated the folly of his own emotions. He resolved never again to let a superstitious reaction take over in the cockpit.33
    While in combat I have also fought off dark thoughts about my chances of surviving and of my “luck” running out. Unfortunately for me, I was a spiritual skeptic at that time and can attest to the fact that such thoughts can be overpowering without a strong faith in God and a sure knowledge of a place in his kingdom.
    He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.
—Isaiah 25:8

January 23

    In September 1940 Kathleen Rainer was working in the fields near Ewhurst, Sussex, with her mother and brother. That day she observed an unforgettable incident in the sky above. As a dogfight between Allied and enemy fighters was raging overhead she saw a parachute appear. She realized it must be an Allied pilot when, to her horror, German fighters began to make passes, firing their machine guns at the helpless aviator. Then she saw an amazing sight:
    We were so proud of our pilots for what they did next… the other Spitfires began to circle the parachute, protecting the pilot from the German attack. As the pilot descended down, the rest of his squadron would spiral down with him, guiding him to the ground and protecting him. We were so proud of them, risking their lives to save that one pilot who was otherwise totally defenceless against the German fighters.34
    A big part of Great Britain’s success during the Battle of Britain is attributed to the survival rate of her invaluable pilots. The great advantage of fighting over home soil was the fact that so many of these young men were able to make it safely back to base, even if their aircraft were lost. For this to happen, however, it took teamwork and a strong belief in the value of each pilot’s life. Again, we see how important it was then to have strong, close-knit units in the face of danger.
    We need the same sense of urgency now in supporting and protecting each other within our own spiritual units of the body of Christ. The dangers may not be as obvious as those of actual combat, but the battle for our hearts and souls is just as real. We need each other—our brothers and sisters in Christ—if we hope to come through unscathed.
    Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
—Ephesians 4:15–16

January 24
Thoughts of Death

    Fighter pilots had to live with their own thoughts of death. Most, such as Squadron Leader Peter Townsend, were able to keep such thoughts at a distance:
    Some of us would die within the next few days. That was inevitable. But you did not believe that it would be you. Death was always present, and we knew it for what it was. If we had to die, we would be alone, smashed to pieces, burnt alive, or drowned. Some strange, protecting veil kept the nightmare thought from our minds, as did the loss of our friends. Their disappearance struck us as less a solid blow than a dark shadow which chilled our hearts and passed on.35
    As a religious skeptic during wartime, my thought process was similar to this. In moments of panic, I prayed to God, even though I didn’t know him and didn’t really expect an answer. When the crisis of the moment was over, I never gave him credit for the result. During the lulls in action I fought off the same dark realizations expressed by this British pilot. A lonely death could come at any time. I had a good enough imagination to know that it could happen to me. Still, I tried not to dwell on that fact.
    When you only expect a void after death, the best you can do is to avoid thinking about it. What amazing peace is available to us in any crisis when we are confident in our relationship with God and in the knowledge of where we are ultimately going. The apostle Paul gave us the classic statement of reassurance:
    For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—Romans 8:38–39

January 25
The Face of God

    During the Battle of Britain hundreds of Americans went to Canada to enlist with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and to join the fight against Nazi Germany. Eighteen year-old John Magee was one of these daring young men. After training he was sent to England where he joined No. 412 Fighter Squadron, RCAF. Flying his Spitfire in fighter sweeps over France and England he achieved the rank of pilot officer.
    One day while flying at the extremely high altitude of 30,000 feet, he was struck with inspiration for a poem. On the ground he finished his poem and put it on the back of a letter to his parents. The words of the young airman continue to paint a vivid picture:
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.36

    Unfortunately John Magee was killed three months after writing this poem. His majestic words have been quoted often, most notably by Ronald Reagan, eulogizing the Challenger 7 crew after their tragic loss in 1986: “They waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.”37
    To say that you have ‘touched the face of God’ may sound presumptuous. However, I believe that we all desire to come closer to God, and that there are moments when we feel his presence. The beauty of a sunset, a storm, many natural vistas, all evoke thoughts of God and his majesty. In quiet moments of prayer we often sense his presence and tender mercy. These moments are real and open to us daily as a sure way for each to “touch the face of God.”
    The heavens declare the glory of God; The skies proclaim the work of his hands.
— Psalm 19:1

January 26
Miraculous Escape

    It was Sheila Delaney’s eleventh birthday, but after school, sadly, there was no party. In the fall of 1940 the usual routine for her family was to move to the bomb shelter at about 6:00 p.m. Soon after that the air raids started. The bombers were heard droning overhead searching out their targets. This night it was Sheila’s town, Birmingham. They were comfortable enough in the shelter with their flask of tea, flashlights, and extra clothing for a long night. They could hear bombs exploding all around, but tried to keep occupied with singing and talking. Lying on a bunk, Sheila eventually drifted off to sleep, peacefully unaware of the bomb that was about to destroy her shelter. Later, she said:
    I remember nothing more until I recovered consciousness to find myself being carried to a first-aid post, where they bandaged my cut head. Our shelter had had a direct hit and the shelter and bunks had become a tangled, twisted mess. We had all been thrown out onto the ground outside but survived with cuts and bruises.
    In the daylight the adults surveyed the devastation. Shrapnel had shattered all the windows and blown the roof off our house along with a couple of houses on either side. The bomb crater measured 24 feet across and in it were the remains of our air-raid shelter. We had a truly miraculous escape.38
    What could be more random than the path of a falling bomb? Imagine life in an air raid shelter. Where is the next bomb going to fall? Undoubtedly, thousands of prayers went up to God during the Blitz, and many survivors could claim God’s protection. However, we know that many who prayed did not survive. Did God answer some and not others? No one can answer such a question. We know that death and destruction do occur in this world, and God doesn’t promise to protect us from all earthly harm. He does hear each of our prayers, and he does promise to be with us always.
    O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.
—Isaiah 25:1

January 27
New Value System

    Fighting for your life has to change your outlook on life. Dennis Robinson was nearing his home base after a long mission. Even though he knew better, his guard was down.
    The first thing I felt was the thud of bullets hitting my aircraft and a long line of tracer bullets streaming out ahead of my Spitfire. In a reflex action I slammed the stick forward as far as it would go. For a brief second my Spitfire stood on its nose and I was looking down at Mother Earth, thousands of feet below… I felt fear mounting. Sweating, mouth dry and near panic. No ammo and an attacker right on my tail. Suddenly the engine stopped.39
    At this point Robinson’s aircraft was without power, defenseless, and gliding down. He began frantically searching for signs of the enemy fighter. Miraculously, he found himself alone in the sky. He managed to crash land his Spitfire in a field near Wareham and walk away with only a bullet graze on his leg. He felt strangely elated:
    The release of tension as I realized my good fortune is something that cannot be described. You only know what it is like to be given back your life if you have been through that experience. I experienced this feeling several times during the Battle and it had a profound effect on me, which remains with me to this day. It somehow changed my value system, so that things that had seemed important before never had the same degree of importance again.40
    This young pilot’s combat experience is a good reminder for us living in comfortable surroundings. We need to periodically and intentionally reappraise our own value systems. The problems and crises in our lives often take our attention away from what is truly critical: our relationship to God the Father. We realize what is unimportant only when we grasp what is ultimately important.
    By faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
—Galatians 5:5–6

January 28

    Norman English was seven years old in August 1940 and lived adjacent to an RAF base. Bombs fell on and around the base often as the anti-aircraft guns returned fire. To a child it was very exciting:
    We used to sit on the fence for a grandstand view of the action! Until the adults came on the scene and sent us down to the shelter. I remember vividly, the vapour trails in the sky and watching dogfights in the sunny clear skies during the Battle of Britain. During the war living where we did, we were bombed, parachute land mined, aerial torpedoed, doodle bugged, and finally V2 rockets. Some of my school chums and their parents were killed.
    One aircraft machine gunned our road then dropped a bomb which blew up the gas main, and destroyed Banfields the greengrocers on the corner, and smash(ed) the water main with the huge fire of the gas main and with the water filling both sides of the road and flooding the gutters.
    It was not long after the all clear was sounded that all the children in the road were paddling along the gutters and towing their toy boats behind them! All this within 20 minutes or so of being bombed and machine gunned.41
    God bless the little children. I am sure that the parents of these were gratified to see them acting their age even under the direst of circumstances. Jesus also admired the openness and honesty of children, and, in fact, stated that only those like children would be able to enter his kingdom. By this he meant that we all should cultivate a childlike wonder at the world and ability to accept simple truths. Jesus’ message is the ultimate in simplicity. Most children understand it immediately. We can’t work our way to God. God’s grace is a gift.
    I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
—Matthew 18:3–4
Watching dogfights high in the sky. (Harry S. Truman Library)
Fighting fires during the London blitz. (National Archives)

January 29
A Nation Prays

    Forty days after the German invasion of France and Holland it began to appear that all was lost. The French army was largely routed. The noose was tightening at Dunkirk. Panic was beginning to ripple through Great Britain at the specter of her army being annihilated on the beaches of France. In utter desperation the church leaders of England, with the support of King George, many political leaders, and much of the nation’s press, called for a National Day of Prayer on May 26. On that Sunday church attendance mushroomed as thousands flocked to the altar, turning to God in the hour of their greatest trial.
    As we know in retrospect, these prayers did not go unanswered. Hitler’s panzer divisions continued to hold back from an assault on the beaches at Dunkirk. Amazingly, the weather on the French coast and English Channel seemed to be finely tuned to benefit the desperate soldiers on the beaches. Somehow the Royal Air Force stemmed the tide of the Luftwaffe. Many years later the Reverend Clive Duncan of St. Mary’s Church delivered a sermon about these events:
    There were two phases to the Battle of Britain. One was the Military side and the other was the Spiritual phase… the Germans initiated the Battle of Britain in order to clean the RAF out of the air. However, they lost the battle not only because of the RAF’s defence of the skies over London but also because they could not break down the courage and resolve of the civilian population. It took Christian courage in both phases to face the battle and to win.42
    If there ever were a time for people to quake with fear, this would have been it. But regardless of how they may have felt, the people of Great Britain found the strength to behave courageously. Their faith sustained them during their darkest hour. In the same way, whenever we feel daunted by circumstances beyond our control, we should call upon God and move forward courageously in the power of the Holy Spirit.
    Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.
—Psalm 50:15

January 30
Faith of a Child

    Elizabeth Batten was five years old when World War II started and had vivid recollections that she shared with her daughter, Ellen. She saw the sky light up over Liverpool during the bombings and heard the sounds of aerial combat overhead. She spent hours and sometimes all night in a shelter under the stairs. She cried a lot and forever after had an aversion to small spaces. She consoled herself by sticking Bible verses and Sunday school pictures on the walls of the shelter. She took special comfort in a picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the image of him watching over her and her family.
    In recent years Ellen Batten was leafing through her mother’s Bible and found a picture of her grandfather with an inscription on the back, “To Betty, lots of love, Daddy.” She thought about her mother’s prayers and how they were eventually answered when her father came home from the war. Her mother’s faith had sustained her through many difficult years. Ellen realized that her mother’s faith had also profoundly influenced her own spiritual life:
    Today in a world ravaged by war and human rights abuse, many question the existence of God. However, I have come to share my mother’s quiet faith. Faith turned to constructive prayer and action, faith placed in a God of love and compassion surely can give strength in dark times.43
    The key to Ellen’s faith, modeled after the faith of her mother, was that it was based not on what men do, but on who God is. It is a lesson that would serve all of us well to remember in every trial we face. The character and power of God is unchanging.
    My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
—1 Corinthians 2:4–5

January 31
The Few

    The Battle of Britain was raging. Every resource of Fighter Command was engaged in defense against the attacking Luftwaffe. On August 20 Winston Churchill went before the House of Commons once more to inform and reassure his countrymen. In this speech he coined the phrase “the few” to refer to the fighter pilots of the RAF. The phrase would stick.
    The great air battle which has been in progress over this Island for the last few weeks has recently attained a high intensity. It is too soon to attempt to assign limits either to its scale or to its duration. We must certainly expect that greater efforts will be made by the enemy than any he has so far put forth.
    The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.44
    We know from the outcome of this great struggle the effectiveness of a few good men. There are other examples of this phenomenon from previous wars. In biblical times, Gideon faced the army of Midian with thirty thousand of his own troops. God told him that he had too many men. Twenty thousand were dismissed, and, still, God told Gideon that he had too many men. Finally, three hundred were selected to battle the powerful Midianites. God did this to ensure that Israel would know that he had saved them, and not their military might. God also knew that a few good men could be more effective than a nervous horde.
    The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’”
—Judges 7:2–3
A British air raid shelter. (National Archives)