Category Archives: Current Affairs

A month in Normandy

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Sidney Marfleet

 

Seventy years ago my Grandad Sid Marfleet arrived in Normandy shortly after D Day, just a few weeks after his wedding.

I am utterly proud of and immeasurably grateful for what he and his generation did for those of us who follow. A few years before he died Sid wrote his memoirs and included a chapter on Normandy.  He had always been reticent about talking about the war; he had not been involved very long before he was injured and returned to the UK, but his four sons, 12 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren (at last count) are very glad that he did. So many others did not return to wives and family.

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Arriving at Omaha

So, here is part one of Sid’s Normandy account. Hastings and Beyond…

I have related in the early pages of these memoirs how is came about that I was transferred from a comparatively safe job as an instructor at the training battalion to join a unit whose function as part of the 43rd Wessex Division was to spearhead the breakout from the few square miles which had been painfully seized behind the landing beaches.

But first of all I must say something about my new base on the south-east coast. Hastings is now a rather run-down resort, and even in 1944 its former glory had departed. It was part of a 10 mile area around much of the south coast where entry was restricted to residents, and the boundaries were monitored by police, for example checking rail passengers at Robertsbridge. The beaches were mined and fenced off with barbed wire. The only consolation which I noticed was that the weather that spring was an improvement on Clitheroe.

At 1 TBRE we had a whole battalion accommodated in a large multi-storey stone cotton mill, about 200 years old, but the straw-filled palliases on which we slept were mainly two-tier bunks, although NCOs has singles. But we did have hot and cold water, and adequate showers. At Hastings, 553 Field Company were accommodated in various vacated boarding-houses around the appropriately named Warrior Square. No hot water was available, our palliases were laid out on the bare boards, and our kit anywhere alongside us. This was an arrangement which I found helpful a couple of weeks or so after I was married and Pat came to stay in the town, and for that period I was sleeping out without a permit, although my platoon Sgt turned a kindly eye on it. I simply rolled up my bed and stuffed it with all my kit into one of the many empty cupboards, on the presumption that the orderly officer was more likely to be alerted by an empty bed than by an empty few square feet of floor, because at least as far as NCOs were concerned no room had more than two or three occupants. This worked out well for me, except on one occasion when I forgot to read Company Orders, to learn next morning that I had been scheduled for duty as Orderly Corporal. This could have been very serious had the Sergeant Major not decided to cover the whole thing up.

Some of the NCOs there had also served with me at Clitheroe, and I began to make a few new friends. But in the town centre was a shop turned into a rest room and café, run by an Army Scripture Reader and his wife, and regularly supported by the Baptist minister, Norman Day. I spent many evenings there, writing my letters and making friends with some of the infantry lads mainly Dorsets, and one or two ATS girls.   Pat’s brief stay there, shortly after we were married was possible through the kindness of an elderly couple from the very small Brethren chapel, who lived in a large house in a prominent position at the top of West Hill, overlooking the Old Town. Each morning at the end of first parade, the Platoon Sgt would allocate various duties to small groups mainly to keep them occupied. As he came towards my end of the line he would invariably say ‘Hang on, Cpl Marfleet, I’ve got something for you.’ Then when all the others had gone he would say, ‘Is your wife still here?’ ‘Yes, Sarge’ I would reply. ‘Then b***** off, but make sure you are here in the morning. After breakfast Pat would be making her way down into the town to meet me, but in doing so she had to run the daily gauntlet of small groups of Royal Marine Commandos, billeted in that part of West Hill.

One day shortly before the end of May I was unable to go to meet her. We had just received a delivery of a consignment of White Scout cars, one per platoon. These were American partially armoured half-track vehicles and needed urgent modifications to be carried out on them for our purposes. Not many days after that, without warning the whole company was loaded up into our respective three tonners and driven a few miles out of the town and assembled in the middle of a large field, out of earshot of all except the rabbits. There we were addressed by the O.C. who said that he was aware that a number of us had brought our wives to the town, but instructed us that all wives must leave within 48 hrs. So it was that I had once again had to say goodbye to Pat at the station, expecting that it would be a very long time before we met again.

Shortly after that, ‘D day’ came, and immediately we were shown maps of the area in Normandy to which we were going. There were three series of maps, one like a normal tourist map, another, called a going map showing the features affecting visibility in this ‘bocage’ region where the hedges grown on high banks presented real problems. The other map gave remarkable detail of the enemy defences, based on information provided by the French Resistance, even showing small strong points and their armaments

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A couple of days later we departed from Hastings at 5am, each section loaded into our respective three-ton trucks, together with all our kit, seated along each side on storage compartments containing a very considerable amount of ammunition and an even greater amount of explosives. The number of vehicles for our company comprised a very long queue, but very soon we joined other units all travelling north up the A21 forming a continuous line of vehicles for miles. It must have been the whole Brigade on the move, if not the entire 43rd Division. Our own motor-cycle outriders shepherded us slowly until we reached the London boundary, where the Metropolitan Police took over. No doubt we passed through Tonbridge, but I have no recollection of doing so. The town was probably all fast asleep anyway.

By the time we reached the Old Kent Road the population was very wide awake and lining the streets about four deep on each side of the road, and cheering us on our way. We were travelling so slowly that they were able to ply us with tea and stay alongside until we had drunk it and returned the containers. All this tea presented us with a problem, so we asked them to provide it in non-returnable jam jars, which we discretely made use of and disposed of them later.

After crossing Tower Bridge we continued northwards for about three miles before passing through Dalston and picking up the Clapton end of Lea Bridge Road. I was back on home ground. By coincidence the convoy made one of its many halts with my truck right opposite the Gas Works. I looked across the road and saw there a man who I knew from the Home Guard platoon up a ladder painting the side of a gas-holder which was adjacent to the road. I shouted ‘Tom’ in my best parade-ground voice and he recognised me at once, came down the ladder and dashed off into the office. A few seconds later out came my former boss, Percy Bushell with the Industrial Sales Manager, Jock Stokes. They came across to the back of the truck and I disembarked and was able to chat with them for several minutes. Before we had to move on they wished me luck, and Percy pushed into my hand a ten-shilling note.

 

There was yet a further coincidence. We passed through Woodford, and I realised we were going to join the A127 Southend Road, which before it became part of the M11 years later, crossed Maybank Road within 150 yards of my home. I hastily scribbled a note and put my mother’s name and address on it in the hope of getting it to her. Fortunately my truck slowed right down at that junction, and I happened to see a man that I knew slightly, having at times as a child patronised his little sweet shop along the road. I called to him by name and he was only too happy to take my message to my mother, so thereby she and the family knew that I was on my way.

We continued eastwards, picking up the A13 and eventually reaching a large transit camp at Orsett, just north of Grays. We stayed there I think for 24hrs under rather spartan conditions. The next day we each received a printed letter from King George V1, likewise one from Winston Churchill and from General Eisenhower and General Montgomery. We also received an army issue of condoms, one per man which in very many cases were put to good use within a week or so as water-proof containers for our watches when wading ashore in four feet of water! We were also given some pay in newly printed French francs. While we were there we saw one of the first of the V1 flying bombs. We didn’t know what to make of it, as it sounded unusual and looked like a small aeroplane flying at low level with its backside on fire. Then suddenly the engine cut out and it hit the ground with a very large explosion.

It was assumed by many of us that from that location we were likely to be embarked at Tilbury, but it was not to be. They drove us back into London and embarked us at London docks.

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There we had to stand around and watch as our vehicles were loaded. This was done by placing a wire-mesh hammock sling under each wheel and hoisting it up by crane. Inevitably they managed to drop one of the three-tonners several feet, but within a few minutes produced an identical replacement vehicle. When we embarked we were directed to our accommodation, which was in the cargo holds, and issued with a hammock each, and realised we were to be more or less shoulder to shoulder in a space like the Black Hole of Calcutta. I rejected this idea and decided to sleep in the open on the deck. So, as we set off around dusk down the Thames I laid down and went to sleep. I awoke about dawn feeling as if we had just crossed the Arctic Circle. In fact we had just cast anchor a mile or so off Southend.

The rest of that day was spent off Southend, as the number of ships joining the convoy was built up to about forty, and each ship was provided with a barrage balloon, as a precaution against possible dive-bombers. In the early evening we set off down the Channel, and as we passed through the Straits of Dover we came under shell-fire from the enemy coast. One of the ships was hit, causing some casualties and a fire, but it was able to continue with the convoy. We continued through the Channel and round to the Isle of Wight, where we joined up with about fifty more ships, and this united convoy then headed south towards Normandy, escorted by a single corvette. About ten miles from the French coast we were met by a line of British destoyers flashing signals to direct our ships into the lanes which had been cleared of mines, and to put our ships into the direction of Gold Beach, while about half of the ships were headed eastwards, probably carrying the 15th Scottish Division and the 3rd Canadian Division to their landing beaches at Juno and Sword. We dropped anchor half a mile or more from the shore, there to await the landing craft which were to put us ashore. We had spent about six days aboard the ship.

 

More to follow tomorrow.

 

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The Cattle on a Thousand Hills

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In a week when Saddleback or Blencathra in Cumbria went up for sale and this story appeared about a family of birds taking up residence in a letter box in Suffolk, we have been doing much thinking ourselves about homes and property.

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It has struck me that our human conventions regarding land and property ownership are somewhat absurd in the bigger scheme. I have long thought that being able to just be in a beautiful place is just as satisfying as – and much less expensive than – owning the place. I hope Saddleback will be sold to people who allow it to be entrusted to generations of walkers. Walkers from many places, booted, flip-flopped or four-pawed, of every description and brand of weatherwear. It will make very little difference to many of us who owns great spaces, as long as we still have the opportunity to be there, to breathe the air and to study the views, to appreciate the big and the small as if we never noticed them before. It is possible that a sealed bid from a malevolent faction could buy Blencathra outright and seal off the land from visitors, but part of the joy and beauty of such places is their accessibility to so many more folk than just those who manage and pay for their upkeep.

Animals do not recognise or need to comply with human property claims. In our garden alone, numerous claims could be made for the space. There are blue tits nesting on the wall, claiming their space this season and feeding their noisy young from what they can harvest around the area.

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There are two cats who spend their nights in a house on the street backing ours but most daytimes guarding their territory, which now extends throughout our back garden and right up to our back door. With all the front of teenagers they chase and tease bees and butterflies, slink behind plants and sit for hours, frowning. Clearly they are full owners of our garden in the eyes of the feline land registry.

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Then there are the guinea pigs, whose access to safe rectangles of garden on dry days makes them equally entitled to the land and its grass and dandelion leaves, not to mention their hutch, which they have almost exclusive use of. What’s an odd snail or spider to a herbivore?

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There is a comic robin who bounds up and down between the wall and the grass. He always looks like he’s about to get to the punchline, but he never does. Robins are territorial too. Timing is everything; I always forget the camera.

What about pigeons? Or gulls? Or the odd squirrel? Or the many many insects and spiders?

Taking it to another level, do the plants moshing out of their beds and jostling for life between the stones and gravel have a claim on the land?

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Perhaps, foolishly, we too could say we own it.

But we only have any rights to ownership under human conventions and then only temporarily. I prefer to think of everything we own as being on loan to us. We are guardians. Keepers. Entrusted with responsibility and graced with a journey of seasons and promise.

You see, none of it is really ours. God made it all, owns it all and has the final say, not us. He owns ‘the cattle on a thousand hills’ which is Psalm 50’s poetic way of saying that God tops any rich list and all we have is from Him.

Someone has made an offer on our house. We have put in an offer on another house, trusting that soon God will provide the home we need for raising our family. He has already provided a school place for Joseph against all reasonable odds in a full year group and a popular location, at some distance. Maybe we’ll be sharing our garden with plants, animals and birds. We hope we can share the new place for which we will be guardians with many friends and family for many years to come.

Quote

Shell

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Sugar: You collect shells?
Joe: Yes. So did my father and my grandfather. You might say we had a passion for shells. That’s why we named the oil company after it.

Brilliant writing. Fantastic delivery by Tony Curtis, mimicking Cary Grant in Some Like It Hot.

I love a great joke.

Words are great.

Words are not always what is needed, however.

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Which is why these shells spoke to me this week. They were a gift from a wonderful friend on a beach in Albania and remind me of our time there. They are beautiful homes for tiny, insignificant creatures. They are engineered to be strong so that the little molluscs don’t need to be. I love how they combine art and maths. Creation and evolution. Grace and freedom.

This week we are making huge family decisions and several centre on identity and belonging. Location. Careers. Finances. How much to sell for. Value. Cost. I am out of words. I am pretty much out of numbers too.

But I am not out of feelings. I still feel the ache when my son gets a high temperature. I still grieve when my husband’s company mess him about for the umpteenth time. I still reel when my daughter’s school require three non-uniform outfits in the space of eight school days. I worry for others in my family going through big changes. I tremble as the inner anxious me faces the enormity of spending money on a house – a bunch of rooms – while others struggle without. I don’t want a grand place. But I do crave somewhere we can each be who we are truly meant to be. To grab hold of the dream and live it. We feel called to a particular spot and convicted in the need to move there, from a place of love and great memories and super friends, to a place where our names are only known to a few and where we need to forge our passions in a brighter furnace. Engineering. Writing. Ministering to students, immigrants, parents, young adults, those with needs. Enabling. Connecting in community and church. Raising our family. Living the adventure of Love we set out on together ten years ago by enabling each other and growing stronger together. It will come at a cost, but not doing this would certainly cost us more.

Thank goodness for Grace, tying it all together so that there is sense and purpose when we might otherwise give up. This season of brokenness has also been a season of refining and focus.

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New Cycles of Grace

There is that familiar verse Let the little children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom from heaven belongs to people like these – Jesus said it to well-meaning but misguided religious types who were preventing children from getting close to him to receive good things (Matthew 19:14, NET). What would you have done? Would you keep children away from Santa? Would you act like the cardinals in Rome this week? Can you identify with that child?

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From our earliest memories we build up a picture of our personal identity which it is often hard to shake off, even when we can see errors. We believe lies we tell ourselves about our image, worth, capabilities or dreams.

For many of us, despite good intentions from those who raised us, growing up in an achievement-oriented culture has meant a fixation on significance through merit alone. This simplistic model does not work – what about those who can never pass the merit tests? What about those too young?

My counsellor showed me a great diagram this week. It is taken from the clinical psychologist and learned theologian Dr Frank Lake’s work. She showed it to me because, like many people, I have been going around the circle in a destructive direction. The way I have been living has been anti-clockwise: a cycle of works.

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1. I strive to achieve things, in order that:

2. I will feel significance in the world, which provides some:

3. Strength to keep going (in my own identity), so that:

4. I can feel accepted, until that feeling goes, and I return to 1 again, a little more dejected and a little more defeated.

It is not sustainable, not healthy for me or others around me and not a fair understanding of how my life matters. Instead, she showed me how to look at the diagram clockwise.

1. I am accepted – by God. Just as I am. No questions asked.

2. This acceptance strengthens me to find ways to sustain myself – time alone, journalling, creatively, with others or whatever suits me best.

3. Through being accepted and sustained, I discover I do have significance in whatever I find myself doing.

4. This leads to achieving things (big or small) out of response, rather than out of duty. Achievement fuelled by God’s limitless love and shocking grace. Achievement not to show off or brag, but to be truly alive. Achievement which blesses others first out of love (not duty) and which feeds the cycle so that there is continued awareness of God’s acceptance, his sustaining, my significance. Exciting, promising, daunting. Part of the big trust adventure we are finding ourselves on as a family.

Cycle of Grace

I walked home starting to think this all through, realising that it matters that I show my children that they are first and foremost accepted. As it happened I was passing a bookshop and called in, where I came across a brilliant book: Grace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. Freeman.

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How encouraging to read the thoughts of a person so like me, who recognises the patterns of hiding behind works and good behaviour – and then discovers the audacity of living in God’s grace and what that really looks like worked out. Just the thing I’d been working on. So freeing. Such a relief. I don’t have to prove anything, achieve for anybody, produce anything for all the wrong reasons, failing at so many steps along the way and hoping that not many people notice. I can be truly me, trusting God for the significance he places in me and taking his beautiful guiding rather than stipulating the directions myself. I can enjoy the good things he has for me. I can learn to let go of striving, instead living for others for all the right reasons and becoming energised to do it well if I’m doing what he’s called me to.

For all sorts of reasons I have a battered self-image and felt for many years I needed to find my worth in making others’ lives better. It doesn’t work. I can never achieve enough to satisfy myself, and so the grind of guilt and anxiety eventually pushed me into burnout.

From here on, I want to lean on God’s understanding rather than my own. To be transformed by the renewing of my mind. To step out of the boat – and keep walking. He’s never let me down, and like a child drawn to something remarkable, I don’t want anything to get in my way.

As God keeps reminding me,

Great things are going to happen.

I can’t wait.

Pipwatch

 

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The piplings went on holiday to my parents’ house while we spent much of the summer away from home. Dad was good enough to keep the little trees alive and even separate out the conjoined triplets. There are still five. I am feeling the responsibility of growing these tinies as well as I can, and trying to keep the white mould which has been threatening them at bay. (There is also a sunflower in the picture, which apparently has something to do with my son.)

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For his birthday my husband went without a flame-thrower and instead received this mini-greenhouse from us. An utterly unselfish gift, honest. Anyway, the pips are trying it out. Great views, free drinks and penthouse suite. They probably think they’re still on holiday.

 

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Depression Toolkit #25: Broken praise

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“Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear,

and Grace my fears relieved…”

Singing these words at a wedding on Sunday opened up something new in my heart. Yes, Grace relieves my fears – yes, with all the healing power of abundance and purpose. But Grace also places that fear – the realisation of inadequacy. The limits. The faults. The need.

My need has been raw and exposed in recent weeks and my heart has feared too many things. But all I really need to fear is the gap between my smallness and God’s greatness. Grace fills that gap. And the response – the human part of the divine conversation – is Praise.

Praise when low costs more – and I am certain it is all the more precious to God for that, who continues to deserve all our praise in any circumstance. If we are not in the habit of praising we find no desire to do so, and yet in the good times – new life for example – we crave the opportunity to express joy and celebrate and be thankful. Thankful? To be thankful requires an object for thanking. Praise is something we just know how to do as humans. We all have objects of praise.

I praise God, and am learning to praise him in the low times. Broken praise, yes. Out of tune with the world, almost certainly. But: beating to his heartbeat, the best I can. And the frog in the rain? Perhaps I want to look away from God’s greatness and focus on me. To cower in the storm beneath something of my own design. This solution can only be temporary. I am more waterproof than I may realise, so maybe I need to chuck out the umbrella, dance in the storm and face that Grace again. To revel in it, get wet and croak out my praise-offering the best I know how.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.

Psalm 40:1-3

…the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair…

Isaiah 61:3

Depression Toolkit #15: Hope

Having a rough mental day today. No particular reason. Then I stumbled across this and it humbled me.

There is Hope.

And a Future.

I also felt very inspired recently by reading a book called ‘Heaven is for Real‘. It is the story of a 4 year old boy’s amazing experience, and reminded me to stop feeling hopeless.

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Because there is Hope.

And there is a Future.

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’

Jeremiah 29:11