France’s declaration was made on the same day. Chamberlain concluded his broadcast with these words:
‘Now may God bless you all. May He defend the right. It is the evil things that we shall be fighting against – brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution – and against them I am certain that the right will prevail.’
‘Brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution’ would be defeated, but at a terrible cost. In the six years of fighting that followed, Britain lost 383,700 servicemen and women and 67,200 civilians. Casualty rates were much higher in Germany, the Soviet Union, Poland and other occupied countries. In all, around 3% of the world’s population died as a consequence of the war.
This country’s response to the outbreak of war in 1939 was very different to the enthusiasm of 1914. Eighty years on, we remember with thanksgiving those who did not turn away from the struggle that lay ahead and gave us the freedom in which we live.
Over the next few years, a series of World War II anniversaries will be commemorated nationally. Next year, for example, sees the seventy-fifth anniversaries of VE and VJ Days. Locally, this also presents opportunities to gather up memories of those who lived through these experiences and record them for future generations in the form of Local Memory Projects. These recollections may range from the humorous to the difficult and painful, so it is important to treat those who offer them with respect and sensitivity. This could involve working creatively with schools, uniformed and local history groups in creating local archives or holding events.
As well as writing the above, the Revd Nick Garrard has prepared a prayer for use around Tuesday 3 September, based on Minnie Louise Haskin’s poem ‘The Gate of the Year’, read by George VI during his Christmas broadcast, 1939;
As we recall our country’s entry to global conflict eighty years ago, we remember those who risked or gave their lives in order to resist aggression.
We give thanks for the courage and fortitude of those who put their hand into the Hand of God and set out into the darkness of war. May we, in our generation, learn afresh to place our trust in Him gladly, against the forces of injustice and oppression. May we also know His guidance to be better than a light and safer than a known way.
We ask this for your love’s sake. Amen.