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Seventieth anniversary celebrations of various World War II anniversaries continue to slip by in what is maybe the last time that large numbers of veterans from that conflict will be able to participate. Most of our current global struggles pale in scale and in importance next to the last world war, which killed over 50 million, and on whose outcome rested the fate of decent civilization.
Often enthralled by pacifism, many of today’s Western clergy prefer not to remember that war too closely. Otherwise they would have to explain how peaceful resistance to Hitler and Tojo would have looked, or justify non-violently standing by as millions of innocents were incinerated. They are also loath to honor military valor or patriotic zeal, which they often regard as idolatrous.
A notable exception to this reluctance is the Church of England’s Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. Himself native to Uganda, he is usually un-intimidated by the demands of political correctness and often bold in affirming Western and British culture. He often honours Britain’s military veterans, especially from World War II, which Churchill rightly recalled as his nation’s “finest hour” when standing alone against Nazi Germany. Sentamu’s father served in the King’s African Rifles, as did his uncle, who died fighting the Japanese in Burma.
Last Sunday, Archbishop Sentamu observed a military procession and presided over worship at Allied Forces Memorial Day, marking the 70th anniversary of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command in Elvington, which had housed both RAF bombers and the Free French Air Force. A military band performed “When the Saints Go Marching In.” He was joined by a dozen elderly veterans of the original 77 Squadron, who were the first RAF group stationed at the base. During 18 months the squadron lost 600 men.
“The service took place in the hangar, where guests were surrounded by aircraft, which was a fitting tribute to the men who fought and died in the fight against tyranny,” explained a spokesman for the Yorkshire Air Museum, which organizes the annual commemoration, and one of whose vice presidents is Sentamu. Other vice presidents include the chiefs of the RAF and the French Air Force.
Before the event, Archbishop Sentamu explained: “It’s wonderful to be back at Elvington to remember the important contribution and sacrifice made by Allied Air Forces during the Second World War. We are reminded of the heroic personal struggles of those who worked together to combat evil during this time in our history. We are in their debt. It is right that our service on Sunday will remember the brave and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. In Churchill’s words: ’Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’”
Archbishop Sentamu presided over stirring English hymns like “I Vow to Thee My Country” during the worship. “We are reminded of the heroic personal struggles of those who worked together to combat evil during this time in our history,” he preached. “We are in their debt. It is right that the service today remembers the brave and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.” Afterwards there were also flyovers by the RAF’s vintage Lancaster Bomber, Spitfire and Vulcan, which once flew missions over Nazi occupied Europe, targeting the German war machine.
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