The Minister's Letter

 

A new film is due in our cinemas shortly (I'm writing in early April).  It’s called ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’, based on the novel of the same name by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows.  It was featured this evening on the BBC’s The One Show who interviewed Lily James, the lead actress in the film.  The background to the novel and film is the Nazi Occupation of the Channel Islands.  It made me think of Wilf.

Wilf was an elderly Methodist Local Preacher and the organist in one of my first churches.  He was deeply respected, and for good reason.  He had been headmaster of the local grammar school, and a local preacher most of his life.  In 1939, as the Second World War Broke out, he registered as a conscientious objector, as did many Methodists. His father argued with him, but Wilf remained a convinced pacifist, convinced that war and killing are wrong.

Wilf signed up to work on the land.  Newly married, he and his wife Grace were sent to the Channel Island of Jersey.  When invasion threatened they were offered evacuation to the English mainland, but they chose to stay.  They endured the privations of that occupation, where by the end of the war food shortages led to severe hunger. Their first child was born there, and Wilf had to risk breaking the curfew to get the doctor for Grace when he might have been arrested or shot on sight.  Wilf and Grace witnessed the slave labour the Nazis brought to build the massive concrete defences that pepper the Channel Islands to this day.  If the locals were hungry, the Russian prisoners of war were starving and brutalised.  Wilf told of how he watched their emaciated bodies being tipped into the wet concrete where they still remain.

In 1945 the Channel Islands were liberated, and Wilf, Grace and their child could return home.  After witnessing the horrors of the Nazi occupation, and experiencing their own suffering, Wilf was sure of one thing, that war and killing are wrong.  He believed that to his dying day. I took his funeral, where the small Methodist chapel in Millom was packed and overflowed to the car park outside.

I am not a pacifist, although the older I get the more horrified I am at war.  Wilf's story has stayed with me, not because I agree with him totally, but because he was a man of principle, a good man, who saw the worst humanity can do and still stayed true to his beliefs.  His pacifism was rooted in a deep Christian faith, and that was a powerful witness to the Cumbrian community he became a part of.

As Christians we have a faith to proclaim, and a life to live.  Only by our openness about our faith and a principled life to back it up will we achieve what Wilf did, the respect and admiration of those around us.

With every blessing,

Nigel