ON THIS DAY

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On September 26th 1940 a taste of hell came to Southampton when the Spitfire factory was bombed at the close of the Battle of Britian and as the Blitz on London got under way. The factory was decimated and over 100 people lost their lives. Two months later the bombers returned to the city, devasting homes and displacing families. So many who were physically unharmed, lived with the emotional scars for the rest of their lives. I remember a story my mother told me when the air siren went off during a maths lesson when she was eleven years old in Worthing. The town was on a flight path for the waves of German bombers as they crossed the south coast en route to London. On that particular day, the Spitfires went up from RAF Tangmere near Chichester and the infamous ‘dogfights’ ensued over the Sussex Downs. With all the school children under the reinforced tables, my mother remembered the moment the window was smashed and broken glass was strewn everywhere. As the all clear sounded, they stood to see the strafe of bullets across the blackboard. The teacher told the children to sit down, the caretaker came in with a broom and the lesson continued. It’s almost unbelievable that children experienced such danger and then went on to live normal lives. A few years before she died, my mother experienced the inner peace that comes from knowing Jesus as Saviour. It is a wonderful thing to know that despite the scrapes, conflicts and battles, both personal and global, there is one who has gone through it all and sits at the right hand of God waiting to welcome us home when our life’s journey is done. #MiracleStreet #SteveLee
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“In attack most daring, in defence most cunning, in endurance most steadfast, they performed a feat of arms which will be remembered and recounted as long as the virtues of courage and resolution have power to move the hearts of men.” (Winston Churchill, in honour of the men of the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem.)

Operation Market Garden was a huge Allied operation to capture the key bridges in the Netherlands in September 1944. The one over the River Rhine at Arnhem was the final one on the list. The Allies would then be rattling the gates of Germany and WW2 would be over by Christmas 1944. All very simple in theory. History records what happened at Arnhem as a catastrophe. An enemy counterattack overran the British lines pushing a remnant of the British 1st Airborne Division to the town of Oosterbeek. 150 men ran for cover in the church among the candles and the pews. The commanding officer stood in the pulpit to address a most unlikely congregation with these words “We will stay here and hope, we will stick together and we will fight for our lives”. Kate ter Horst and her family lived in the Vicarage next to the church. Her daughter Sophie still lives in there today. On September 21st the church descended into full scale carnage and inside the vicarage, the furniture was thrown out into the garden. The children were then taken down into the cellar for safety while the house was transformed into an aid post. For the next four days, Kate comforted the wounded and prayed for the dying. She took water from the boiler and then the toilet to keep the men alive as she walked throughout the house reading the Bible to the soldiers. They called her the ‘Angel of Arnhem’.

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I saw a caption over an iconic photo of a Battle of Britain Spitfire Squadron that simply read “Bloody Poles coming over here protecting our homes and families” It should cut very deep for those who tolerate a convenient amnesia of the vital role that Polish pilots, along with 110,000 Gurkhas and personnel from many other nations played as they fought and died in the defence of our nation. On September 15th we remember that dangerous summer when Southern England was under tremendous aerial threat as the Battle of Britain reached its terrifying climax and dread was in the hearts of everyone. People asked “are we days away from invasion and what would happen to us and our families?” The fate of the entire free world rested on the shoulders of ‘The Few’ that daring band of Spitfire and Hurricane pilots who carried the hopes and fears of millions on their very young shoulders. Let’s never forget that without those British lads and ‘Johnny Foreigner’ who flew with them, we would be living in a very different world right now.

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September 11th 2001, a day that is now infamously known as 9/11. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were suddenly and violently attacked in perhaps the most notorious terrorist incident of them all. 2,996 people from 78 separate nations lost their lives. The images that flashed across the world that day are seared into our memories. The tragedy is that people die in wicked circumstances every day all over the world and many, if not most, are not reported. The appalling attack on America and on democracy in 2001 was truly horrendous by any standard but pain, suffering and loss mark out the human journey through this life. The questions that Christians are asked, and rightly so, by those who doubt the existence of God are difficult ones to answer but maybe there’s another angle? Being a Christian is not a cheap ticket out of this mess but an offer of a life, sometimes including pain, reconciled to the Creator God who has suffered with us.

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On 2nd June 1953 Queen Elizabeth II was crowned at the coronation at Westminster Abbey at the age of 26. Throughout her life she spoke many times of her faith in Jesus Christ and her confidence that he would lead and guide her. The hope that is found in this glorious Gospel is that God will take the helm of anyone’s life who chooses to surrender to him. It is a hope deeply rooted in the resurrection and our eternal home with God. These are the words, the Queen spoke to a waiting and watching world during her Christmas address in 2021:

“Jesus, a man whose teachings have been handed down from generation to generation, have been the bedrock of my faith.” (Queen Elizabeth II December 25th 2021)

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On September 7th 1940, London was devastated as German warplanes terrorised the city from the sky. They would return every day and every night for three months. In total, 43,000 people were killed and a million homes were destroyed. The day after Buckingham Palace was hit and King George VI narrowly escaped death, he was out on the streets standing in the rubble. As he walked through the streets of the East End in solidarity with traumatised families, he said “I am glad we have been bombed, now we can look Londoners in the face” The Bible speaks of another king who walks with us through the ashes and wreckage of our pain. His name is Jesus, he is the Saviour of the World.

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On September 2nd 1666, burning embers inside a bakery triggered a chain reaction. The resulting fire ripped the heart out of London tearing through streets and destroying thousands of homes. With no fire brigade or fire insurance, ordinary people fought the flames with buckets of water and then lived with the awful consequences of the aftermath. Most Londoners believed it was started deliberately and many vented the anger. When disaster strikes people, understandably, want to know whose fault it is and God is often blamed. Global, national and personal tragedies cannot be explained away with religious platitudes and isolated Bible verses. Jesus followers are called to walk with the hurting and be living signposts for the Gospel, pointing people to the one who has the answers to the mysteries of life. Jesus did not come to explain away suffering but to fill it with himself.

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It’s remarkable how the tragic passing of Princess Diana gripped our nation and the world 25 years ago today. The outpouring of grief at that time was unprecedented and perhaps channelled a deep sadness in the hearts of people that was beyond the loss of Diana herself. Churches were opened all over the land for people to come and connect with the sense of loss that was being expressed. Sometimes at those huge moments, masses of people resonate with the issues of life, faith in God.

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“Even though we face the difficulties of today I have a dream. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that one day black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today” (Martin Luther King - August 28th 1963)

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On August 19th 1942, 6,000 troops, the vast majority Canadian, boarded assault boats to carry out a coup de main raid on the French port of Dieppe. Within hours the catastrophic news of Operation Jubilee broke to a waiting world. Miles out at sea, the invasion fleet had been intercepted resulting in a full scale land to sea bombardment from German heavy artillery. As young lads desperately tried to get out of the landing craft the causality figures were piling up. The ramps were littered with bodies and the sea ran red at the waterline. The total number of wounded, killed and captured reached over 4,000. Tanks struggled on the shingle, unable to breach the concrete sea wall and in the air the RAF were overwhelmed resulting in the loss of 106 aircraft. An Allied attack on a fully defended port would never be attempted again.

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Maximilian Kolbe was a 47-year-old Catholic Priest died at Auschwitz Concentration Camp on August 14th 1941 in place of a Polish man who was married with children. The Jewish man survived Auschwitz and spent the rest of his life telling the story of a man who died in his place. In 1982 he stood with his wife, children and grandchildren in a crowd of 150,000 people as Pope John Paul II canonised Maximilian Kolbe and compared his sacrifice to that of Jesus 2,000 years ago.

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On Sunday August 13th 1962, the East Government proposed to erect a ‘Wall of Shame’ to protect East Berlin and East Germany from West Berlin and West Germany because it considered that the West had not been ‘de-nazified’ following WWII. 192 streets were torn up and military barricades were erected. The subway and local train service between East and West Berlin was interrupted at 9am and 60,000 commuters were refused passage into the Eastern Sector to go to work. The Berlin Wall was to become the iconic symbol of the Iron Curtain throughout the Cold War. The Bible speaks of a barrier between Heaven and Earth that Jesus destroyed on the cross. He is the Saviour of the World.


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