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King's College Chapel services

This is Remembrance Sunday, the nearest Sunday to the old Armistice Day of World War 1, when all British people paused for 2 minutes at 11.00 in the morning of 11 November, to remember with pride and thanksgiving all those who had given their lives in that war.

Now, nearly 90 years later, we meet in places of worship throughout the kingdom to commemorate with gratitude those who by their lives and works have enabled us through wars to enjoy a more settled and peaceful existence.

  • My first recollection of a Remembrance Day Service is from 1929, when I was a boy chorister at Westminster Abbey. There we gathered round the beautifully engraved memorial stone in the Nave, beneath which lies the body of a soldier of unknown origin, who was killed in the fighting between 1914 and 1918. There we would sing beside the grave, while elderly mourners joined in worship, I remember a clergyman saying that all who died in that war should be remembered with pride and thanksgivings, for the war which ended in 1918 was a “war to end all wars.”
  • On leaving Westminster Abbey in 1934 I won a musical scholarship to Clifton College. There my studies were supervised by a remarkable man call Douglas Fox. Having been an Oxford Organ Scholar, and a major prize-winner to the Royal College of Music, he undoubtedly had a prestigious musical career ahead of him. The answer was No, because in 1917 he lost his right arm in battle. He became a brilliant teacher, and I have always been grateful for all that he gave me. I wondered whether he ever realised my gratitude. I never once heard him complain about the loss of his arm. Years later in 1954, I conducted a concert at Worcester during a Three Choirs Festival, at which Douglas Fox brilliantly played the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand with the London Symphony Orchestra. This concert was broadcast for the world to hear.
  • In 1938 I won the organ scholarship at this College, and was told that I could start in September 1939. In August of that year, war was declared with Germany, and I and many contemporaries were told that we could be in residence here until May 1940.

    The first months of the war were relatively quiet, with the British Expeditionary Force, manning with the French army, the Maginot Line, which had been built to face the German front line. Suddenly in May 1940 everything changed, for the German army made a sudden attack on the west by ploughing through Holland and Belgium. The British Army had perforce to retreat to England, whilst France was divided and occupied by the Germans.

    At that time we all recognised the enormous debt that we owed to our navy and merchant seamen; and to our air forces who through the Battle of Britain in September 1940 maintained our air superiority, stemming the imminent threat of invasion.
  • The next four years (1940-1944) were very important for our war effort, for in 1940 Hitler attacked Russia, and in December 1941 the Japanese destroyed the greater part of the USA fleet at Pearl Harbour in Honolulu. These two great events meant that the British Commonwealth and France were no longer alone in the war. We now had the vast resources of Russia and the United States with us.

    During these four years our combined forces were engaged in defending our overseas territories. My elder brother served in the RAF in Africa and Italy. My younger brother served in the Army in the Far East, facing the aggressive Japanese who were working their way south. He was taken prisoner on Christmas Day 1941 in Hong Kong. He remained in prison camp until the end of the war. He was one of the minority who survived though with impaired health. For four years my parents had no news of him, for the Japanese would not allow correspondence to be forwarded by the Red Cross.
  • At last in June 1944, the greatest combined operation took place when large forces from USA, Canada and Britain invaded Normandy. My unit was quickly in action, and suffered many casualties, dead and wounded. I remember particularly, our three gallant Commanding Officers. The first was shot firing an anti-tank gun. The second was killed as he climbed a tree. The third (Colonel George Taylor) survived until the end of the European fighting.
  • In September 1944, General Bernard Montgomery devised a bold plan, to drop over 30,000 combined airforce fighters over a Dutch town some 60 miles over the new border at Arnhem. It was an ill-fated decision, which led to many casualties. I returned to Arnhem last year to meet the residents of that brave town. There, every year since the war ended in 1945, a Dutch child stands by each grave in the war cemetery near Arnhem. Whispering the name engraved on the stone, the child lays down a bunch of flowers. Knowing the suffering of the Dutch people from starvation and exposure that winter, the continuation of this ceremony is all the more remarkable.
  • The war in Europe ended in May 1945, but the war against Japan was still proceeding. Many of us were worried we should soon be shipped off to the Far East. It came as an enormous surprise when atomic bombs were dropped on Horoshima and Nagasaki and within a few days the Japanese surrendered. Thousands of lives were lost by that action, but thousands of others, including that of my brother, were saved.
  • My talk today has been related to those who either died, or were wounded during World War II. Since 1945, there have been and still are, important battles being fought for noble causes: for example, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, the Falklands, the Gulf, and Afghanistan.
  • Before finishing this address, I wish to call to mind two great British composers, who have greatly enriched our lives. The two men were Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten. Both of them held beliefs which led them to oppose the use of arms. Sticking to those beliefs constituted courage.
  • My final words are from the poetry of Wilfred Owen:

    My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do is warn.