Sunday, October 25, 2009

High Flight and the Battle of Britain

There is a wonderful passage of scripture that came into my heart and my mind today during the Sabbath services at our ward today.  None of the speakers or teachers uttered it.  I felt it deeply within my soul:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.  Amen.  (Moroni 7:48).

The Savior is the perfect example of persisting in love and patience.  Despite the destruction of much of the Nephite civilization prior to His appearance at the temple in the land Bountiful, the Savior spoke to the survivors -- the "more righteous part of the people who were saved:"

And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.  O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.  (3 Nephi 10:5-6).

I'm not certain when it occurred to me, but it was later in my life than I would like to admit.  The reality was gradually borne in upon my soul as I witnessed the carnage and wreckage in the lives of so many whom I have loved over the years.  In mortality we become unwilling witnesses to a lot of breakage.  Many, ignorant of the consequences of breaking the commandments, have willfully stampeded through the china shop carelessly crashing into fragile testimonies and the faithfulness of those around them who cry out in their souls that their loved ones might be spared the anguish of sin.  Parents and spouses suffer painfully and vicariously as innocent bystanders.  Sometimes the pain is so severe hope wanes then flickers out. 

The thought that came to me somewhere along the path of discipleship was this:  There is none who will inherit the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom except repentant sinners -- none.

It is for this reason alone, I believe, that Latter-day Saints are so optimistic.  Our hearts are routinely filled with hope in the anticipation that whatever tethers and binds us down today, the bounds and bonds of earth life can be transcended in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, hope in His perfection and complete forgiveness as we seek repentance.

The poem, High Flight, has over the years become a mantra to pilots.  It could likewise become the mantra of faithful saints living in the latter days.  It is reproduced here as a tribute to, and in memory of not only pilots of all generations, but more importantly to parents of wayward children or the partners of wayward spouses who may have strayed for a season.  Even the prodigals and their parents and spouses all have claim upon the hope that they may soar to unimaginable heights in the hope that one day, someday, we shall all stand before the Savior not only to see Him but to become like Him.

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee
No 412 Squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941

The Battle of Britain

In the darkest hour for Britain of World War II, the combined squadrons of the RAF engaged the awesome air power of the mighty German Luftwaffe to defend the free world against the forces of tyranny arrayed against England.  The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and was the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign up until that date.  From July 1940, coastal shipping convoys and shipping centers, such as Portsmouth were the main targets.  One month later the Luftwaffe shifted its attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure.  As the battle progressed the Luftwaffe also targeted aircraft factories and ground infrastructure.  Eventually the Luftwaffe resorted to attacking areas of political significance and using terror bombing tactics.

The failure of Germany to achieve its objectives of destroying Britain's air defenses, or forcing Britain to negotiate an armistice or an outright surrender is considered both its first major defeat and one of the crucial turning points in the war.  If Germany had gained air superiority, Adolf Hitler might have launched Operation Sealion, an amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain.

The lesson from history is clear.  Following the evacuation of British and French soldiers from Dunkirk and the French surrender on June 22, 1940, Hitler believed the Second World War was practically over.  He also badly "misunderestimated" the British resolve to oppose his evil designs.  He thought the British people would quickly come to terms.  

Although the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, and an element of British public and political sentiment favored a negotiated peace with an ascendant Germany, Winston Churchill, newly installed as Prime Minister, and a majority of his Cabinet refused to consider an armistice with Hitler.  Instead, Churchill used his skillful rhetoric to harden public opinion against capitulation, and to prepare the British for a long war.
It is a testament to the courage of the men in these bomber, reconnaissance and Coastal Command units that they continued to operate throughout these months with little respite and with little of the publicity accorded to Fighter Command.  In his famous August 20, 1940, speech about "The Few," praising Fighter Command, Churchill also made a point to mention Bomber Command's contribution, adding that bombers were even then striking back at Germany; this part of the speech is often overlooked.  The Battle of Britain Chapel in Westminster Abbey lists in a Roll of Honor 718 Bomber Command crew members, and 280 from Coastal Command who were killed between July 10 and October 31, 1940.
Fighter Command was so successful that the conclusion to Churchill's famous "Battle of Britain" speech made in the House of Commons on June 18, 1841, has come to refer solely to them:  ". . . if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"
The British triumph in the Battle of Britain was won at a heavy cost.  Total British civilian losses from July to December 1940, were 23,002 dead and 32,138 wounded.  One of the largest single raids on December 19, 1940, claimed lives of 3,000 civilians.

Winston Churchill summed up the effect of the battle and the contribution of Fighter Command with the words, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."  Pilots who fought in the Battle have been known as The Few ever since.  Battle of Britain Day is commemorated in the United Kingdom on September 15th each year.

At the conclusion of today's gospel doctrine lesson in our ward about temple work, Jim Clegg stated that his brother, Terry R. Clegg, now serving with his wife Melodee as the President of the MTC in Preston, England, had been instrumental in having the temple ordinances performed for those brave RAF pilots in the Battle of Britain who stood at the gates of hell and repelled the forces of evil during that summer of 1940.
When he told that story, I was filled with thoughts of the fates of the Luftwaffe pilots.  Who would see to it that their temple work was done?  I was immediately assured there can be little doubt about the eternal opportunities of those unmentioned Luftwaffe pilots.  One day, someday, if not already, the names of the German Luftwaffe pilots will also be taken through the temples of God on the earth by proxies.  Such will be the case for the Japanese Kamikaze pilots who later bombed Pearl Harbor and brought America into the extended war.  All the perpetrators of injustice, tyranny and oppression -- even all of them -- will have their chance in the spirit world to partake of the fruit of the tree of life.  It is an absolute certainty that God loves all His children and will indiscriminately bless them all with the chance to receive all the ordinances of salvation without exception.
For these and a billion more reasons unuttered in my heart, I believe in God our Heavenly Father, in the vast and boundless redemptive power of His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost who sheds the light of these truths throughout the earth today.  Heavenly Father never gives up on the redemption of His children, nor should we. 
Hope on, pray on, then stand by and observe the miracles God will yet bring to pass in the lives of your families.

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