Monday, 20 February 2017

The Hour of Deliverance

May 4 was always a date of special significance for my father. This was the day in 1945 that he, along with many of his comrades tasted freedom after five years of captivity as a World War 2 POW. It is almost impossible to imagine the joy and relief that he must have felt at having survived.   

By the age of 26 he had witnessed and experienced more than most people see in an entire lifetime. He was a now a very different person from the idealistic 20 year old who rushed to volunteer for ‘King and Country’, prior to the outbreak of war in 1939.

Preserved by the Living God, my father returned home with an unshakeable faith in Christ, forged during five years of adversity, privation and danger. This faith was built on the many occasions in which he experienced the miraculous intervention of the righteous right hand of the Lord.

In this final extract from his book, ‘We’ve Been a Long Time Coming Boys’ my father describes his day of liberation and the subsequent return journey to his home in rural Scotland.    

“I think it was May 4th, 1945 that the long-awaited event took place. That evening our guards were on patrol round the camp and we had decided to have an early night. When daybreak came, there was no morning call. Slowly, it dawned on us that the guards had gone, like shadows in the night. As usually happens in such circumstances, some bright spark produced a two-way radio. Soon we were tuned into the advancing Allied Forces. An American patrol was quite near. Instructions were received to stay where we were. The hour of deliverance had come. That was May 5th and we waited all day, hardly daring to breathe. Then, just before midnight, a tall American soldier appeared, armed to the teeth, staggering along, obviously jolly drunk. Who cared! We rushed forward to greet him like a long-lost friend. I will never forget the guy's very first words in a deep Southern drawl. "We’ve been a long time in coming boys” he said, "but we've sure made it now".

No-one slept that night. Celebrations continued until dawn. When daybreak came at last, the scenes that followed were to be seen to be believed. On a piece of open ground outside our brickworks camp, an impromptu circus quite spontaneously began. Vehicles abandoned by the Germans appeared on every side. Lorries, vans, staff cars, combination motor-cycles, pedal bikes, even a horse ridden by a jubilant prisoner-of-war, formed up in a circle and went round and round like follow my leader, hour after hour.

How can I describe our emotions on that never-to-be-­forgotten day — excitement, tension, elation, triumph — all these and more, but always tempered with caution at the dangers all around.

Later that week, transport from the 15th Scottish regiment arrived and we were ferried away, first to Lubeck, then on to Luneberg. From there we were to wait for the Lancaster bombers to fly us home to dear old Blighty again. In a German barracks, we had the luxury of a shower, a shave, a de-louse and a set of new clothes. What an outward transformation and an inward elation was experienced that day.

Although we were assured there would be food in abundance, some men lit fires on the parade ground, and began to cook food plundered from houses in Rastow, where we had been released. Even now, they could not grasp the fact that we would have food enough and to spare from the British Army Catering Corps…………

Next morning we were on the tarmac, waiting for our four­-engined taxis to arrive. There were 400 flights from Luneberg to England that day and all free. When our turn came to get aboard, I carefully eyed our Lancaster machine. I'd never been close to one before, and it seemed a pretty patched-up job. On its side were painted ninety-eight little bombs plus four pictures of parcels of food. That was the number of its sorties over enemy territory, but none of us cared. Our only thought was the fact that we were on our way home.

It took nearly three hours before we touched down at Stafford in England. The plane seemed to wag its tail all the way, and being at that end, I was very sick, but also very care­free. When at last we climbed out on British soil, some men got down on their knees and kissed the ground. A reception party of W.A.A.F. girls was awaiting our arrival. The first thing I said to my rather attractive escort was, “Do you realise I haven't spoken to an English girl for more than five years?” I doubt if she grasped the significance of what I said, but for me, they were my “famous first words”.

That afternoon, we were transferred south to a camp in Surrey, and then put on a train for home. Never was there such joy as on that journey. Every village and town we passed through seemed to know who we were. Women waved their dish-towels from their kitchen windows. Men took off their caps and threw them into the air. It was a magnificent Welcome Home.

I think the highlight of that day for me was passing slowly through York Station. On the platform stood a Salvation Army Band, and what were they playing? I could hardly believe my ears. It was the theme tune of my very first sermon in our prisoner-of-war camp, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. . . . Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life...” I must admit it brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.

When we crossed the Border, my heart missed a beat. We were in Scotland at last. Five-and-a-half years had come and gone since we had left our native heath. Looking back now, we seemed to have been mere boys then, with little or no experience of life, especially in time of war.

As our train rumbled on, my mind recalled those long weary years; memories of excitement, of heartbreak, of tensions, of terror — you name it, we had felt it all. The salt taste in one's mouth when confronted with death. Here was a sure sign of real fear. Nights without sleep, days without peace, with neither food nor drink nor rest; these were the things we all had to endure, and now we who had come back were no longer mere boys but grown men.

At last, we arrived at Waverley Station in Edinburgh, and those going on north had to change trains. Aberdeen, Banff, Keith, Dufftown, Aberlour — names such as these and many more were being whispered in the night air.

Cautiously, even fearfully, we got down from our train. What a shock! The scene that met our eyes there, I can never forget — the platform mobbed with spectators (they somehow knew we were here), the blue dimness of the black­out, the electric eerie silence, the shuffling of our feet. No one spoke. Everyone just looked. People were pressing towards us, peering into our faces. As we trailed slowly along, single file, I was terrified. Perhaps someone would know me — maybe Uncle Bert. Suddenly, right behind me, a woman screamed “Wullie!” That was all. No “Hullos” or “How are you?”, just one word — “Wullie”.

No words of mine-could add to that. Reunions, loved ones, friends, the joy of freedom, the thoughts of being home, I could not describe these things to anyone, but she did — in one word — His name, Wullie! That said it all.

I have little memory of our night ride northwards from Edinburgh. Some of us changed at Aberdeen Joint Station, waving our comrades goodbye, and continuing further on. At Craigellachie I was the only person to get off the train. The time was around 8 a.m. Now only two miles from Aberlour, my own home village, I was quite uncertain what to do. I hadn't even been in contact with my parents to say I was on my way home. How stupid I had become after all these years as a prisoner-of-war! After all, a quick phone call home would have brought my father with all speed to pick me up in his motor-car.

As I stood on the little railway platform, wondering how to go about things now, a postman, loading mail on to his G.P.O. van, asked where I was going. When I told him, he offered to take me to his destination — Aberlour Post Office. There I left him and set off up the High Street, heading for ‘Benview House’, my home.

What do you do at such a time when you reach your own house door? Ring the bell or knock? I just turned the handle, walked straight in and called “Anyone there?” What a greeting after all those years. A frail old lady rushed towards me — my Mother! I hardly knew her. Then, down the stairs, face covered with shaving soap — my Dad. What a reunion that was!”

 
The greatest and most well known Psalm in the Bible is Psalm 23. My father often quoted verses from it in his preaching.  For him it described his personal experience of the ‘Good Shepherd’ during the war years and beyond.  

 

The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters.

 

He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

My cup runs over.

 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Forever.

 

We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’ by Charles Morrison, Published by Albyn Press ISBN 0284 98840 5

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