A most interesting, and oddly fulfilling, afternoon.
I agreed to accompany Revd Nathan, his wife and a couple of people to the care home at Woodby Chapel End. There are many interesting things – such as the resident chaplain – that I could discuss another day. But let us stick with the main theme of today, which is the short service we led for them.
There was nothing too demanding – three old hymns, a reading, a sermon from Mr Slope, the chaplain, and the Lord’s Prayer. During the reading and the sermon, it was terribly distracting – many of the old people were burbling and stuff, and there was one old bloke – ninety if a day – who just kept shouting, “Get down! Tank’s copped it! We’re going to have to go back to Luc-sur-mer!”
I found afterwards that he had landed on Sword Beach on that fateful day in 1944. Ever since, he’d kept quiet about it. But as he had slipped into senility, the summer of 1944 – from Sword and, gradually and in great danger, taking Caen and then up out of Normandy – replayed in his mind over and over again.
Visiting this home isn’t a hobby, nor an interesting one-off sight-seeing visit – for the people from the church – they go there every month for this service. Some of them go there every week, taking home communion. They don’t get much out of it, I would guess – except the reward that spending time with someone that needs it, gives.
And the old chap who fought in the war – held his song book upside down. Knew every hymn, word perfect, regardless. As we sang it, I wondered why one of those hymns was “For those in peril on the sea”. But then I realised why, as he sat upright in his chair, sang each word out with gusto, and gazed past the candle on the table, past the wall of that little dinner room, past three-quarters of a century and all the way back to the mates he’d crossed the Channel with.
Goodness knows if I can face going through that again next month. But I’m glad I did, this time.