Time does not fade the painful memories of war. There are some events you never forget. The Second World War is one of mine. Britain was a country at war. Coupons were passed out to purchase basic foods such as butter, tea, eggs and bread. I remember standing in a food queue for hours just to be told they had run out of items and to come back another day. If you were fortunate, you might get some “offal” (liver, kidneys, tripe, etc.) for your family. Working as a hospital nurse, the home sister collected our coupons, but we coped with shortages.
My husband and I were married at the beginning of the war. He was a flight engineer in the RAF, so we knew we wouldn’t have much time together. Since he was just one of many fighting for freedom, we learned to accept that. At one point, we pooled our money to visit my in-laws in Glasgow, Scotland. While en route by train, sirens went off at Newcastle. The engine driver shunted the train into a tunnel and there we waited for the railway line to be repaired. We shared what food we could find. The local Salvation Army choir brought us the food that had been intended for their lunch at the church hall. Twenty hours later, with repairs made, we continued on to Glasgow, tired, dirty and hungry, but safe.
Leaving the local general hospital, I was posted to a soldiers’ emergency hospital. It was here that my Christian faith was severely tested. How could a loving God allow such suffering, maiming and death? After dressing the wound of a young Canadian soldier I asked if he wanted anything else. With tears he said: “I want my mom. She would pray that I will be better.” Although I had been feeling that God was far away, I prayed that God would help him withstand the pain. He died the next day during surgery. Off duty I wept for him and was angry with God for allowing him to die. God reminded me of His words: “I will never leave you.” I received God’s forgiveness and comfort.
Coventry, England, was bombed three nights in a row causing unbelievable damage and loss of lives. Most of the cathedral was destroyed by fire. Today, a new cathedral has been built around the remains of the old cathedral on which the words “Father, forgive them” are still visible. On the third night of that blitz, many medical personnel continued to work with little sleep. After being relieved from duty, I heard a young girl crying in the emergency ward. When I asked if she was hurt, she showed me an old rag doll from under the blanket, saying: “See what the bad man did to my baby.” The doll’s leg was almost off. I took a clothespeg from my pocket and attached it with a safety pin. She happily took the little doll and hugged it. I didn’t know why the child was in the hospital but later discovered that her little legs were smashed. Forgetting I was going home to rest, I sat with her. She told me she had to go to sleep. She never opened her eyes again. Many of her family members and neighbours were killed during that bombing.
London was badly damaged in the blitz and hundreds died. Streets were blacked out and the home guard on patrol ensured that no lights were burning to help the enemy target their sites. At the sound of sirens, all traffic stopped and everyone ran to the nearest air-raid shelter. Life was not all gloom and sadness but went on much as usual. Everybody had to do war work, even seniors who manned canteens.
In speaking to a fellow Christian who was a bomber, I asked: “How can you bomb innocent civilians? German mothers love their children, also.” He answered: “Do you like your freedom? Remember we are fighting for that liberty and unfortunately some have to suffer for that.”
One day I received a telegram from the war office stating that the ship, on which my husband and hundreds of others were travelling, was missing. Although broken-hearted, I had to continue working.
A few months later, our local Salvation Army officer came to me with a letter from Australia to say that my husband was alive. The ship had been damaged but the captain was able to take evasive action and sailed into a safe haven.
These many years later, I am still trusting God. I am proud to be a Canadian, even though I have strong ties to my native and beloved Britain. When we celebrate Remembrance Day on November 11, I thank God for those who make my freedom possible. When I hear that well-beloved poem In Flanders Fields I, too, say, “we will remember them.”
Article by Lillian Trainor