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D-Day and it's Connection to Cleveleys: Love Triumphs Over Evil

May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we are commemorating a momentous day in the life of our nation, because 80 years ago, on the blood-soaked beaches of Normandy, a huge cost was paid by men and women fighting to free Europe and the world from the oppression and evil of the nazi war machine and its awful ideology.

Those sacrifices had to be made because over a number of years prior to the war the nazis had, through their violence and their evil ideology, managed to poison the minds of the German people to do two fundamental things that spelt doom for many innocent lives across the world. Simply, the nazis managed to convince Germans to give up on God and to give up on neighbour.  They convinced people to give up on God, so that they had no moral boundaries and evil was able to spread. Next they taught that neighbours, like the jews, the disabled, the Slavic, like whoever, were inferior to their ideal of the Aryan master race and all others should be destroyed and of course so many innocent lives were lost to this evil. This great evil spread like fire among dry straw. Evil had become mainstream, the lights in Europe went out, the world plunged into war and it seemed for a time that evil would win the day. The world had become so dark. The evils of fascism, forgetting neighbour and God, had led to perhaps the darkest time in human history.

For the people living at the time, it must have been awful. This great evil rising and seeming quite impossible to stop. But for freedom and love of neighbour, many stood up to the evil oppression of that day and on the beaches of Normandy, the tide turned. As the sun rose on the 6th June 1944, as battle and blood were to soak the sands of that shore, freedom was being won at great cost. Many of these unsung heroes who paid so high a price are gradually being forgotten in the mists of time as the last survivors of that conflict reach their 100th birthday or beyond. This morning, I want to tell you about one of these people, quickly being forgotten. He was a young naval officer called Sub-Lieutenant Frank Hastings Harvey. Frank, you see had joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as the war started, leaving his job at NatWest Bank in Preston to sign up. He was to see action in Norway, off Madagascar and in the invasion of North Africa, often piloting landing craft for the troops. He survived being torpedoed twice. He was considered, due to his great age of 26, to be an old, experienced veteran compared to many. On D-Day he was in command of Landing Craft LCS-S-524 bringing soldiers to Sword Beach. He commented to the commanding officer of the troops as they waited for the signal to attack, that he hoped that this would mark the beginning of the end of this awful war. At 8:46 that morning, his landing craft came under attack, and despite taking several direct hits, wounding some of the soldiers, he successfully got the uninjured troops ashore. Turning back, taking the wounded for treatment, LCS-S-524 took a direct hit a few miles from the beach, from the German artillery guns. Nearly all the men on-board died including Sub-Lieutenant Frank. His was one of 6 landing crafts sunk that day. His Commanding Officer, after the war wrote to the admiralty to commend Frank for an award, writing ‘this young officer’s conduct throughout the passage and while under fire was exemplary, and a fine example to his young crew, many of whom were in action for the first time’.

Frank was to pay the ultimate price for freedom and for neighbour. In our reading today we hear Jesus talking about what is most important, which the nazis manipulated many to forget. Jesus said the most important commandments are “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ The price to fight evil in the world has always been enshrined in these central commands, to love God and neighbour. Jesus doesn’t say they are central because they are nice, but because they are vital to human flourishing. Read any history you like, it is when at least one of these two things are forgotten that evil dictators or ideologies arise. It was men like Frank who paid with his own life for the love of neighbour, to do his part to see the end of nazi evil in Europe that we commemorate today. And it is right that we strive never to forget.

His parents, grieving for the sacrifice their son made, worshipped in this church and our beautiful east window, with the risen Christ in the middle has these famous words so often used in funerals inscribed. They are the promise of Jesus and shining with the light of the sun for nearly 80 years it says ‘I go to prepare a place for you’ the truth that for Frank and all those who trust in Christ, death, even death in the awfulness of D-day was not the end, that there is a truth that no evil can ever overtake. That evil has had its day and its defeat is coming swiftly.  

As we remember Frank and his many comrades who died this day on the beaches of Normandy for the cause of love of neighbour and of freedom, as we rightly remember the turning of the tide against the evils of the nazis, we owe it to Frank and that generation to work for love of God and neighbour. Today, once again, there are evil men bringing war in Europe. Once again, there is a rise in intolerance and hate of others. Once again, people are forgetting love of God and neighbour. The world is forgetting the great price a lasting peace after World War 2 cost so many. Our job, it seems to me, if we do not wish to see the next generation need to make a similar sacrifice, both home and abroad, is to stand up to evil with the light of love. Because when we do, when the light of Christ, the light of love shines brightly, there is no darkness that can ever be great enough to overcome it.

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