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

Available on Amazon and Ebay.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

No Escape

Today, many who claim to be Christians say that real answers to prayer rarely happen in contemporary life yet accept by faith the fact of answered prayer in the Bible. From where I stand, there is no question that the Living God answers the prayers of His people, often in the most surprising and dramatic ways. My own father proved this many times during his years of captivity as a POW, and I have personally experienced many wonderful answers to prayer in my own life.

Indeed my father always attributed his deliverance to the Living God facilitated by the faithful prayers of his own father. His dad met with the Revd Harry Stoddart, the Aberlour Free Church Minister to pray for his safe return. These men ‘prayed without ceasing’ meeting every morning at 7am between 1940 and 1945.

This penultimate extract from his wartime retrospective, ‘We’ve Been a Long Time Coming Boys’ amply illustrates the power of prayer to preserve and deliver the believer from danger.      

“I HAVE OFTEN BEEN ASKED about attempts to escape, and have always had to admit that I never had a go. To my mind, it seemed a pointless and highly dangerous operation, and was not for me. However, there was one occasion when I made my escape, in more ways than one.

As always, our day began with the short march from our temporary billet to Rastow village, and from there on to work on Ludwigslust railway station. This day, however, our normal routine was to be changed. Allied aircraft had bombed the main Berlin/Hamburg line some miles out of town, and urgent repairs were required. At once a party of prisoners was organised to go out and fill in the freshly-made holes. For some reason, I decided to join this special task-force, and so, we set off with an engine, two wagons of sand and a covered-in truck full of shovels and men. Before we reached the place where work was to begin, our train suddenly stopped.

Wondering what was going on, I looked out the right-hand sliding door of our coach. Overhead I could see a squadron of our own fighter-bombers circling slowly around in the morning sun. Quite clearly they were having a good look at us and I hoped that an attack was not on. All at once, they went into a line-ahead formation and I knew that the worst had come. Down they dived on us, guns blazing, and bombs screaming from the sky. I saw a civilian jump from our train and throw himself flat on the ground. Instinctively I copied him. That man, unconsciously, saved my life. Had I run, as I was tempted to do, I most certainly would have been killed. A split-second later, a bomb exploded beside us, throwing its deadly shrapnel into the air. A colleague who leapt from the left-hand door, caught the full blast of a second bomb, and was instantly killed.

From the sound of their engines, I knew that the aircraft were climbing up again to come in for a second attack. In panic, I got up, determined to run this time, and went head-over-­heels into the bomb crater. I can still see the bomb nose-cap sticking out of the ground and the smoke from the explosion all around. Picking myself up, I took off again like a hare, intent on getting as far away as I could, for quite clearly we were going to be for it again. Those R.A.F. “fools” up there. Could they not see they were actually bombing their own men! Wheeling into the sun as they always did, they dived on us once more. After several more such attacks, they seem to have decided they had given us enough, re-grouped and set off for home.

Now, our work-party was scattered all over the fields, quite some distance from our train. Several of our men said they had no intentions of returning to work that day. I heartily agreed and a few of us got together and set off to where, we did not know. Gradually however, as often happens, first one then another changed their minds and decided to go back to the guards until, in the end, I found myself alone.

Stumbling aimlessly along across the open field, at length, I came on a branch railway-line, heading away from town. I decided to follow it — it mattered not where. And so, I had escaped, setting off with a spring in my step. Now I was free —free as the wind. As I kept walking on like the old song about “Felix the Cat”, which my older readers will know, I passed a civilian concentration camp close to my railway-track. Little did I imagine that we would find 600 unburied dead in that camp when we were liberated some six weeks later.

As I debated in my fuddled mind what to do next, I suddenly realised that, along the line on which I was walking, three armed German soldiers were coming my way. I could see that the railway ran absolutely straight for about a mile ahead. Moreover, there was no cover whatsoever in which to hide. What to do? I just kept walking towards them and, as I walked, boy did I pray! As the distance narrowed between us, I could see they had started a discussion. Perhaps they were wondering what their tactics would be. As for me I just kept on walking. When about five yards apart, the three soldiers paused, and their leader spoke: “Bonjour, Monsieur”. I did not let him say any more, but quickly replied, “Bonjour Messieurs”, smiled faintly and walked right through their ranks. They seemed to hesitate for a moment, then let me pass. I presume they must have decided I was a Frenchman, perhaps a prisoner on parole. I could not for the life of me imagine where they thought I was either coming from or going. As for me, I just said, “Thank you” to God that my French had been good enough to carry me through.

For most of the day, I walked along the track, neither knowing nor caring where it would lead me. Finally, to my surprise, I recognised our old barn and the familiar village of Rastow. All unknown I had been walking the line we travelled each morning to work. Any other branch line could have led me to goodness knows where. I have often heard of someone attempting to break out of prison but this was ridiculous. I had decided to break in. I could see the perimeter fence was still patrolled by our guards. Waiting my chance, I made a dash for it, got inside unnoticed and lay down on the ground with a group of sick men. What else could I have done? Walk all the way home? Later in the evening, our working party arrived from Ludwigslust to report, “one man killed and one man missing”. The missing man? Yes, I was he.”

My father entered World War 2 as a nominal Christian. Through his five years of captivity in the ‘furnace of affliction’ he came to lean wholly on the Lord Jesus. In doing so, he came have complete confidence in his Heavenly Father who was his protector and deliverer.

In his Epistle, the Apostle John emphasizes the confidence and comfort of prayer which is available to anyone who puts their trust in the Living God:    


‘And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.’ 1 John 5:14-15

 

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

Available from Amazon and on Ebay.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Miracle

Reports of miracles are often greeted with cynicism and disdain these days, particularly when reported in the media. A prime cause of this state of affairs has been the fake healings through the fake ministries of the pseudo apostles and prophets now blighting the church worldwide. Sadly this has served to obscure the fact that the Living God still heals and acts miraculously today.

When he was a POW during World War 2, my late father proved many times that the Living God was his comforter, protector, defender and healer. On numerous occasions, although weak in faith, my father called on the Lord through prayer, and was always answered, sometimes in the most unusual and miraculous ways.

He survived the infamous ‘death march’ of late winter 1945 to tell the tale, preserved by the grace and the strong miraculous hand of the living God. Many years later, he recalled these experiences in his retrospective of World War 2: ‘We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’.    

“SIX DAYS before the end of our 700 kilometre hike, my own faith was to be put to the test. Apart from hunger, thirst, cold and exhaustion, I had till now had a comfortable ride compared to some. Whether the day that I carried Joe's luggage as well as my own had any effect on me, I cannot say. Certainly I would not blame him for what was to happen to me.

With over 600 kilometres behind us, I suddenly had problems with my left leg. Every step of the way, it was getting more painful until a point came when I could go no further. I stopped and sat down at the side of the road. Bob arrived and we had a “council of war” about my problem. We knew that Dr Rose, an Army doctor, was with us now, but, this day, he had gone on ahead. However, there was usually a horse and wagon at the end of the column and I told Bob and Joe to go on. I would see them when we bedded down at night. So, they two set off again, and I was left alone.

As I sat there, the endless stream of humanity kept passing me by. Nobody really cared. At last, the sick wagon appeared and my spirits rose. Alas, it was jam-packed with other men who had hitched a lift. Now I felt really alone. Eventually, the road became completely empty, except for a German guard, stupidly waving about his automatic Tommy-gun. The equiva­lent of the school attendance officer, he made himself quite clear, shouting “Get up and go!” After we had exchanged a few angry words and he had done his own version of a war dance, Tommy-gun and all, he decided he would leave me in the ditch to die. No Good Samaritan act with him, I'm afraid. He just turned on his heel and hurried away. What was I to do now? I had nearly forgotten. I could do nothing — that is, except pray. For maybe ten minutes, I went through the ritual, perhaps a waste of time to some folks, but I just prayed and prayed. Then, it dawned on me that I should expect an answer. After all, you don't pick up the phone at home and speak to yourself. You expect “Someone” at the other end to reply —and reply, He certainly did. In simple faith, I got up from that ditch and put my foot to the ground. The pain was gone! I picked up my kit-bag and set off, like a scalded cat. Soon, I saw the sick wagon. I overtook that, ignored it, caught the end of the column, thumbed my nose at my Tommy-gun school attendance officer, caught up with Joe and Bob, who stared open-mouthed at me and, at nightfall, was at the front of the column. Later, when my friends eventually trailed home, I had selected a place in the Dutch barn and was waiting for them at the door. Do you believe in miracles? I certainly do.

It will never cease to amaze me how feeble my faith was. Next morning, I gingerly put my foot to the ground. “Oh ye of little faith”. There was no pain. But then, doubts began to flood my mind. You see, as a boy, I had trouble with my left instep. This could have been the cause of my problem, or so I now thought. Perhaps, it would trouble me again and I would be stranded and next time, no help would come.

During the next few days, I had no problems with my leg, I must admit, but always some niggling little doubts kept passing through my mind. Eventually, however, unknown to us at the time, we reached the end of our long march at a village called Rastow. Next day, we were despatched by train to work at the neighbouring town of Ludwigslust on the main Berlin-Hamburg railway line. At once, we could see that the station had taken a good old hammering from the Allied bombers. Soon, I was on the prowl amongst the wreckage looking for food. Wandering into the remains of the station-master's house, guess what I found! I found an arch-support for a left foot, exactly the size I needed for that foot I feared might trouble me again. Yes! I do believe in miracles, to be sure. That day on which I sat in the ditch, unable to walk, I felt like a boxer down on the floor, nearly out but “saved by the bell”. In answer to my prayer for help at that time, I was saved by the bell all right — the telephone bell up there in Heaven.”

I recall that when my father prayed, he did so in a simple manner, using language which was clear, direct and to the point. I am sure that in many crisis situations during his captivity these prayers would have similar to those which are recorded in the Psalms:

“Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer” Psalm 4:1

“Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy”. Psalm 64:1

The great evangelist, C.H. Spurgeon said: ‘A true prayer is an inventory of needs, a catalog of necessities, an exposure of secret wounds, a revelation of hidden poverty’.

Feeble though they often were, my father’s prayers during the years of his captivity were truly ‘a revelation of hidden poverty’ which the living God always answered in abundance.

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

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Right Choice!

The winter of 1944-45 was one of the coldest and most severe on record for eastern Europe. Yet it was on 16th February 1945 that my late father and his fellow prisoners were ordered to begin what became known as the ‘death march’. Forced onwards by their German captors, the inmates of the POW camp at Quadendorff joined the endless mass of humanity heading west to escape the clutches of the advancing Red Army.
 My father lived to tell the tale, preserved by the grace of the living God, he went on to write about his experiences in his retrospective of World War 2: ‘We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’.  

 
“ONE THING I was soon to learn during our 700 kilometre march from Danzig in Poland to Rastow in West Germany was that there is a world of difference between muscular strength and physical stamina. Big Joe had far greater strength than I had, but he was a bit short in stamina. For some reason the Lord endowed me with a lot of stamina and I was able to keep going when Joe was on his knees. In fact, later on, he was really ill and only the skill and good judgment of Bob McCallum, our R.A.M.C. pal, saved him. It was then I was able to carry Joe's kit-bag as well as my own for the most part of a day, while Bob encouraged Joe along. I felt Joe never quite recovered from that faint and while we were all struggling at times, he seemed to suffer more from fatigue and cold than some of us. I realised he was already in bad shape and, at times, I had to pray hard for us both. I knew he had learned to put a call up to Heaven as well, and he did, when things got rough.

The next entry on the fly-leaf of my old Bible says it all. It reads like this “Karthaus to Dubrowa — 30 kilometres”, and then only one word — icy. It always surprises me that certain incidents continually stick in the memory, while other events disappear and may only flash back when circumstances bring them from your less sensitive memory-store. That this day was yet another nightmare, I am absolutely sure. To be aroused from a faint in the morning, as Joe did and then walk that distance, would have been a pretty heroic effort in ordinary conditions. But these were no ordinary times. To cross the road on ice these days is a hazard, but imagine thirty kilometres of slipping and falling, dragging one another to our feet again, leg muscles taut, as they always are in such conditions, and you will get some idea what happened to us all that day. The schedule was to start at first light. Thankfully, for Joe and me it began with hot tea and was to end sixteen hours later, with again, no break for food, rest or drink. At the last climb up a steep hill, I can remember Joe saying as he began to lag behind, “I don't know where you are getting your strength from, Johnny”. (He called me Souter Johnny, thanks to Bob McCallum, a Rabbie Burns fan from Ayr). I said in all serious­ness, “Joe, I'm getting my strength from the Lord and that's for sure.”

Reflecting on that long march, I feel that there was another source of inspiration in the minds of most of us now. We were marching West after five long years and were, we knew, heading for home. That was the thought that kept some of us going. Otherwise, we might have packed in, as some tragically did on those first days of really tough going through the snow. In fact, out of our party of Quadendorf lads, we did lose one out of the sixteen. Sadly, we learned some time later that Ronald Gearing, affectionately known to us as the Doctor, after Dr Joseph Goebbels, did not make it, but died on the road before we reached home.

But here I am straying into side pastures again, when I should perhaps be ploughing straight on with my tale. How Joe and I and Bob McCallum, who joined us, got through that day, I will never know. We just kept coaxing one another on, either by threats or by jokes, the latter becoming less frequent while the former increased in power. I think Bob and I had the advantage over Joe because we were both thin as rakes and Joe, although thin, was by nature heavily built. I sometimes wondered if his body needed more fuel than ours.

Around supper time, about seven pm in the evening, there was a jam-up of traffic and we had to stop. There is always a smart guy in a motley crowd of men as we were, and as we paused in our slippery journey, the wise fellow in our ranks noticed a little house with a garden on our left. In the garden, there stood an ancient water-pump, the hand-driven type. Here was a source of something to drink at least, if it was not frozen up. At once our entrepreneur unlatched the garden gate and had a look at the old pump. He tried the handle and it moved. Then, as he pushed it up and down with all his might, some precious water gushed out of the spout. Clearly, however, it was not a one-man job, because you could not work the handle and reach the water at the same time. Consequently, there was a rush of volunteers to help, mainly to catch the water, not to work the pump. Leaving Joe and Bob with the crowd, I made a dive in the direction of the water supply, but, of course, no-one wanted to give me any help. All at once, from the jostling crowd in the dark, a familiar voice rose above the clamour of noise, “You ca' the hannel, Charlie, and I'll ha'd yer jug”. I turned aghast and there was the grinning face of my old friend Percy McDonald, Captain Muirhead's batman, from Dufftown. Without further ado, we worked the oracle together. I pumped and Percy filled both our supply jugs, and we took up our positions again on the road. What a fuss about a drink of water on a freezing cold night, you may think. Believe me, to us, that spring water was as precious as gold.

Percy joined our trio for the next few miles and we tried to catch up with five years of news. Undoubtedly, this helped us on our way quite a bit. He amazed me by disclosing that he had been forced to walk more than twenty-four hours the previous day to catch up with the main body of marching men. I had known Percy from my teenage days when we had faced one another on the football pitch. We had both been midfield men. He played for Dufftown and I represented our Aberlour team. Many a fast, sometimes hot-tempered battle was fought between us in those days, with always a handshake when the final whistle was blown at the end. Percy got home with us at the last and was married, but died in his middle years. No doubt, those long years and the rigours of that winter march took its toll on him, as it did on many of the rest of us later on.

Hours and miles further on that night, we stopped in a village and were told to turn left at the cross-roads ahead. On the hill above us, there were farms with the usual Dutch barns and shelter could be found there for the night. I got the impression now, and rightly so, that the guards had taken as much of the cold as they could endure. Like us, they were fed up to the teeth. Indeed, it had now become every man for himself. I seem to have lost Joe going up the hillside in search of those inviting Dutch barns, because I was now struggling on with no-one except Bob McCallum. At the first farm we reached, we were bluntly told by our fellow prisoners to get lost. The place was full to overflowing already. A German guard at the door encouraged us to press on for another mile or so. The road would level out at the summit of the hill and we would come to the next house of refuge — i.e. another barn.

Bob and I put our heads down and set off again into the teeth of the now drifting snow. Eventually, we reached the top of the hill. It was devoid of shelter of any kind. There were no fences to mark the roadway, if roadway there was. By now, it was well into the night and terribly dark. I always remember the howls of a dog as we continued to struggle along. Perhaps that poor old hound was feeling as miserable as we were. Here and there, we could see bodies lying in the ditches, some trying to get shelter, some a little rest. We both knew that this was a fatal thing to do, so we kept pressing on. I remember seeing a German officer stretched out at the side of the road. Like the Priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan story, we had a look at him and then, "passed by on the other side ", much to our shame. Further on, we spotted other two figures, seemingly ditched for the night. They were our cook Percy Pyke and my good friend with the wounded leg, Fred Goodchild. This was different. They were our friends. We did the Good Samaritan act this time and persuaded them to get up and struggle on. This they did. However, neither of them made the whole journey in the end, but they did both survive. Months later, we met them in England and had our legs pulled about the whole affair. While we had soldiered on all the way, they gave up at one point. Overtaken by the advancing Russian army — a dicey experience — they were quickly transferred to the seaport of Odessa on the Black Sea coast and shipped from there, through the Mediterranean and back home.

To continue, however, Bob and I set off again and by now, we were both at the end of our tether. It was at this point that a strange thing happened. Bob was slightly ahead of me. Suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks. “Johnny” he said, “there's something big and black ahead.” I wondered if he was now hallucinating, but decided to join him. Sure enough, there the thing stood, apparently barring our way. Gingerly, we approached it and realised we had come to a fork in the road. There, before us, looming out of the dark, was a huge statue like a cross. Bob stared at it and said in seeming awe, “Johnny, we've come to Calvary.” Indeed, we had. I looked both right and left to the two roads ahead and asked the stupid question, “Which way will we go now, Bob?” His reply was swift and clear.  “Johnny, you told us many a time on a Sunday to do what is right. We are going to do it now. Turn right.” We did, and within a short time, were in the shelter of another Dutch barn.

You know, I will never forget the decision Bob made on that road. It could have meant life or death for us that night. (Many a time since, I have told of that vital choice, and applied it to one's journey through life. Any preacher can lead you to Calvary; to the Cross where Christ died for our sins but, from there on, the great decision must be yours. To choose Christ is to choose life, to reject Him is to be lost.) Later that night, to our relief, we were joined by Big Joe, driven to his limit, but he made it. I salute the guy. He started that day on the floor in a dead faint, but had the drive and the will to grit his teeth and carry on to the finish.”

The cross of Calvary, and the need to put your trust in Christ were regular features of my father’s preaching throughout his life. As a result, many people came to know Christ as their Lord and Savior when they came to understand these simple truths.

My father’s philosophy, which he repeated often to me as a young man was, ‘never turn down an opportunity to preach the Gospel’. He was true to his word, for in his lifetime he preached the Gospel in churches, Mission Halls, schools and the open air

Conviction, repentance and salvation through the precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross of Calvary are the core elements of the Gospel. We should earnestly pray that Scotland’s evangelicals will return to the ‘Old, Old Story’ of the Gospel.

  

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

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Greatest Love

When I was a child my father used to recount numerous stories and adventures of his time as a POW in World War 2. My siblings and I were enthralled by these colourful reminiscences, because the main character and the hero was our Dad!

The tales which my father told did however have a much darker side which I came to understand more clearly in my later years. I vividly recall him having nightmares and shouting out, sometimes in German, Polish and even Russian. The nightmare was always the same. Our family was being pursued for our lives and shot at by Nazi soldiers along the banks of the River Spey near our home village of Aberlour. My father was doing his best to protect and save us. There was real terror in his voice as he shouted.

I have no doubt that the experiences of cruelty and brutality were permanently etched into his being.  Time had done little to erode some of these memories.

As a well known preacher my father often used his POW experiences of answered prayer and miraculous experiences as evidence for the reality of a living Saviour in Christ Jesus. One such instance is recalled in his retrospective of the war years: ‘We’ve Been a Long Time Coming Boys’:   

I FEEL it only right that I should give a mention to some of the gun-toting guards under whom we were to serve as prisoners­-of-war. In all, there were twenty-five of them and they were quite often assigned to us in pairs. I have a list of the names we gave them, as we were never able to find out what their real ‘handles’ were.

I suppose I could recall a few tales about each one of these twenty-five guards we had to endure in five years, but I will try to limit my memories to just one or two. First on my list is Big Jim. He was built like a battleship, as his name would suggest. Unfortunately for him, the main feature of his appearance was his prominent teeth. The middle front tooth had been crowded out by its fellows and protruded quite a bit farther than it should have. When he smiled, which was very seldom, he sucked this protruder like a wine gum. When he fumed, it stuck out like a rhino's tusk. He was a real loud-mouthed chappie and loved to hear his own voice. We were soon to learn, however, that he was all big mouth and no real guts.

My 1942 diary tells me that we were getting regular air-raids from what I recorded as “Arthur's pals”. These were allied aircraft, mostly British, but with the occasional Russian bomber thrown in. I called them by this name because I had a cousin, Arthur Clark, who was a fighter pilot and I had to be careful with those entries in my diary. Remember, I was suspected by the censor of being a spy already and I am a canny Scot. Reading from my records, we were under air attack at least three times a week and sometimes twice a night, the latter raids coming from both ends as it were, that is, from East and West. During one particular raid, we got a pretty good hammering and we knew the reason why. Dummy factory walls had been erected quite close to our billet, with huge bonfires set alight to show them up should an Allied air raid take place. Clearly these dummy walls were meant to be decoys to lead the attacking aircraft astray.

One night, this bright idea paid off and we became the centre of an attack by our own four-engined planes. Gradually the situation became more dangerous and finally, we were all flat out, lying down for cover on the floor. All at once, we heard a thousand-pound blockbuster coming screaming down out of the sky. It sounded like an old-fashioned railway engine letting off its spare steam. This one, we all knew, was going to be too near for comfort. When it landed, it blew one of our green-houses into pieces. Bill Brooks, our sergeant, asked me to check if anyone had been hurt. There were no lights to see with and it was one of those pitch-black nights. Nervously, I got off the floor and groped my way around, trying to find out if all was well. Suddenly, I blundered into the billet wall. Cautiously feeling my way along it, I made contact with a body standing upright like someone out of Madame Tussauds. “Are you all right?” I repeatedly asked but could get no reply. Surely the guy was either struck dumb or dead. Getting more annoyed by the split second, I ran my hands all over him but not a word was said. Then I exploded in exasperation, “I'll find out who you are!” I shouted and landed my fist on his head. On that head, there was a tin hat — a German one. The “dummy” was Big Jim, absolutely petrified with fear. Next morning, we learned from the Polish girls that Big Jim had told the farmer he had trouble with his prisoners. They had got into a panic and he had to stay with them to keep them in control. What a marvellous fairy tale! Yes, just a bag of wind was Big Jim.

I think his finest hour or his worst nightmare took place one Sunday afternoon. We were not working that day and I noticed two little smartly-dressed schoolgirls go through the gherkin beds, pick one of the miniature cucumbers and finding it pretty bitter, throw it away. Presently Farmer Burdin came down the same path on his usual tour of inspection. He saw the remains of the gherkin and hared off back to report the matter to Big Jim. Now, Big Jim had a particular hatred of a little Russian boy who had been taken prisoner with his mother and sent to join us on the market garden. The little lad's name was Lonya, at least that's how it sounded. He was the bane of the guard's life, as he was an expert work-dodger. Jim decided that Lonya was the culprit and would pay the price for his crime. Presently, we saw the guard appear dragging the Russian boy by the scruff of the neck (Lonya was only about nine years old). Big Jim was shouting that he had caught the thief and he would teach the little fellow a lesson. Lonya, it was clear, would have none of it and said so vehemently and repeatedly — in Russian. Deciding that he would have the last word in the matter, the guard picked up a heavy tree branch and beat the lad so fiercely that he broke the cudgel over the boy's back. Lonya was now screaming. Suddenly, round the building in full flight, came the figure of a woman. She ran straight to the scene. The guard saw her, dropped the boy and shouted “Halt!” Ignoring the command, the woman kept on towards him. “Halt!” came the shout again and to enforce his words, Big Jim drew his gun. Like a tigress, the woman sprang at him. His revolver flew through the air and before he could retrieve it from the grass, woman and boy had gone.

I've often described that scene to youth groups and asked them to guess who the woman was. Without hesitation, I always got the answer, “His Mum, of course”. Who else! Then I would go on to apply the lesson. This mother risked her life for her boy because she loved him. After all, he was her boy, and no doubt he would love her in return for her heroic deed that Sunday afternoon. Here was just a faint picture of the love which led Jesus to die for you and me on a Roman cross. Ought we not to love him in return?

One of my late father’s favourite hymns is ‘The Old rugged Cross’. Written by George Bennard in 1913, prior to World War 1, this hymn sums up the immeasurable love of Jesus that is freely available to every individual.

My father truly cherished the cross, and his life exemplified that fact in many different ways to the very last.

 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Reaping what we Sow

Recently my brother Donald gave me some of my late father's personal papers and various original documents concerning Aberlour Gospel Hall which he had in safe keeping.

The piece below is an extract from his long-hand notes of a talk which he gave at a Harvest Thanksgiving Service not long before his passing in 1991. It is encouraging to know that the many seeds which he sowed throughout his life are continuing to bear fruit.

I have previously written about our march as prisoners of war in the sweltering summer of 1940 in my book, 'We've Been A Long Time Coming Boys'.

Our captors took us through France, Belgium and Holland. We had to face the ordeal of travelling on sealed coal barges for days and nights up the River Rhine, and the horror of 72 hours shut up in closed railway wagons across Germany to Poland, and a final long journey north to Danzig (Gdansk) and prison life there.

How often I asked the question: 'Why me Lord?'

Every evening when shut up in our little billet, I lay on my straw bed and read the only book I had: my dad's Bible from the First World War. He had planted the seed in my heart eleven years before: would it now grow in these difficult circumstances?

There's a verse in the Bible which says: 'Desire the sincere milk of God's Word that you might grow thereby'. Although I did not realise it at the time, I was growing by reading the book.

Nine months passed and I had not spoken to any of my fellow prisoners about my Lord or my faith.

Everything changed on Saturday 19 April 1941 with the arrival of a middle aged prisoner called Fred Goodchild who was crippled as the result of shrapnel injuries. Fred wanted to organise a church service the following evening and because I was the only person with a Bible, he turned to me to do the preaching. That was when the seed of my father's verse all these years before suddenly sprouted. The next evening, and for the next four years I preached in that prison billet, with the men always ready to sit round and listen. For me, this was the germination of a seed sown eleven years before, one thousand miles distant in the village of Aberlour. The question was: would there now be a harvest?

The very first evening, big Joe Wathen from Sheffield threw in his lot with us. This was a great encouragement because he had a rich baritone voice, and later was to sing solos.

I was however far from confident that I could carry out the mission that had been given to me. The mountain seemed to be too high, but over time I found that nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Shortly after we were joined by another POW, Tommy Lear. He arrived carrying a piano-accordion. Although neither he nor anyone else could play the instrument, I could, and it was used to accompany the good old psalms and hymns during our services. Some time later my dad sent us some twenty Redemption Songs books via the Red Cross, so the Sunday evening service was extended to hymn singing and a sermon. Later, a violin arrived and a Londoner called Stan Rayner was able to play it, and not to be outdone, Syd Whyte a master carpenter made himself a banjo: the harvest was ripening!

Soon, I had a prayer partner in a lad called Alex Espie from Luss. I well remember one evening, talking with Alex and another fellow-prisoner from Ayr, Bob McCallum. Bob was extolling the benefits of letting out a good mouthful of oaths when things went horribly wrong when Alex said quietly, 'Bob you have not heard me swear in six weeks'. What a joy that was to me. Later I heard the same Bob who had advocated swearing, singing as he worked ploughing a nearby field on his own singing the old hymn, 'Nearer my God to thee, e'en though it be a cross that raiseth me'.

Looking back, this all began years before with words sown by my parents, and my aunt, Isabella Morrison.

Let's not leave the sowing to someone else like the Minister or some evangelist. Be a sower, and in due season you shall reap if you faint not.”