Army Chaplains' Blog

A Fight to the Death

Posted on: June 18, 2017

[Three years have passed since Padre Kevin Bell reflected on one of the many functions of chaplaincy – overseeing the life of garrison churches. In this instance the setting is the Royal Military Chapel (Guards’ Chapel), located in Birdcage Walk at the heart of London.]

Just two weeks after D Day flying bombs were landing on London. Down below people were praying in their homes and churches. The Guards’ Chapel was packed when it took a direct hit. The British chaplain leading the service had been posted in just three weeks before. He was sadly killed in the blast. In the congregation an Australian Army chaplain was also killed, along with a member of the Free French Forces. Over a hundred people were killed on the 18th June 1944. Sadly, more would die of their injuries in the days, weeks and years that followed. Some survived. One soldier of the Coldstream Guards was singing in the choir. He saw his comrades killed and helped the wounded during the aftermath. When I first met him, he summed up the event with humble and simple words. “My voice saved my life.”

Seventy years later this historic event was marked with a Commemorative Service at the Guards’ Chapel. The Bishop of London preached wonderfully and inspired all with his spirit and his words. The Band of the Coldstream Guards played as they had done in 1944 and laid a wreath for their comrades. The daughter of the British chaplain was present, as was the granddaughter of the Australian chaplain. The last known survivor was photographed with the present choir. This was a special reunion of sorts to mark that he was singing with the choir on that dreadful day.

During the service, the choir paused to mark when the bomb hit and we all kept a minute of silence. The choir then resumed. This was a moving experience, as was the Act of Commemoration with the usual haunting mix of bugle and silence.

After the service the Bishop of London entered the choir stalls by the altar where he was joined by the survivor and over sixty members of the bereaved families. Pastoral conversations led naturally to a time of quiet and prayer. The bishop blessed lapel badges for the Household Division, which in turn were distributed to the families. Emerging back into the sunshine a photograph was taken to remember the event.

Seventy years ago the candles did not go out  on the Altar. Candle sticks given by a King of England remained upright. This was taken as a sign by all who witnessed and survived. The rubble was cleared and worship continued. For many years a temporary shelter protected temporary chairs. I have met people who were married or baptised under that shelter. November 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of when the new building was dedicated for use. But the altar and choir stalls mark what survives of the old building and has been used ever since. Consecrated in 1838 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury for soldiers guarding the Sovereign as members of the Household Division, it remains their spiritual home with open doors to all life’s pilgrims.

For me this chapel is evidence that good can triumph over evil, love over hate, faith over doubt, and light over darkness. Even when locked in a fight to the death.

[The Guards’ Chapel website includes numerous images of the interior of this fine military chapel, it also includes details of Sunday worship.] 

1 Response to "A Fight to the Death"

My wife and I so enjoy our visits to the Guards Chapel when travel into town from Bristol. A joy to be with a congregation faithfully holding to those ancient creeds and carefully refined liturgy.

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