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True to the Call

A service from Portsmouth Cathedral to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

A service from Portsmouth Cathedral to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

In June 1944 thousands of service men and women gathered in and around Portsmouth to prepare for the allied invasion of the Normandy beaches, which eventually led to the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation. A local newspaper reported that on the night before the invasion troops gathered in Portsmouth to pray, sing hymns, and to listen to an address from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Precentor of Portsmouth, Canon Dr Jo Spreadbury recounts events leading up to the invasion, and the Dean of Portsmouth, the Very Reverend Dr Anthony Cane, reflects on how we, like those who served, may be true to God's call. An Act of Remembrance is led by the Chaplain of the Fleet, the Venerable Martyn Gough.

Cantate and the Cathedral Consort lead the congregation in hymns including 'Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us' and 'Eternal Father strong to save’.

Organist and Master of the Choristers: Dr David Price. Sub-Organist: Sachin Gunga. Producer: Ben Collingwood.

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38 minutes

Last on

Sun 2 Jun 2019 08:10



Sunday Worship


Portsmouth Cathedral

Please note:


This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.


It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.


Leader: The Revd Canon Dr Jo Spreadbury, Precentor

Preacher: The Very Revd Dr Anthony Cane, Dean

Reader 1: Henry Montgomery

Reader 2: Ben Nash

Reader 3: Major John Bolt, US Marine Corps

Prayers: Charles Ackroyd & TBC

Act of Remembrance & Blessing: The Venerable Martyn Gough, Chaplain of the Fleet



Organist and Master of the Choristers: Dr David Price

Sub-Organist: Sachin Gunga



Producer: Ben Collingwood

Production Coordinator: Vicky Moseley



Rehearsal: Saturday 1 June 2019, 1500-1700 & 1730-1830

                   Broadcast: Sunday 2 June 2019, 0810-0848


BBC Radio 4. It’s ten past eight and time for Sunday Worship which comes live from Portsmouth Cathedral to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The service is led by the Canon Precentor, the Reverend Dr Jo Spreadbury, and the preacher is the Dean of Portsmouth, the Very Reverend Dr Anthony Cane. The service opens now with the hymn ‘Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us’.


CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us




Good morning. Welcome to Portsmouth Cathedral, known as the Cathedral of the Sea.  The distinctive tower and lantern of the building we’re in this morning was a landmark for the service men and women who were gathered in Portsmouth in June 1944.  Plans had been laid for a massive invasion to liberate Western Europe and, true to the call to serve the cause of freedom, tens of thousands had responded. From our Cathedral tower an observer would have seen ships and landing craft filling the Solent as Allied troops from around the world prepared to cross the channel for the beaches of Normandy. 


We are now seventy-five years on from those events - they are part of history. So today we give thanks for those who fought and died. And we ask for the help of God's Spirit to be true to God’s call in our own lives and work for God’s Kingdom.


So we pray:


Lord God of the nations,

whose sovereign rule brings justice and peace,

have mercy on our broken and divided world.

Pour out your Spirit of peace into the hearts of all,

that all races and peoples may learn to live as members of one family in obedience to your law, through Jesus Christ our Lord.




We know that the day before D-Day there were many services that took place for the soldiers, sailors and air crews about to leave for the Normandy beaches (a destination that would only be revealed to them in the final hours).


We sing a hymn now that was sung at one of those services – the 2nd Army Dedication Service at Christ Church, Portsdown: ‘Lord of our life and God of our salvation.’


CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Lord of our life, and God of our salvation




A local newspaper described the scene before embarkation at one of the Portsmouth departure points. Under the caption “True to the call,” the Evening News reported that soldiers gathered to pray, sing, and hear an address from the then Archbishop of Canterbury who had sent a message to the forces’ Chaplains.


Henry Montgomery, grandson of Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein who commanded the Allies’ land forces on D-Day, reads the newspaper account.



More than 1000 big brawny men, in overall trousers and battledress tunics, sprawled and squatted bareheaded on grass banks and in shallow trenches listening to a message from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr William Temple.


It was the last Church service before sailing to war and the scene was almost Galilean. Under a thick canopy of ancient trees they sat, now listening, now singing, now bowed in prayer. Their campaign and cause was being dedicated. A mound of deep brown earth was the pulpit, the ministers were in uniform, and the piano had been borrowed from the canteen.


The Archbishop, in a message addressed to the padre, wrote: ‘You have to lead and help our men to dedicate our strength and make sure as far as may be that it is used genuinely in the cause of freedom and justice, which is from its nature the cause of God. Our forces go out to set free the oppressed from a tyranny which has afflicted them.


To be true to that call may require some real restraint at times of exaltation or relaxation. How much for the future depends on the growth of mutual respect and understanding which our solders can foster? The liberators must in every way respect and help to restore the honour, dignity and happiness of those whom they set free.



CHOIR: Go down, Moses (Tippett)




Michael Tippett’s setting of the words of the traditional Spiritual, ‘Go down Moses’ from his oratorio ‘A Child of our Time’ which was first performed only three months before D-Day.


The newspaper report described the scene of the troops gathered around, listening to the preacher’s message, as ‘almost Galilean.’ We listen now to Jesus’s words from the Sermon on the Mount, as described in the Gospel according to St Matthew. They are read by Ben Nash, one of our Cantate choristers and a former Head Chorister here, who serves as a Cadet in xxx [and whose father is Commanding Officer of HMS xxx].



When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain;

            and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.

Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

            for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

            for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you

            and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,

for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.



As well as his message to the troops before they departed, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, also addressed the nation on D-Day itself when a service for the radio was hastily put together to follow an evening broadcast by the King solemnly calling his people to prayer. The Archbishop – who had not been asked to preach until late afternoon – added sentences to his address during the singing of a hymn, or composed them in the moment of delivery. Nevertheless, his words and the broadcast as a whole were universally welcomed as stirring and memorable.

The American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt also addressed the nation on the evening of D-Day on national radio. His speech took the form of a prayer, and part of it is read here by Major John Bolt of the US Marine Corps.



My fellow Americans: Last night …troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.


And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:


Almighty God: Our sons this day have set upon a mighty endeavor to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest - until the victory is won. 


For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate.

They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home. Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them into Thy kingdom.


And for us at home -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.


O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united cause.


Lead us with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace, a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.


Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.



In a moment our Dean here at Portsmouth, Dr Anthony Cane, will reflect on how we may be true to God’s call. But first, the choir sings a setting by Philip Stopford of words from Isaiah, Chapter 43: ‘Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you’.



CHOIR: Do not be afraid (Stopford)



This coming Thursday my Father celebrates his 88th birthday.  His main memory of his thirteenth birthday seventy five years ago, on the sixth of June 1944, is of hearing on the radio that Allied forces had landed on the beaches of Normandy.  ‘D-Day’ had arrived, and as my father entered his teenage years, a sixteen year old from Portsmouth, Private Robert E Johns of the South Lancashire Battalion, was but one of one hundred and sixty thousand soldiers landing on the Normandy beaches.  He survived the opening weeks of the campaign, but was killed in action on the 23rd July.  It was only afterwards his commander discovered that this ‘big lad’ was younger than previously thought; just days short of his seventeenth birthday.


Private Johns, less than four years older than my father, valiantly played his part in the audacious and risky endeavour of Operation Overlord, ensuring that my family, and all of our families, could grow up in a Europe free of tyranny and oppression.  Now that we know how the landings went, and that Paris was liberated less than three months later, and that Germany surrendered in May 1945, it is easy to forget that success was far from guaranteed.  The American novelist Philip Roth wrote that when events are written down in history books, we are shielded from what he calls ‘the terror of the unforeseen’; that things could have gone other than they did; that what was achieved was difficult and testing and far from inevitable.



Here in Portsmouth Cathedral there is a D-Day window, commissioned to mark the fortieth anniversary of D-Day.  It is a fine commemoration of the twelve nations who contributed to the combined land, sea and air forces of the allies; but it cannot show the sheer difficulty of welding such a disparate group into a co-ordinated fighting force.  General Eisenhower, supreme commander, found that his senior colleagues could be challenging, to say the least.  He said to one, Air Marshal Arthur Tedder: ‘I am tired with dealing with a lot of prima donnas.  By God, you tell that bunch that if they can’t get together and stop quarrelling like children, I will tell the Prime Minister to get someone else to run this damn war.’


There were multiple uncertainties, not least the weather.  As it turned out, British meteorologists did a better job than their German counterparts, who had predicted such stormy conditions that the German commander on the Normandy side, the famed Erwin Rommel, felt able to return to Germany for his wife’s birthday.   His absence was keenly felt on the German side; we will never know what might have happened if he had been present.   As it was, roughly four thousand allied soldiers died on D-Day itself, and by the liberation of Paris, over four hundred thousand had died on both sides. 


Today, and in various ways this coming week, we commemorate all those who lived through the ‘terror of the unforeseen’ that was the Normandy landings.  The D-Day veterans that commissioned the Portsmouth memorial window chose a famous prayer of Sir Francis Drake to express the determination of spirit that sustained them:  ‘O Lord God, when thou givest to thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory.’

And so we give thanks for the mental and physical fortitude that enabled the ‘great matter’ of winning freedom for these islands, and the whole of Europe, to be ‘continued until it was thoroughly finished’.   How successfully we have built on this great legacy remains an open question, for we are now in the midst of our own rather different turmoils.   When the history of this decade comes to be written, it will have an air of inevitability about it, but as it was in 1944, so it is now: what happens next is not fixed; it depends on the endeavour, the integrity, the vision, and the actions of the current generation.  


In this service we have heard Archbishop Temple’s conviction, expressed on the eve of D-Day, that being true to God’s call means using strength in the cause of freedom and justice.   We’ve also heard President Roosevelt’s prayer that what transpired would lead to world unity and a sure peace.    These are fine words, as relevant now as they were then, but it hardly needs saying that we human beings have struggled to live up to the high ideals they express. 


‘We need to try harder, then,’ is one possible response to our ongoing conflicts and struggles.   It is also how the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount are sometimes interpreted, when Jesus taught, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’   But these are blessings rather than imperatives; they are not so much about ‘trying harder’, as receiving the good news that God is with those who long for peace and righteousness, and that they will ultimately be satisfied.



Certainly human effort is required, but not the kind of effort that feels rather despairing because it is seeking something impossible.   The message of the beatitudes, and indeed of the whole life, death and resurrection of Christ, is rather that we may be encouraged and inspired by the future God is preparing for us, and which is beginning to be realised in the present.   Our continuing prayer is to be, as Jesus taught his first followers, ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’


Neither this prayer, nor the beatitudes, give us a precise blueprint for action.  But they do describe the direction of God’s blessing.  God cares about the poor in spirit, the humble, those yearning for right to be done, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted, because these are the people through whom God is working.   To act in the light of God’s blessing, and of the Jesus Christ in whom that blessing was lived out to the uttermost, is the divine call to us both individually and collectively


This week, as my father celebrates his birthday, we give thanks for those who would now be only a few years older than him if they had survived the D-Day landings and aftermath.   We remember those who suffered life-changing injuries and mental anguish, and the veterans who still survive as a living witness.   Their courage in living with the ‘terror of the unforeseen’, their ability to work together with colleagues from many nations, and their willingness to persist until peace was won, continues to inspire us and indeed to humble us.


May how we live now, true to God’s call to work in the light of God’s coming Kingdom of justice, freedom and peace, be worthy of their sacrifice.   AMEN



The hymn ‘Eternal Father strong to save’ is sometimes called the Naval hymn. The final verse is used regularly by all branches of the Armed Forces. At one of the eve of D-Day services, the troops sang the last verse kneeling.


We sing the hymn now and it frames our prayers.



CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Eternal Father, strong to save (v.1)


Eternal Father, strong to save, (verse 1)



Eternal Father,

we thank you that you bound the forces of oppression and evil

which threatened us in the Second World War,

and we thank you for the freedoms we enjoy as a result of D-Day.

We pray for the countries of Europe and for our nation today,

that mutual respect and understanding may flourish

and peoples be brought closer in community and companionship.


CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Eternal Father, strong to save (v.2)


O Saviour, whose almighty word (verse 2)



O Saviour Christ,

we ask you to ease and heal all who bear the scars of war;

all whose memories are troubled; all who have been bereaved.

As you ascended to the Father still bearing the scars of the cross,

to pray for your people,

may all who suffer find their wounds transformed

and their sorrows answered/met by your presence.


CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Eternal Father, strong to save (v.3)


O sacred Spirit, who didst brood (verse 3)



O Holy Spirit, as you moved over the chaos of waters

in the beginning of creation, bringing order and peace,

so move among peoples and nations to bring harmony and hope.

Set each one of us free from all within us that oppresses us

and holds us back from knowing the glorious liberty of God’s children.

Kindle in us the fire of your love, and help us to be true to your call.



CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Eternal Father, strong to save (v.4)



With many in this land and around the world in these ten days between Ascension and Pentecost, we pray “Thy Kingdom Come”.


And so we pray the Lord’s Prayer together.



Our Father,

who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done;

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

the power and the glory,

for ever and ever. 



The Chaplain of the Fleet, the Venerable Martyn Gough, now leads us in an act of remembrance.



Let us remember before God all who took part in the Normandy landings; those who gave their lives as comrades in the British Army, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and from other countries: whom we remember with pride.


And we pray that, loyal to their example and their sense of duty, we may, like them, be true to the call of justice, freedom and peace.


CHOIR: They shall grow not old (Guest)




Let us pledge ourselves anew to the service of God and neighbour, that we may be peacemakers in our homes, in our community, in our country and in our world.


Lord God,

we pledge ourselves to serve you and all people

in the cause of peace

and for the relief of want and suffering,

and for the praise of your name.

Guide us by your Spirit.

Give us wisdom; give us courage; give us hope;

and keep us faithful, now and always.   Amen.




We sing the hymn ‘Breathe on me, breath of God.’


CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Breathe on me breath of God



Faithful God,

who fulfilled the promises of Easter

by sending us your Holy Spirit

and opening to every race and nation

the way of life eternal:

open our lips by your Spirit

that every tongue may tell of your glory;

and the blessing of God Almighty,

the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

be with you all

and remain with you always.

ALL: Amen.


ORGAN: VOLUNTARY: Allegro risoluto from the Plymouth Suite (Whitlock)



[Allegro risoluto from Percy Whitlock’s Plymouth Suite.]*

Sunday Worship came live from Portsmouth Cathedral. It was led by the Reverend Dr Jo Spreadbury, and the preacher was the Very Reverend Dr Anthony Cane. Cantate and the Cathedral Consort were conducted by Dr David Price, and the organist was Sachin Gunga. The producer was Ben Collingwood.  The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is the preacher and the bishop of London Sarah Mullally the leader for next week’s Sunday Worship marking Pentecost. And a reminder that BBC Radio 2 is currently seeking its Young Choristers of the Year for 2019. Details can be found on the Sunday Worship webpage.



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