Flight Lieutenant Stephen Gibbins, a pilot with the RAAF, told the attendees at an ANZAC Day Dawn service a few years ago of the time when he was flying a Boeing C-17 Globemaster aircraft back to Australia with the bodies of two Australian soldiers on board. These two men had been killed by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan while serving our country.
Stephen tells how the airspace around the Amberley Airforce Base in Queensland was cleared, as priority was given to his plane for landing. People on the ground waiting included the Prime Minister of Australia and wives and family members of the two soldiers who died serving their country.
Unexpectedly, the words “Lest we forget” came over the aircraft radio. Stephen described how tears came to his eyes as he reflected on the sacrifice of these two soldiers on board his aircraft. On Anzac Day, and indeed other times too, it is good to pause and remember, lest we forget!
Ernest Gordon records in his book “Miracle on the River Kwai” the remarkable story of Angus McGillivray – a prisoner of war in a Japanese prison camp in the 2nd World War. Its inmates helped build the bridge over the River Kwai. As the Second World War dragged on, conditions had deteriorated in this particular POW camp. The camp had developed an ugly “dog eat dog” mentality, and the prisoners would steal from each other and cheat on each other.
Survival was everything; the law of the jungle prevailed — until the news of Angus McGillivray’s death spread throughout the camp. No one could believe Angus had succumbed. He was strong. Actually, it wasn’t the fact of his death that shocked the men, but the reason why he died. Angus had a friend, and this friend was dying. Everyone had given up on him except Angus. He had made up his mind that his friend would not die. Someone had stolen his friend’s blankets.
So, Angus gave him his own, telling his friend that he had “just come across an extra one”.
Likewise, every mealtime, Angus would get his rations and take them to his friend. Angus’s friend began to recover, but Angus collapsed and died. The doctors discovered he had died of starvation and exhaustion.
He had given everything he had – even his own life. The ramifications of his acts of love and unselfishness had a startling impact on the compound. As word circulated of the reason for Angus’s death, the atmosphere of the camp began to slowly change.
Suddenly, men began to focus on their mates, their friends. Someone found a Bible, and soon people started to read it, and many turned to follow Jesus. They began to pool their talents – one was a violin maker, another a cabinet maker, another a professor.
Soon the camp had an orchestra full of homemade instruments. People met together to pray and worship, and a “Church with no walls” was established. Its witness for Jesus became so powerful that some Japanese guards attended. The men began a “university”, a makeshift hospital, a library and no longer the “dog eat dog” attitude prevailed. Men began to care for one another and treat each other as “mates”. They acted on the words Jesus said 2000 years ago. -“Greater love has no man than that a man lay down his life for a friend”. John 15:12.
Many others have lain down their lives during times of war. On Anzac Day, we pause and remember “Lest we forget”. We have just finished celebrating Easter, where many of us also paused and gave thanks to Jesus Christ, who entered the warzone of earth. He laid down His life so that sinful people can be
reconciled with our Holy God, our Creator if we so choose to repent of our sin and put our trust in Jesus. ‘For the Son of man (Jesus Christ) came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many’. Mark 10:45. Jesus died in our place, taking the punishment we deserve in the most significant peace initiative of all history.
Let us pause and remember!
- Bruce Stewart, for New Life Aus, 27 April 2022