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2007 Normandy Beaches

Band of Brothers (and sisters!) – Normandy Prayerwalk

CODENAME: Operation Overlord

June 5 - 23 2007


 



Steps into Normandy

For those who are unfamiliar with the events of the Second World War, the Normandy Beaches in Northern France, were the place where the Allied Armies (British, French, American, Canadian and Polish) landed on June 6 1944 and pushed the German Army back to Paris, heralding the end of the War. 

This begins as a very ordinary story, involving ordinary people (which is why I have named them all) and an extraordinary God, who puts things into place and gently pushes His people onto the right paths.  It continues as very extraordinary story with a lot of ‘just happenings’ …..


It really started in Paris in 1995.  Francis Dognon had done a lot of the French line-up for our prayer walk from Berlin and as we left, John said he felt that one day he would walk with Francis again.  Then 4 years ago, we met up with Francis and his wife Diane again at Detling and started to talk about the need to do some prayer walking around Normandy, however, somehow the time wasn’t right and we continued on with prayer walking around the WW2 airbases, finishing last year (2006) at the Battle of Britain Memorial at Folkestone and looking over to the French coast – maybe now was the time to go back to France.

Just before that, John had visited Normandy with a group of friends, led by Rev. Eric Delve, and stayed at Béthanie, the home of Bill and Jan Gordon.  Béthanie is a story in itself, but Bill and Jan run it as a prayer retreat and conference centre.  The group spent a day on the Normandy Beaches and Rev. Michael Mitton who, with Rev. Russ Parker, has written books on ‘healing the land’ and ‘healing wounded history’, told John that he felt there was work to do there.  He quoted from 2 Samuel 21.10-14 where Rizpah (which means ‘glowing coal’), Saul’s wife, guarded, and then reburied, the bones of Saul and Jonathan. Michael said that he felt that John was going to ‘rebury bones.’ The end of the passage says, ‘After that, God answered prayer on behalf of the land.’  (I also feel that this has something to do with a situation on the Somme, but that will wait until God’s timing.)

Anyway after the group returned, John and I decided to revisit Béthanie and while we were there we shared with Bill and Jan what had happened on our last holiday in France, the year before.

It was 2005 and as usual, we had not planned a holiday.  John said to me one morning, ‘I wish we knew someone who had a cottage we could hire in Normandy for a couple of weeks.’  Later that morning at a Churches Together in Orpington meeting for pastors, Jay Colwell, vicar of the church at the top of our road leaned over and said to John, ‘If you ever need somewhere to stay in Normandy, we’ve got a house there.’ Ok, so it ‘just happened’ (No 1.)   Then our American daughter in law Jenny, said that her stepfather would like to come to Normandy to see where his father had landed in WW2.  So we made plans to go and Jenny’s family were going to join us after a few days.

Our holidays quite often seem to involve trips to war graves and museums and we decided to visit the Polish museum and memorial near Falaise in the South of Normandy, where there was a major tank battle which effectively brought WW2 to an end.  We felt there was a real sense of evil in the area and as we returned to our house everything went pear-shaped.  First the car broke down in pouring rain and we had to get the AA out -fine – everything sorted.  Over the next few days our daughter was in hospital in the UK, one son and his wife went through some real trauma, our youngest son just missed being involved in the Russell Square bombing and our other daughter-in-law was close to the second London bombing.  The final thing was that due to all that was happening, we got a £600 mobile phone bill, when we got back to the UK!

So we began to think about Normandy again.  Then one evening while we were talking, John was Channel hopping and chanced on a site on the God Channel to hear Gerard Kelly talking about Pegasus Bridge, how the Gonderee’s house was the first place to be set free and for several hours, they were the only people in France who knew that liberation was coming – much like God’s people today.  John said, ‘I must get hold of that tape, sp he phoned the Spring Harvest Office to find that the tape just happened to be made by someone at our church, who worked for the recording company – the tape was with us in 24 hours. (No 2)

Anyway, forward to Béthanie where we were recounting all this to Jan and Bill who then said, ‘We feel that place near the Falaise Gap is strategic – we need to go and pray there.  We then discussed it with their Pastors, who ‘just happened’ (No 3) to be Francis and Diane Dognon, who had been called to Lisieux the previous year.  Francis invited us to go and lead a prayer walk around Normandy, so we set the date for June 2007.  We then shared it with Francis and Diane’s Church, not sure how it would be received.  One older man began to cry and shared how he had been the child of a French Mother and a German Soldier who had gone back to Germany.  He had only recently found out, too late to find his father but still with loads of hurt and pain left behind.  Then an English guy shared how his grandfather had been killed on the beaches.  Finally the worship leader told us that his grandmother had been killed, holding his father as a baby, when the Allies bombed Lisieux toward the end of the war.  (The Allies actually killed far more French people that Germans at this time – something that still needs dealing with)  As we looked around the room of about 20 people, half English, half French – we wondered just how many people are still trying to deal with pain left over from over 60 years of history.

We also met up with Steve Lee from Southampton Community Church who ‘just happen’ (No 4) to have a house that we may be able to use for accommodation and Francis agreed that Steve Banks, his new administrator could take on the French part of the organisation.  Anyway we returned home and began to think and pray about doing the walk.  The first thing to decide was, ‘where to start?’ and ‘where to end?’  Bob Mumford, our route planner thought we should start at St Mere Eglise, but John felt it should be Pegasus Bridge, where the gliders landed on the night of June 5/6, before the Allies came.

John spoke to a historian who said, ‘Why don’t you ask the Museum staff at Pegasus Bridge if they would let you be commissioned on the original bridge, in the grounds of the Museum?’  It sounded like a good idea but we had no idea how to contact them.

A few days later we had a phone call from Barry Parr (No 5) and old friend, whose Dad Wally, was in the first Horsa Glider that landed with Major John Howard and held the bridge until more troops arrived.  (This can be seen in the film, the Longest Day, probably the best film on the events of June 6)  Barry has written a book, based on the stories that he has heard, throughout his life of how the 6th paratroop regiment, held the  bridge.  We asked Barry, ‘Do you know the people at the Museum?’  …… It ‘just happened’ (No 6) that the staff from the Museum were visiting Barry’s home, the following week, to see where Barry’s dad had lived and attend a small memorial event to scatter Wally’s ashes (Wally had died a few months before) We were invited to meet them and they loved the whole idea, saying that we could be commissioned as part of the annual event on the old Bridge.  They have since been enormously helpful with our planning.

So that’s where to start, now where to finish. John thought we should finish at the bridge, but we weren’t sure.  Anyway we planned another trip to Béthanie with Bob and Colin Evans, who did a lot of the setting out for Barry’s book, but had never been to Normandy, to drive the route for the walk.  As we went, John said, ‘I really feel that the Angel of the Lord is going ahead of us.

Tuesday morning. We planned to go back to the beaches but Bob said, ‘Let’s go to the Polish memorial near Falaise and have a look around.’  It was the place that John & I had visited in 2005.  Bill and Jan were free for the morning, so they came with us.  The Museum was closed, but we were able to look over the fields where the Battle of Falaise, the ‘Great Encirclement’ happened. 

As we walked around the grounds, we noticed signs to a twelfth century church about 500yards away, and decided to visit it, just out of interest.  It was on a piece of high ground, again overlooking the battle fields.  It was closed but John asked Bill to pray.  As he did, Jan began to wave her arms, ‘Come and look!’  The church had new stained glass windows and as we looked, we could make out words in German, French, English and what we recognised as Polish – LOVE, FREEDOM, PEACE…..  Some men were working outside and Jan was able ask them (our French wouldn’t have been good enough) if we could get into the church. Apparently the only person with a key was the lady Mayor who only visited that village for two hours every week – on Tuesday from 10 – 12.  It was 11.30!  (no 7)  We drove down to the village to discover that the mayor was just coming up to visit the church (No 8)

We shared with her what we wanted to do and she smiled and said what a good idea.  We drove back to the church and she showed us round.  The church had been unused for 35 years but she was restoring it as a place of reconciliation (No 9)  She then showed us the new windows: two were on war, two on peace and the other two on reconciliation.  She told us the story of the windows.  The artist used glass which was dipped in paint and then acid was used to burn the colour into the glass.  In one of the war ones, as the artist worked, he noticed a cross appearing in the paint.  He phoned the designer – ‘Shall I try to clean it off?’  The designer said, ‘No, it’s a miracle, leave it there.’  So there it is – a small cross in the battle fields.  We asked the mayor if we could hold our final service in the church and she said, ‘No problem – it is the hand of God!’

If Bob hadn’t suggested going that morning, when the museum was closed, we would have gone in, not looked around and discovered the church. If we had gone at any other time, the mayor would not have been there.  If Bill and Jan hadn’t been with us, we would have had no-one to translate …..  The Mayor also ‘just happened’ (No 10) to be the director of the Museum, so we would be able to pray there too – where it all started in the Summer of 2005.

The mayor is going to arrange for a member of the French Resistance, a German Soldier who returned to the village and hopefully some Polish people to be there with us.  So we shall finish at a very strategic point – a place of reconciliation for all the nations involved in the European part of the War.  We hope to have people from all the different nations with us on the team.  It’s what Prayer Expeditions is all about – prayer, healing and reconciliation.

Yvonne Pressdee
2007


 

Vision Statement

This was the vision statement for the walk:

 

We would like this prayer walk to involve people from different nations, particularly those that were at the ‘Battle of Normandy’ – using the original landscape as a backcloth for our walk – making the past real and thereby helping the process of healing.

 Our fathers and our grandfathers fought against one another in two World Wars; now their children and grandchildren will walk and pray together in harmony, friendship and peace. 

John & Yvonne Pressdee

March 2007

Prayer Diary
 

Click on the link to download the Prayer Diary (pdf file, 1.1Mb) that was used during the walk.
 

(Note, you will require Adobe Acrobat reader to view this download.  If your computer does not have this program installed then it may be obtained free of charge from the Adobe website - see www.adobe.com)

 

Information Presentation

Click on the link to download an Information Presentation (pdf file, 2.7Mb)

(Note, you will require Adobe Acrobat reader to view this download.  If your computer does not have this program installed then it may be obtained free of charge from the Adobe website - see www.adobe.com)

You can also view this presentation in animated 'Flash' format by clicking here.
 


 

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