Even in the sun-drenched landscape of Haut-Vienne, one can suddenly stumble
across the dark horrors of inhumanity. Stopping one night in the village of
Oradour-sur-Glane, my wife and I discovered that we were temporary residents of
a place of martyrdom. Here, on 10 June 1944, a Waffen SS unit encircled the
village, and, in reprisal for local resistance attacks, razed it to the ground.
The soldiers killed 642 men, women, and children that day.
Today, the place is commemorated as a "martyr village", and a memorial
centre retells the story in chilling detail. It might be hard to believe that
those German soldiers, children of a long Christian civilisation, could so
readily have turned their guns on the people of Oradour. It might, but for the
history of warfare, ancient and modern. Innocent civilians are blown up on
buses; whole cities are flattened by atomic bombs. In the heat of conflict,
normal, decent people do things they would never contemplate in times of peace.
At least, one hopes they wouldn't.
The same holiday confirmed to this senior citizen how much France has
changed since my first visit 58 years ago. One trivial comparison can perhaps
sum it up. In 1947, public lavatories in France were noted for basic plumbing
and a minimal regard for privacy or hygiene. The most common were no more than
a hole in the floor with markings for a foot on either side.
Last week, however, in the men's lavatories at a service station, slot
machines were dispensing couvre-sièges wc - personal paper covers for the loo
seats, lest a single alien microbe should light on delicate French flesh.
O tempora, O mores!
One receives the prize
Well, we won the Ashes, probably the most unpretentious trophy in
world sport - simply a tiny wooden urn, allegedly containing the ashes of a
charred cricket stump (other ancient authorities say a ball or a bail). It's
not quite the "perishable garland" that the apostle derided, but it is the sort
of thing you wouldn't give a second glance in a car-boot sale. Yet it felt as
thought the nation was captivated by the contest for it, even those who
normally regard cricket as an obsessive pastime for boring inadequates.
One suspects it was rather more about putting one over on the all-conquering
Aussies at any sport, especially their favourite one. However, for cricket
fanatics like me (first match seen in 1946 at Lord's) it was heady stuff. And
to find that, even in the middle of a silent retreat, on the final day of the
final test, someone, somehow, seemed always to know the score and find ways of
passing it on made it even more bizarre.
I suspect many cricket-mad parsons fought hard to resist the temptation on
Sunday to pray for rain. In the event, though, marvellous to relate, we
didn't need it.
Taking leave and orders
enjoy being chaplain at our leavers' weekend for those who have completed their
ministerial training under the diocesan scheme. There's a thinly veiled
atmosphere of excitement, tinged with apprehension, among the ordinands and
their partners. But all this simply adds to the enjoyment of the occasion -
three days in a comfortable hotel on the Dorset coast.
I invariably come home from the weekend with my hopes for the future of the
Church of England enhanced, though I realise such optimism is regarded as
grotesquely eccentric in many ecclesiastical quarters. But I can't be unmoved
by the company of a bunch of men and women, many of them established in
distinguished and well-paid careers, who are prepared - indeed eager - to
abandon them to serve Christ, the Church and the gospel.
I think of one man in his 40s, a research scientist at a famous Oxford
institution, who is more than willing to leave his senior post and accept a
non-stipendiary curacy, if necessary, to launch his ministry.
Of course, it could all be a grand delusion, but so could global warming,
the value of vitamins, and the British monarchy, I suppose.
The good fight
The extension of pub licensing hours has become a battleground fought over
by the licencees and would-be late-night drinkers on the one hand, and local
residents on the other.
When the pub in question is right next to a convent, itself based on a site
long associated with Cardinal Newman, the resistance tends to recruit a few
distinguished supporters. In the case in question, the Archbishop of
Canterbury, no less, turned out in support of the nuns' case (
News, 26 August).
This led to a memorable billboard for our local paper, the
Oxford Mail: ARCHBISHOP JOINS NUNS IN PUB FIGHT. Having got the idea,
the billboard-writer tried again when the pub was finally granted its longer
hours: NUNS LOSE PUB FIGHT.
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford and a
former Head of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC.