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Fall of Singapore remembered in Ely

16 February 2012

by Paul Wilkinson

A contemporary image of a Japanese procession in celebration of the fall of Singapore

A contemporary image of a Japanese procession in celebration of the fall of Singapore

FORGIVENESS in the face of unspeakable cruelty and oppression was the theme of a sermon by the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, to mark the 70th anniver­sary of the beginning of the Second World War in south-east Asia.

In a service at Ely Cathedral on Sunday, he recalled how the British Empire was stunned by the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, and the brutality of the victorious Japanese.

“The Anglican Church in Japan apologised for all this savagery at the Lambeth Conference in 2008,” he told the congregation. “We know, however, that the resonances of this kind of savagery can still be found in conflicts of today. . . We stand by all those who are asserting their humanity in justice and the service of others.

“We are here to celebrate the resilience and courage of the human spirit, which enabled people to endure the worst possible assaults and provocation. We can only imagine the daily, even hour-by-hour, courage of those who were determined not so much to survive as to sustain some element of human dignity by helping others, and by sustaining a quiet resistance to the Japanese.”

One man who exemplified that was the Bishop of Singapore, Leonard Wilson, whom the Japanese accused of spying. Despite constant savage beatings, he refused to deny his faith or condemn his tormentors. In the midst of it all, the words of a well-known communion hymn came to him: “Look, Father, look on his anointed face, And only look on us as found in him.”

“In that moment,” Bishop Conway said, “he was given a vision of those men, not as they were then, but as they were capable of becoming, transformed by the love of Christ. He said he saw them completely changed, their cruelty becoming kindness, their sadistic instincts changed to gentleness. Although he felt it was too blasphemous to use Christ’s words ‘Father, forgive them,’ he experienced the grace of forgive­ness at that moment.

“For the rest of his life, he em­phasised in his speaking and preach­ing the importance of forgiveness. This is a living example of our first reading from Romans, that we should leave vengeance to God and should seek to overcome evil with good. It was precisely because of Wilson’s attitude and courage that one of his guards became a Chris­tian, and repented of all that he had done.”

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