I don’t know what your definition of a war hero is. Someone storming an enemy position under heavy fire earning the Victoria Cross as they lay down their life? Perhaps too often our perception is moulded by the movie screen. This month I’d like to tell you the story of two war heroes who quietly went about their business. One survived, the other didn’t. Both were motivated by their Christian faith to serve others and to serve their country in the cause of freedom.
The little village of Merrymeet is situated on the main A390 between Liskeard and Callington. Although small, the village has a strong sense of community and much of that has, over the years, centred around the village church – St Mary’s Mission Church.
In 1939 this man was its curate. He was George Arnold Pare. He was born on 15th March 1912 in Derby. He was educated at the University of Leeds and then the College of the Resurrection at Mirfield. Challenged by the Great Commission to ‘Go and make disciples’, he became a priest in the Church of England and ended up at the Mission Church in Merrymeet.
In 1940 as Britain faced invasion he felt he needed to take the gospel to the men that were defending its shores. He was commissioned into the Royal Army Chaplains Department in 1941 and soon found himself attached to the Glider Pilot Department.
This meant that on D-Day in 1944 he flew in a glider landing near Ranville where he saved the life of pilot Eric Wilson who’d been given up for dead and was left trapped in his glider with both legs broken for 2½ days. Part of George’s job as a chaplain was identifying the dead on the battlefield and as he went to this glider he realised Eric was still alive.
In September 1944 he flew with General Urquhart into Arnhem. He never made it to the bridge but helped oversee the wounded and dying at the Schoonoord Hotel. He was Mentioned in Dispatches for his service at Arnhem. When the remaining soldiers retreated back south of the River Rhine he stayed with the wounded where he led them in prayers and the singing of the hymn Abide With Me (a scene that is portrayed in the film of the Battle of Arnhem – A Bridge Too Far). The Germans moved the wounded to a converted barracks at Apeldoorn. When the number of wounded dropped as the men either died or recovered enough to be sent to POW Camps, the two padres were put on a train to Germany. George asked to go to the toilet and when out of sight of the guards jumped from the train. After several narrow escapes, he was hidden by the Dutch Underground. Eventually, as the Allies liberated that part of Holland he returned to the UK.
After the war, he continued his work in the Church of England serving at Maids Moreton in Buckinghamshire before a spell in Warrington and then ending up at St Bridget’s in West Kirby. He retired in 1970 and went to be with the Lord on 3rd March 1979 in Birkenhead. A remarkable character showing not all war heroes carried guns.
Robert Charles Field was born on 17th December 1919 in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, to Hugh Maynard Field and Ethel Margaret Field. The family lived at 498 Kitchen Hall Road near the Fraser River. Bobby was educated at St Michael’s Prep School before attending Brentwood College on Vancouver Island.
He graduated from Brentwood as Head Boy and was awarded the Yarrow Shield for his athletic and scholastic achievement. He then attended Chilliwack High School for a year where his success as an athlete continued. In 1939 he won the senior boys championship at the Fraser Valley track meet breaking two records. He was an excellent rugby and soccer player and he played for the Thunderbirds when he attended the University of British Columbia.
After completing his third year in Science at UBC he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in June 1941 feeling he needed to do his bit in defending the cause of freedom. After his training as a pilot, he was sent to the UK where he flew Beaufighters with the Buffalo Squadron, 404 Squadron RCAF.
He was based at RAF Chivenor in North Devon.
On 28th March 1943, he was flying on a transit flight from RAF Dyce in Aberdeenshire to RAF St Eval in Cornwall when on the approach to land his Beaufighter T3155 broke out of formation as it had stalled and the plane crashed killing Robert and his navigator Sgt Clive Ford Taylor, aged 28. Sgt Taylor from Lostock was buried in Bolton. Flying Officer Robert Charles Field was buried in St Columb Major Cemetery. He was aged 23. His headstone quotes the verse from 1 John 4 v16: “God is love”. A bright, able young man with a strong Christian faith, killed just doing his duty, contributing his bit. Not all war heroes died in battle.
As Europe is again finding out, freedom is not free. It takes heroes to defend it.