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2014 marked the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and across the country national celebrations occured.
LEAF marked the event with a special commemoration service in the heart of the New Forest as the New Forest played a crucial role logistically in the planning and preparation for war; and throughout the war and its aftermarth as well. Our Speaker for the event was Major General Tim Cross CBE.
The event coincided with the end of the New Forest Show week that year which also had a focus on the impact of WW1 on the Forest.
The Commemoration service was led by LEAF Chairman Phil Cole and included a focus on the role of the Scripture Gift Mission in WW1 who gave away copies of St John’s Gospel to all the troops as they departed England for the front line a hundred years ago! A centenary replica edition of the Active Service John’s Gospel, which had been specially re-issued for the 100th anniversary of the First World War was given to all who attend this service.
Major General Tim Cross CBE (retired) is a Local Lay Minister in the Church of England and the Chair of Theos – the London-based Christian ‘Think Tank’. He has an International itinerant ministry speaking at universities, businesses and conferences on his passions of leadership and the saving grace of the gospel. He is also a Defence Adviser to the House of Commons Defence Committee plus a number of companies, both in the UK and Internationally. His knowledge of terrorism (he was a bomb disposal operator in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s) and military logistics, alongside his experience of rebuilding infrastructure in the aftermath of conflict often sees him interviewed on TV news channels advising on military matters and humanitarian efforts in post-war situations.
Tim retired in 2007 after completing over thirty years of active military service deploying in Germany, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, France, the Balkans, Kosovo, the US, Kuwait and Iraq. In 1999 he was awarded a CBE for his efforts coordinating the KFOR multinational troops and NGO's in establishing humanitarian efforts in the aftermath of the Kosovo War, including the building and running of major refugee camps in Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. In 2002 Cross - then a two-star Major General - became involved in the planning for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He was the senior British representative to the US DoD Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which became the transitional government following the invasion of Iraq. He deployed to Kuwait and then Baghdad in March 2003, and returned to the UK in the late-summer.
Tim completed his military service as General Officer Commanding, Theatre Troops; one of the three Divisions of the UK Field Army. He was thus responsible for the provision of a wide range of Combat, Combat Support and Combat Service Support operations worldwide in support of the UK's Defence Strategy.
The Commemoration Service was traditional in nature as we reflected upon the passing years and gave prayerful honour those who gave their lives for this country. However, it was also inspirational and illuminating as Major Cross shared with us with his personal reflections on the tragedy of war and the hope he, and many other soldiers, had found in Jesus! Tim shared how he found Christ for himself on Easter Sunday 1981 when he took the opportunity to visit the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem whilst on leave with his wife whilst serving on a deployment in Cyprus. His testimony was electric and his nature and experience came across with a leadership authority that marked his standing in the forces; yet his humility also shine through as he shared how he realised his own personal need for a Saviour. Plus his realisation that as a leader of men himself his leadership style and motivation of men would never be the same again as God moved in his life to stand with and encourage others. He also left us with some things to ponder:
On the last point he expounded that it is only Jesus who gives true peace. A peace that passes all human understanding and intellect and a peace that many seek. Global peace, national peace, peace locally in your community - these are all quite large topics but God starts the process of peace in the very heart of man bringing it down onto an individual basis. IT was this peace that he himself found in that visit visit to the GArden Tomb in Jerusalem all those years ago. It is a peace too that we can find ourselves as Jesus is only a prayer away. He reminded us that Jesus said "be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!"
The special service of remembrance which was held at St Saviour's Church, Brockenhurst, was packed with people coming from all over the New Forest to celebrate the National Event. Some came in their Regimental uniform proudly displayring their various campaign medals, others came from local churches and churches further a field to remember; the local British Legions were represented by thier flag bearers who lent the evening a certain pageantry.
The service of remembrance was filled with traditional hymns well known to all, and the singing was glorious! 'Our God, Our Help In Ages Past', 'Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind' and 'Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer' where some of the hymns sung to the sounds of the organ which filled the air and added to the ambiance as the lyrics rose on the voices of the congregation - as it would of in those days one hundred years ago - with a certain gusto and reverence.
The revealing story of how the Active Service Gospel of Saint John was as interesting in the telling as it was moving to the soul, and the story of how the tradition of offering gospels without any social agenda attached to anyone who wanted or needed one was inspiring. Scripture Gift Mission - now SGM Lifewords mass-produced 'Words of Comfort and Encouragement' without partiality during a war where words had already been slain by mass-produced propaganda, guns and machinery. A staggering 42 million Active Service Gospels were printed - a testament to the demand and to the call of duty for so many who left this country for foreign soils. Some were accepted gladly, others with derision that sometimes turned into devotion as the booklets were used in the trenches under heavy fire. Those trenches were a place where some lost faith in God and humanity yet also a place where some others found it through the pages of that little booklet.
For even more information on Major General Cross please see his Wikipedia page linked below: