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Bravery under fire

Last week I visited the National Army Museum in Chelsea. It’s well worth a trip and best of all it’s free. The museum underwent a radical revamp a few years ago and in addition to having a light and airy feel, the displays pose thoughtful questions about conflict and the human cost. It’s quite removed from more traditional regimental museums that, to my mind, tend to gloss over such considerations.

The particular exhibition I’d gone to see at the invitation of my son, was about a tank regiment, the Sherwood Rangers, who landed in France on D –Day and made their way over the next 10 months all the way to Berlin. Evidently in so doing they accumulated more battle honours than any other regiment in the Second World war. The exhibition, coinciding with a book launch about the campaign, was told through the eyes, and letter writing, of 8 men who served throughout, one of whom was the Chaplain, Revd Leslie Skinner, a Methodist minister.

He had served as a missionary in India in 1937 where his hearing became impaired through illness, but that didn’t stop him hiding his partial deafness and bluffing his way through army chaplaincy selection and service until 1942 when he was found out! Somehow, he managed to re-enlist in time for D-Day in 1944 – the museum commentary suggests a degree of not exactly subterfuge was involved and acknowledges it could not access the detail of how this happened.

Two things are clear though – his bravery and his selfless service. One of the tasks he assigned to himself and no other on that long and arduous drive to Berlin, was to retrieve the bodies of service men whose tank had been hit in battle and who had probably been instantly incinerated. Revd Skinner did this so that other soldiers would not see what had happened to their comrades. He also made sure that each soldier was properly buried. Later the Sherwood Rangers liberated a concentration camp and that held a different set of horrors.

After the war Revd Skinner returned to circuit ministry and when he ‘sat down’ in 1977 he was the superintendent in the then Walton and Weybridge circuit to the south west of London. Although elements of this story were previously known to me, it was quite affecting to see it all in one place, especially when I had not been expecting to encounter him on this visit.

This has nothing obvious to do with safeguarding, but confirms that bravery, single-mindedness and a commitment to address or prevent trauma can make a lasting difference. A good example to follow.

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