Having no personal memories of D Day, and being required to take a service to commemorate the anniversary, I asked someone who took part in the landings about his memories. Bert suggested a hymn for the service, one that was unknown to me.
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood for the good or evil side;
Some great Cause, God’s New Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by for ever ‘twixt that darkness and that light
Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust.
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, And ‘tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.
By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calvaries ever with the cross that turns not back.
New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward who would keep abreast of truth.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong,
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, beneath the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.
James Russell Lowell
Bert had sung this as a schoolboy in rural Essex, and learned it long before he would be involved in ridding Europe of the tyranny of the Nazi regime. The hymn was actually written by an American, who I believe was strongly opposed to slavery, at the time of the American Civil War. Yet how appropriate it was to the conflict in Europe of 60 years ago.
It’s a pity the hymn went out of fashion, for it highlights to a need to remain vigilant in the cause of truth. Significantly, it points out that truth may not always require a simple repetition of an age old wisdom. No doubt Lowell was thinking particularly of slavery, which was accepted as normal in much of the society of his day, when he wrote New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good uncouth. But the message remains appropriate to the need to fight against fascism 60 years ago, and to the different challenges and concerns of our day.
They were curiously juxtaposed in Rome last week in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the city from Fascism. The occasion had been planned to mark the gratitude of the Italian people, and recall how welcome the British and American troops had been as they arrived in Rome then. But the celebration was also marked by demonstrations against American policy today, highlighting the very different way in which war had been waged in Iraq.
I watched events on the news with mixed feelings. If Rome had not been liberated, there could have been no demonstrations of that sort today. But perhaps it was the moment to point out that ‘new occasions teach new duties’.