One of the most intense testimonies I have come across from the Second World War was written by Captain Edgar Beresford-Mash of the Army Dental Corps and first published in 1941.
Edgar was a dentist operating a practice in the south-western suburbs of London, and serving as a leading member of the Mission of Hope, a charity set up to assist unmarried mothers and their children.
In addition or some years Edgar had held a commission in the Territorial Army Reserve, and on being called up on 3rd September 1939, `I found it an intense mental and spiritual struggle to adapt myself to a new life, a military life.’
Edgar had a book of daily devotional readings called the Daily Light, and during this period two readings struck him powerfully, and he felt God was speaking to him directly:
Chronicles 20:17, `Ye shall not need to fight in this battle, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord…for the Lord will be with you.’
Genesis 28:15, `Behold I am with thee and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest and will leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.’
He embarked for France in April 1940, landing at Le Havre and spent a few weeks in Bethune prior the the German invasion of the Lowlands. When the attack began a fierce air attack left him temporarily deafened. He moved across to Dixmuide in Belgium, treating hundreds of battle casualties at a Casualty Clearing Station, including a German pilot who had been shot down.
By 29 May 1940 the CCS had moved along the coast to La Panne, operating from a casino. After two days orders were received to evacuate. They were told to march to Bray Dunes to await evacuation at 4.30pm on 31st May. Edgar was one of the last men in the rear party. However the party was broken up by German aerial bombardment. He and his few remaining comrades marched on with little food and water to the Dunkirk Mole.
Avoiding screaming shells, they walked past dead bodies:
Life slipped quickly away, but the full story of the Dunkirk beaches reveals that Life came to Dunkirk as well as Death – spiritual Life. There were men who were definitely converted where they stood or lay on those beachers. The testimony of not a few of them is that even in that unlikely place and amid all the confusion of warfare they heard the voice of Christ appealing for their personal surrender to Him; they are with us today and bear the testimony gladly.’
Charles Cundall’s official painting of the Dunkirk evacuation
Eventually Edgar climbed aboard a destroyer to return to England.
Desperately trying to hold off aerial bombardment as men try to board the rescue destroyers
The scamble for safety
Another bombardment hit the ship, three bombs scoring a direct hit. A roar of flame spread through the sick bay, burning Edgar’s neck and head. He thought he had been killed, and for one moment he thought that God had failed to keep his promise from September 1939.
Edgar found himself in the flaming water, but then experienced what was, for him, the `utter nearness’ of God.
Events were to take a surprising turn. Edgar’s full story, illuminated by reminiscences from family members, is told in my book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War