On the beach at St Valery en Caux, France.
On the beach at St Valery en Caux, France.



The 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipolli – a national remembrance day for us in Australia.  Though born in England, today I also remember the sacrifice of my own Father in the world war ‘to end all wars’.

In January I visited Saint Valery en Caux in Normandy; a quaint but small provincial French town on the English Channel, beach pebbled and stretching far below ancient chalk and whitened cliffs, whose presence silently dominates a view across calm waters.

“This place bears witness to the history that I have come here to feel, to connect with, to try to understand a little more than I ever have.

           June 1940 and a battle raged here, on the edges of the French coast and between the self-appointed aggressor and the threatened, but I’m here in order to remember, perhaps in some way to shatter the numbness that history hands us as the years are worn through and rubbed out. Those years which often pass into our forgetfulness and become the memories of long ago.

            Young Harry Stokes was aged 27 that mid summer day in June, a rear guard gunner at Dunkirk, now moved with his regiment down the coast to St Valery en Caux and there to be a part of the eventual laying down of arms and total surrender of the 51st Highland Division of Britain’s proud army. As the troops ran low on food and supplies, and ammunition, to fight their foe, defeat swiftly overtook their journey.

            Now, so many decades later and with only some memorial stones and white crossed graves in military columns, bodies lying close and far down in the earth, many remain. Those heroes, those mighty men who, in defending their country, in defenselessness then fell to their enemy. Their hearts and minds stopped then and there on French soil, like a clock resonating its final stroke at midnight. The tick-tocking echoes forth its timeless message to all around in a keeping of the minutes, in a recording of time’s lessons.

            And what are the lessons that we have learned? That ‘the only thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history” (Dr Desmond Tutu).

            Now the fallen remain, lying in eternal memories. Beautiful, commemorative words and stones on a hill. Looking and presiding far beyond what they ever could in life, immortalized on cliffs overlooking this part of the world, freedom their legacy now. And we remember.

Lest we forget.

WAR GRAVE, St Valery en CauxSo I have come to see and to experience. To hear a heartbeat of one who had an intricacy to him that was mostly not even understandable. Misinterpreted, that heart beat to a different rhythm.

            Who could hear his music? Who could live through the times and be where he was in his mind? Could I now feel his heartbeat? Those feelings of being abandoned and rejected here at a forum created in the wildness of high and impenetrable chalk cliffs, deep blue water and an endless vista of beauty?

            No rescue came as expected. No sense of peace.

What overtook was the most unexplainable cruelty of twisted fate. No hope on this endless blue horizon as he had hoped. No remnant of the kindness of man. Only the years now in which to reflect, solitary and in sadness, captured not only physically but also in his mind.”

A choice now to make the future what it could be, or to settle into a lost or dying hope in justice, that was never to be. Amongst the many millions of the captured, dead and dying, the soldier lost at sea and on land…I come to remember one.

Our world has changed. We have this immediacy of communication on mobile phones and instant video calls to the other side of the world, whenever our hearts desire. There’s an instant gaining of knowledge, information and sharing which overcomes the lack of communication and locking out of exchange. We have an interaction of humans with one another on a scale and with ease never before seen.

There is such a turnaround in the rebuilding of this little town now. In 1940 St Valery was bombed for a solid three days, destroying seventy percent of the place. But rebuild they did. Though we remember and though we revisit, rekindling the thoughts of sadness, abandonment and lack of hope, we cannot stay.

Our journey is our journey, and not that of another. Rebuild we must.

For we must take the abandonment, the anger and the rejection of lives, born in a time of deep world conflict, and bring out of it the lessons of reconciliation.

Jesus came to reconcile. And in that I put my faith.

The world itself has changed little, creating in many parts so much more conflict and the modern stark reality that we, as mankind, do not learn from our history of war. And yet, in order to progress I must learn.

I did not understand him in many ways, this man I call my father, and yet I have now seen the backdrop of disappointment and betrayal that was his lot. I must learn that conflict and error inhibit freedom. I feel closer now that I’m here.

Anger and disturbance can form a decision to change, but if it is allowed reign and dominate the heart it will fester and mould into the ugliness of war. War of the spirit and in the heart, against, if no one else, then at the least myself.

Today, Anzac Day 2015, as I play my music on my headphones and type words on a small but incredibly useful laptop computer which puts me in touch with anyone, anywhere in the world, at almost any time I choose, I muse and write in a freedom which they could never have seen, a world that has changed and grown so very much.

But they fought for this, and gave their own selves and their own future.

The same problem of the human heart remains. Its base will never change. Jesus said once that the “heart of man is wicked”. I believe that His message is all Truth, and is the only thing that can change that troubled, destructive heart.

I may revisit and remember, love, regret and sing and complain against it, but the heart of man still to this day is set against the Truth. It is a rebellion that never is set free, without the changing power of a changed heart.

But a changed heart is possible, achievable, forseeable…..

John 8:12 [Full Chapter] Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.
John 8:12 
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.


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Author: admin

Valery has been in ministry in the church for over 28 years, alongside her husband Michael. Writing is a new and more recent passion that is growing in its focus and the priority in her life! Valery has been privileged to minister across Australia, as well as in the USA, Europe and in Asia. She is a sought after speaker for conferences and women’s ministry events. Whether speaking to a small group of women living in Urban poverty or to large church based groups, Valery is passionate about every person experiencing life transformation through Christ and the total freedom and wholeness that comes with a personal relationship with God. Valery’s other great passion is her family. Together with husband Michael they have 3 fabulous adult children Leah, Ryan and Elyse.

3 thoughts on “ANZAC – A BEACH FAR AWAY”

  1. My father was one of the argyl sutherlandhighlanders taken at saint valery en caux. I have just completed his portrait and make a hand bound book. Three weeks before he died, he stretched out his hand and said, “the boat, the boat, I should have been on the boat” how can we forget the sacrifice.

    1. So sorry, Penelope, that it took me this long to get your comment and to reply! thank you so much for leaving me this note. Are you living in Australia, because I see that you posted this on our ANZAC

      1. Dear Valery, Yes, I live in South Australia. I am trying to work out what to do with his story and all the things he kept like photographs, the red cross vouchers, letters from volunteers. I have written to the Black Watch Museum who have suggested I contact the Argyle Sutherland Museum but I have just finished a Masters including his portrait and have not had time. Behind his portrait is a wall of blood and behind that is the words from revelations 21;4 And God will wipe away their tears…… Then he said,” I saw before me a wall of blood transcending the essence of my despair, I heard a voice say tell my people I am grateful for their love given to me through my Son. I then reached out and we ran a church service in Stalag XXB. Below that I wrote his war poem “A Cry for Peace.” He was a man of God who knew Jesus and I am not speaking about religion but about love and forgiveness and compassion for humanity.

        I can never forget hearing him screaming German out in his sleep when I was seven. The years of anxiety when we would walk well into the night so he could clam down. I would love also to go to Saint Valery.

        I hope to spend more time and put up the photographs of the soldiers he was with on the web site. I thought about collating the story and returning it all to Scotland as the War Memorial here does not recognise those soldiers who came out after the war. In fact what recognition have they ever really had. I do not want their sacrifice to be forgotten. He died never being acknowledge and when they tell of Dunkirk they leave out Saint Valery.

        I have called the hand-made hand bound book ‘The Forgotten Heroes of Saint Valery. I have a long way to go to get it refined.

        Thanks for responding.


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