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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2141

Senator BROWNHILL(11.02) —I would like to make a short speech about an address given by a friend of mine, John Fincher, on Anzac Day at Scone in New South Wales last Saturday. John Fincher was a member of a near all-Australian crew in 626 Squadron flying Lancasters from Wickenby in England during the Second World War. He flew some 27 missions over Germany and after the war he joined the ministry, and only just recently the Reverend John Fincher retired as the vicar of Quirindi, my home town. I think the story told by John Fincher on Saturday shows the true spirit of Anzac Day-of reconciliation and healing and the message that we should not have any more wars. In recognition of all the people who we remembered last Saturday, I seek leave to incorporate the address in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The address read as follows:


I have a dream-a dream inspired by the true story of Arthur Lee, a British airman, and Rudi Balzer, a German soldier of World War II.

These two young men, both 22 years of age, were caught up in events not of their making, on opposing sides in a brutal and savage war.

This is their story:

Returning from a raid on Berlin on 27th January, 1944, a Lancaster from 626 Squadron, stationed at Wickenby in England, was shot down near Katzenelnbogen in Germany. The only survivor was the Navigator, Arthur Lee. The other six crew members, including two Australians, were killed.

Because of the great destruction, fear and death caused by air raids, airmen were often tortured or murdered when found. Arthur Lee parachuted to ``safety'' and, although wounded, his life was saved by the courageous intervention of a young German soldier, Rudi Balzer.

Rudi gave protection, and showed great kindness to Arthur. He remained with him until he was safely transferred into the custody of the Luftwaffe on the following afternoon. He provided him with food and arranged for his burnt hands and feet to be dressed. One kindness which Arthur never forgot was when Rudi folded the parachute to make a makeshift mattress on the floor and covered him with his army greatcoat.

Both Arthur Lee and Rudi Balzer were profoundly affected by this experience. Rudi never forgot those six enemy airmen who died when their aircraft, bleeding smoke and flame, crashed on high ground beyond the village. He felt that the place where the airmen died should be remembered.

Years passed before Rudi discovered that Arthur Lee, the sole survivor, was still alive, and contact was re-established. Later, following correspondence between Rudi and Arthur, it was agreed that a plain oak cross, made by Rudi, would be erected in a glade in the woods in the beautiful countryside near the place of impact of the Lancaster.

Arthur's German friends asked what form of inscription he thought the cross should carry. He suggested that the words should be the same as those on the burnt timbers of Coventry Cathedral-``Father Forgive''-This was accepted but it was felt that those two words were somehow incomplete and they added the word-``us''. So the cross carries the words, ``Father Forgive Us.'' in English on one arm of the cross and in German on the other.

Arrangements were then made for Arthur Lee to visit the village on 27 January, 1984, (the 40th Anniversary of the death of his crew) for the service of dedication. However, Arthur's visit was cancelled due to illness, but the service went ahead as planned and the statement Arthur had intended to make was read to the congregation.

I share with you now part of that statement: ``You will have noticed that the cross makes no references to war. It does not remember those who died here. But it does proclaim two words of our Lord which are perhaps the only hope for this pain-wracked and frightened world: ``Father Forgive''. The full meaning of those words came to me with startling clarity many years ago when I first stood among the ruins of Coventry Cathedral in England. A rough cross formed from burnt and blackened beams had been placed where the altar had stood before the building had been destroyed by German bombers. Carved on the wall behind the cross were two words: ``Father Forgive''. The crude burnt cross and those two words made me visibly aware not only of the wickedness and futility of war but also of the indomitable optimism of the human spirit. No matter what we had done to each other; no matter how we had failed to obey the commandment to love one another, nothing could separate us from the love of God. Forgiveness was there for the asking; we could hold out our hands to each other; we could ask forgiveness of each other; we could begin again.

This I believe, is the significance of the cross which today stands on the hillside overlooking this community. It has been offered as a generous gift to me in memory of my friends who died. I now offer it back to you. I have not forgotten the terrible purpose of my journeys across your country forty years ago. I am only too aware of the terror, the pain, the death and destruction which I and my friends brought with us. Do not believe that we never thought about it. We thought about it a great deal, but we were caught up in the war and there seemed no other way to bring it to an end. Now, in sight of this cross, I ask you for your forgiveness.

I hope that in years to come this cross will become known as the airmen's cross . . . . that it will become a symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation for the people of this and other communities. May you also live in peace and happiness under its protection''.

Arthur Lee died last year (1986). He suffered a severe heart attack on the eve of leading a group of airmen, former members of the 12 and 626 Squadrons, on a visit to Sobernheim in Germany at the invitation of the German Night Fighter Association.

David Oliver led the group in his stead and he has written: ``Hopefully the example of such implacable enemies getting together so unreservedly will yield benefits beyond those attaching to our own associations. We believe that the international situation is such that it is essential that ever closer ties of friendship and co-operation be established between our great countries''.

There is an old Chinese proverb: ``Build golden bridges over which your enemy may retreat.'' Arthur Lee and Rudi Balzer have built a ``golden Bridge'' across which others may pass and find forgiveness and reconciliation.

In 1981, after attending a Memorial Service at Wickenby in England to the 1084 young men (members of 12 and 626 Squadrons who flew out from Wickenby), I went to Germany to visit Cologne Cathedral. I had long hoped that such a visit would be possible for my log book records three occasions in which I took part in raids on Cologne. In my mind I can still see Cologne Cathedral standing, alone and defiant, amidst great destruction during a daylight raid on 2nd March, 1945. My attendance at mass in that majestic Cathedral was a personal reconciliation and healing. Some years ago, Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor suggested an Ecumenical Service of reconciliation in Cologne Cathedral. Sadly, this suggestion seems to have lapsed through inaction. It is my dream that during my lifetime such a service will be held.

The same quality of forgiveness shines in a story ``No Longer Enemies'' taken from a book ``a Precocious Autobiography'' by Y. Yevtuskenko.

During the Second World War, the people of Russia suffered terribly. When 20,000 German prisoners were to be marched through the streets of Moscow, crowds, mainly women consumed by hatred, thronged the pavements. As the column approached, they clenched their fists and it was with difficulty that they were held back.

Yevtuskenko writes:

``All at once, something happened to them. They saw German soldiers, thin, unshaven, wearing dirty, bloodstained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulders of their comrades; the soldiers walked with their heads down. The street had become deathly silent, the only sound the shuffling of boots and the stomping of crutches. Then I saw an elderly women in broken boots push herself forward and touched a policeman's shoulder, saying, ``Let me through.'' There must have been ``something'' about her which made them step aside. She went up to the column, took from inside her coat, something wrapped in a coloured handkerchief and unfolded it. It was a crust of black bread. She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of a soldier, so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet. And then suddenly from every side, women were running toward the soldiers, pushing into their hands bread, cigarettes, whatever they had. The soldiers were no longer enemies, they were people.''

I close with two lines from the prayer of St. Francis:

``For it is in giving that we receive

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.''

I hope that the ecumenical service of reconciliation at Cologne Cathedral as suggested by Helmut Kohl in John Fincher's address can be held at some future time.