July 2, 2013


Our thanks for this excerpt to James Lancaster. (Note: The choice of hymn [with its original title] had many other applications. “Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past” was chosen by Churchill, not only for the Sunday morning service with Roosevelt in Placentia Bay in August 1941, but also by the “Hope Not Committee” for Sir Winston’s state funeral service in 1965.)


Occasionally one or two of our fighting commanders would descend on us, make some propaganda demand and depart in peace or in displeasure. The calmest and the kindliest was that noble and great-hearted soldier Lord Gort who, after Dunkirk, had been rewarded with the Governorship of Gibraltar. I had first met him in that tragic summer of 1940 when with the honour of a back-to-the-wall and typically British retreat fresh upon him he had been persuaded by Lord Halifax to give an address in the BBC religious service on 4 August. The incident inspired one of the best stories of the war.

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Lord Halifax had taken great interest in this special service and had worried his secretaries for weeks. He had given even his own personal time and study to the choice of a suitable hymn and, finding decision difficult, had consulted his favourite henchman, Mr. Charles Peake [Head of the British Foreign Office News Department, later confidential adviser to Halifax when the latter became Britain’s Ambassador to the United States].

“I am at a loss to find a suitable hymn for the Gort service,” said Lord Halifax.

“Surely,” replied the gallant Mr. Peake, “the choice is obvious: O Gort, our help in ages past.”

His Lordship reflected for a moment. Then a pale and watery smile lit up his face. “Excellent, my dear Charles, but I fear that the Prime Minister might not like the second line.”

The remark was apposite. Lord Gort had been our shelter in the stormy blast. All that courage could do, he always did. He had superb qualities of simplicity, of devotion to duty, of great strength in adversity, but intellectually he could not appeal to Mr. Churchill as “Our hope in years to come.” —Robert Bruce Lockhart, Comes the Reckoning (London: Putnam, 1947) 

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