It came as a late birthday present from my sister. A thin book with a stained and faded cover – almost falling off the thin pages. A relic of World War Two. A relic of my father.
On an inside page “Colin J Sandeman, /8/1943.” So he must have picked it up in India where he served.
It’s called “Lift up your hearts: An anthology of encouragement.” He needed encouragement and hope. It was halfway through a five-year separation from my mother. Sent around the bottom of Africa from the UK into war.
He ended up commanding troops at a railway station called Dimapur, one stop up the line from where the Japanese advance into North East India was stopped after bloody hand-to-hand fighting. So for him it was a close run thing.
(A decade later he fosters, then adopts, two half-Japanese kids, my twin Peter and I – but that’s another story.)
“Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord” – the prayer book greeting is the opener for the book. It is explicitly Christian and opens with a section on “the Friendliness of God”, that points towards Jesus.
I do the old trick of holding the book so it opens to the page that would have been read the most. My sister must have done this too, because she quoted from it in her letter to me.
“Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there.”
Quoting Robert Browning’s poem, my sister wrote: “I can imagine dad wandering through this book to read familar quotes from English literature when he was in a distant land…”
But I wonder whether William Wordsworth on the opposite page is what he read and re-read.
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
that floats on high o’er vales and hills…”
Because he would have been lonely.
But not always.
I know this because I have re-united “Lift up your hearts ” with a more recent copy of another book that he told me he had carried around in India.
The other book was “Everyman A Bible Student”, that takes you through Bible themes like “Atonement” and “Eternal Life”. My dad also told me that he was encouraged in Bible study by American missionaries he met as he tracked across India. It is a sweet memory to have a father who studied the Bible – and trusted its promises at such a diffucult time in his life.
And there’s a third book “Kingdom Come”, which dates from just after the war. It’s written by Hugh Redwood who managed to be a Fleet Street Editor and a devotional writer at the same time. It is a book that never fails to make me cry. It tells of the work of the Salvation Army in a London scarred by the depression – as that whole generation was. Yet it reveals a strong mix of social concern, evangelistic zeal and faith in God’s purposes. It always moves me.
As I peruse this little collection of books dating back almost 80 years, I ask myself what would someone make of my reading materials generations from now. What reminders of my faith will endure? A good question to ask.