‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ – John 15:13From Sam Lomas:
Tomorrow marks 102 years since the end of the First World War. 11 November has become the day each year on which we remember those who have served in conflicts. This is the story of one such man.
South African born Herbert Cecil Pugh, was forty two when he died, along with 253 others. His heroism would go un-accredited for over six years, and yet his story is one that strikes a chord with anybody who wishes to follow the Lord right to the very end, whatever that end may be.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, Pugh joined the Royal Air Force as a chaplain. On the 5 July 1941, Pugh was traveling by boat along with more than 1300 servicemen across the Atlantic Ocean. The intended destination for Troop carrier ‘Anselm’ was West Africa. However, in the early hours of that day the Anselm was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
Records show that the torpedo had hit the Anselm some way up her side, trapping many below with little or no means of escape as she began to sink at great speed. Eyewitnesses reported that Pugh, who was acting as the ship padre, emerged on deck in his dressing gown comforting the wounded and reassuring those in shock. When Pugh learnt that some injured airmen were trapped below, without hesitation he lowered a rope below the rising waterline and ventured below deck. It was an act of both supreme gallantry and of tremendous faith. On reaching the men below, Pugh gave up countless opportunities to return above deck and even when the water line reached his shoulders, Pugh continued to pray with the men trapped below.
On 1 April 1947, Pugh was awarded a posthumous George Cross. The GC ranks alongside the Victoria Cross, recognising the heroism and gallantry of remarkable men and women who served away from the front line of battle yet whose actions were worthy of the recognition that comes with the VC. The citation describing the actions of Pugh concluded with these words: ‘He had every opportunity of saving his own life but, without regard to his own safety and in the best tradition of the service and of a Christian minister, he gave up his life for others.’
Pugh’s bravery in the face of undeniable danger is astonishing. It was reported by eyewitnesses that the last words of Pugh were, “My love of God is greater than my fear of death. I must be where the men are.”
The heroic faith exhibited by Pugh is remarkable. Here is a man whose conviction and belief in the Lord meant that he was willing to lay down his life for the sake of others. The story of Rev. Herbert Pugh is one that challenges and inspires us to trust in the Lord, despite our circumstances, no matter how challenging they are.
* ‘George Cross Heroes’ by Michael Ashcroft