Victory in the battle of Britain saved the country from invasion, but the enemy sought to recompense himself by heavier, indiscriminate night-bombing, which continued into 1941. In January of that year, this constant bombing of Britain became a prayer burden at the College, until it reached a crisis.
“I feel much more strongly today,” said Mr. Howells in the January 20 meeting, “that God has stopped me praying more for this town than for the country. He tells me, ‘If these air raids are going to be repeated, I cannot guarantee you will be safe, so come and pray them out of the country’; and I said to Him, ‘You protect us now, until we get a chance to come up and believe You.'”
Ten days were spent in prayer, and then on January 28, the journal stated, “Believed for the protection of the country.” This was followed by the remarkable petition: “Lord, turn the enemy down to the Mediterranean”, and thus relieve the pressure on Britain, by turning Hitler’s attention in another direction. Just over two months later, — on April 6, war was declared by Hitler on Yugoslavia and Greece, and this was followed by the invasion of Crete and North Africa. With these new commitments the enemy was obliged to turn from the destruction of Britain, and so the immediate crisis for this country passed over.
The next prayer was greater still. We suppose nothing gave the world a bigger shock through the whole course of the war than when, without a word of warning, Hitler swung round and invaded Russia. If anything was seen to be an intervention of God to help the Allies, it was that. The secular papers spoke of it in the words of the pagan proverb, “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.” That decision of Hitler was reckoned as one of the great acts of divine intervention which spelt the “doom of the Nazis”. The invasion of Russia started at 4 a.m. on June 22, 1941. But seven weeks previously, on May 2, God had begun to speak to Mr. Howells about Russia, and he said that day: “Much as we long to see the war finished, it seems that God is saying, ‘There is one country more I want to bring judgment on, and that is Communist Russia’.” And again on the next day: “Russia comes before me. Is it right for Stalin and his followers to escape? If God gives us the choice, would we tell Him to prolong the war, although we are losing on every point?” And again: “We ask the Lord to weaken Russia and Japan, even if it means prolonging the war for five years. Can’t the Lord turn the enemy’s drive into Russia? If God does not deal with Russia now, He will have to make another war to do so. I say He ought to bring Russia into it, no matter how long it will take, unless He has another way to get at these communists.” From that time this became the main prayer of the College: “Lord, bring Russia into the war and deal with Communism.” Six weeks later Russia had come in!
But very soon the danger was of another kind. Russia was in, but after a few short weeks was facing imminent collapse. As the German hordes poured into that country, how well we remember the anxiety with which the free world watched the gradual disintegration of the Russian armies, and the constantly closer approach of the Nazis to Moscow. It was a race with winter. It was a repetition of the famous invasion of Napoleon. Hitler proclaimed that he would succeed where Napoleon had failed, and winter in an intact Moscow. Would he? Did anybody in those tense days believe he would not? His armies were almost at the gates of the city. On Sunday, October 19, 1941, Mrs. Howells relates that very early that morning Mr. Howells told her he would go down and hear the seven o’clock news to see if Moscow had fallen. When he came back he said it had not fallen, but that they were expecting bad news any time. A few minutes after that, the Lord began to speak to him: “Is there any need for Moscow to fall? Why don’t you pray and believe for Me to save Moscow and give a set-back to the Nazis?”
Dr. Kenneth G. Symonds, F.R.C.S., who has been a member of the College staff for twelve years, tells us of the meeting that Sunday morning. “The Director opened his message by saying that the first thing the Lord had told him that morning was, ‘Pray that Moscow will not fall!’ It seemed ridiculously impossible for we had heard that its fall was inevitable; but although the prayer was so far beyond us, yet the Spirit ‘laid it on us. It seemed that He prayed in spite of us, so we travailed all day, until in the late meeting that night, He so inspired us through His servant that we had the assurance that God was answering. The Lord gave liberty to pray that the Nazis might be utterly overthrown in a Russian winter. We shall never forget the joy of victory He gave us as faith mounted up during those days.” The second day the news was that the Russians had taken fresh courage and the snow was falling heavily in some parts. Four days later in the meeting Mr. Howells said, “I say now, ‘Thus saith the Lord: he (Hitler) is wintering in the Russian snows’.” We all know the end of the story; Moscow never fell, and Goering, recounting later the misfortunes of that winter, stated that three millions of the flower of the Nazi army perished in the snow. Victor Kravchenko in his book, 1 Chose Freedom, said: “The Germans could have taken Moscow those days virtually without a struggle.” Why they turned back is a mystery only the Germans themselves can solve for history.”
God now began to turn the prayers of the College into yet another direction. With the Nazis marching through Yugoslavia and Greece and capturing Crete, and with the menace of Rommel and the Italians growing in North Africa, prayer began to be centered on the Bible Lands. This was really one of the main burdens of prayer on the College, because long before, God had revealed to them that this was not just a European war, but that through it, “in the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,” the Jews would return to Palestine, the Gospel go out to every creature, and the Saviour be able to return. Thus as soon as the Bible Lands seemed in danger of invasion, God turned their prayer in that direction. “I am sure,” said Mr. Howells, “the enemy will never touch Palestine, Syria and Iraq.”
The area of greatest immediate danger was North Africa. “With the appearance of Rommel and the German armored divisions there, the menace to Egypt became grave; and if Egypt fell, the door was wide open to Palestine. Again we remember those dark days when Rommel had driven back our armies and was almost knocking on the gates of Alexandria.
“Unless God will intervene on behalf of Palestine,” said Mr. Howells on July 4,1942, “there will be no safety there for the Jews. These Bible Lands must be protected, because it is to these lands the Saviour will come back. If I had the choice today, I would say to God, ‘Take all I have, but preserve Palestine.’ We want to say to God today, ‘unless there is a special reason for Egypt to fall, don’t let Alexandria be taken, but give Rommel a setback.’ Can I carry the same burden today for Alexandria, as I would if Swansea were being attacked?” It was a Saturday and there were not usually prayer meetings on Saturday afternoons; but that day the College was called to spend the afternoon in prayer for God to save. Alexandria and turn the tide in North Africa. There was a heavy burden, but very great liberty in prayer: In the meeting that evening, Mr. Howells said, “Is this prayer we prayed this afternoon of the Holy Ghost, that the enemy is not to take Alexandria? I am speaking to all of you who took a real part in the prayers against the enemy, praying him down to the Mediterranean, praying him to Russia, keeping him out of Moscow! Is this prayer of the Holy Spirit? If it is, we can be as sure of the enemy not taking Alexandria as the people will be when they hear it.” Then on July 5, “All I want to know is, Has the intercession been gained for the Bible Lands? If it has, we have the right to prevail on God that the enemy is not to take Alexandria. The first test point since Moscow is Alexandria;”
That evening Mr. Howells and the College came through to victory. “I thought he might be allowed to take Egypt,” he said, “but I know now he will never take Egypt — neither Alexandria nor Cairo will fall.” And at the end of the meeting he declared, “I have been stirred to my depths today. I have been like a man plowing his way through sand. But now I am on top of if, now I am gripping it; I am handling it. I can shake it.”
The following week they read in the news how, grave things had been in North Africa on that very Saturday when the extra prayer meeting was called, and it was over that week-end that the tide turned at El Alamein, and Alexandria was saved. Major P. W. Rainer, who was responsible for supplying the Eighth Army with water, tells this story of a remarkable and possibly deciding incident in the battle for Alexandria, in his book, Pipe Line to Battle, as quoted in the Magazine of the Merchant Service Officers’ Christian Association of April 1944.
Between Rommel’s men and Alexandria were the remnants of a British army — fifty tanks, a few score field guns, and about 5,000 soldiers. The sides were equally matched, with the Germans holding the advantage, because of their superior 88 mm. guns. Both armies were near exhaustion from heat, dust and lack of water. The battle was grim. “In the words of Major Rainer: “The sun was almost overhead, and our men were fast reaching the end of their endurance, when the Nazis broke. Ten minutes more and it might have been us. Slowly, sullenly the Mark IV tanks lumbered back from their battle smoke. And then an incredible thing happened: 1,100 men of the 90th Light Panzer Division, the elite of the Afrika Korps, came stumbling across the barren sand with their hands in the air. Cracked and black with coagulated blood, their swollen tongues were protruding from their mouths. Crazily they tore water bottles from the necks of our men and pouted life-giving swallows between their parched lips.” Major Rainer then goes on to give this reason for their surrender. The Germans had been twenty-four hours without water, when they overran the British defenses and found a 6-inch water pipe. They shot holes in it and drank deeply. Only when they had taken great gulps, did they realize that it was sea water. The pipe had only just been laid, and Major Rainer had started to test it. Fresh water was never used for tests on pipes — it was too precious. “The day before, it would have been empty,”, he’ writes. “Two days later it would have been full of fresh water… The Nazis didn’t detect the salt at once, because their sense of taste had already been anaesthetized by the brackish water they had been used to, and by thirst.” The surrender of those 1,100 crack soldiers may have been the deciding incident in the battle for Alexandria. The Editor’s comment is: “Such an incredible happening as this cannot be treated as a mere coincidence. Assuredly the Hand of Almighty God is in evidence once more, coming to our aid when weighty issues are in the balance.”
The attention of the College then had to be turned back again to the Russian campaign, if the Bible Lands were to be safe. The danger from the south was now over, but as the Germans, having failed in their attempt on Moscow, pressed eastward through southern Russia and approached Stalingrad, they were coming near the Caucasus Mountains. Once across that range, the door would be wide open to the Bible Lands from the north. Dr. Symonds tells us that “The Nazis had already penetrated the defenses of Stalingrad, and were fighting in the suburbs of the town, when quite unexpectedly the Director announced that the Holy Spirit was urging him to pray that Stalingrad should not fall. The reason was that Stalingrad is the gateway to the Caucasus, and the Caucasus to the Bible Lands. The enemy had made two attempts to occupy these lands, the first via Crete, which brought the prayer from the Spirit that the Nazi hordes should be turned against Russia; and the second via. North Africa, which had resulted in the divine intervention in answer to believing prayer at E1 Alamein. But this prayer for Stalingrad seemed the hardest of all to take hold of. For a whole fortnight we wrestled, the Spirit through His servant insisting that, the prayer having come from Him, we were to be responsible to see it through to a successful issue, as with Moscow.
“In spite of our cries the enemy continued to advance until half of the city was in his hands. The fighting there from house to house was some of the most desperate in the whole war; but the conflict in the Spirit was correspondingly desperate. Contrary to all human reason, as the news got darker, faith rose higher, until we found the enemy was giving way before us. At the same time the tide turned in the visible battle and, to the wonder of the world, the Nazi army was driven out again utterly” broken and demoralized. It was another mighty triumph of the Holy Spirit.”
Some months later, with these four great prayer battles behind them — the invasion of Britain, Alexandria, Moscow and Stalingrad, the college were much interested to see an article published in the press by the military commentator, General J. R. C. Fuller, in which he gave four reasons for the impending doom of the Nazis. Hitler’s four blunders, he called them. Blunder No. 1 was missing the chance to invade Britain. Blunder No. 2, his failure to attack Egypt and gain Alexandria. Blunder No. 3, “Everything in the Russian. campaign depended on the fall of Moscow. Yet Hitler turned away to other objectives.” Blunder No. 4, “Hitler’s final mistake the great attack on Stalingrad.”
On two further occasions there were times of special concentration in prayer, one in the invasion of Italy, and the other for “D” Day. In the battle for Italy, the danger spot was Salerno, where our troops landed in September, 1943, to capture some strategic heights and open the way for the invading forces from the south to reach Rome. “The day of the landing at Salerno and its sequel will always be outstanding in my memory,” says Dr. Symonds. “We had the first evening prayer meeting as usual in the Conference Hall, and gathered again at 9.45 p.m. for the late meeting in Derwen Fawr. It had a solemn tone from the outset, the Director’s voice trembling with the burden of his message, and scarcely audible, as he said, ‘The Lord has’ burdened me between the meetings with the invasion at Salerno.’ I believe our men are in great difficulties, and the Lord has told me that unless we can pray through, they are in danger of losing their hold.’ The awe of God settled down upon us, for this came as a complete surprise, there having been no official news to this effect on the wireless, and we ourselves having previously had some rejoicing that Italy was at last on the point of being delivered from the Fascist and Nazi tyranny. Before long we were on our knees crying to God for Him to intervene; The Spirit took hold of us and suddenly broke right through in the prayers, and we found ourselves praising and rejoicing, believing that God had heard and answered. We could not go on praying any longer, so we rose from our knees and began to sing praises, the Spirit witnessing in all our hearts that God had wrought some miraculous intervention in Italy. The victory was so outstanding that I looked at the clock as we rose to sing. It was on the stroke of 11 p.m.
“We waited to hear the midnight news. The announcer gravely; told us in effect exactly what the Director had told us from the Lord — that unless some miracle happened, our troops were in grave danger of losing the beachhead before the morning. This only served to confirm to us the guidance of the Spirit, and we felt more confident than ever that the victory was certain. The news next morning was more hopeful, but we eagerly awaited newspaper reports from the Front. We were not disappointed. On Thursday morning one of the daily newspapers displayed a front page headline in large print, ‘The Miracle of Salerno’. The account of the reporter personally at the Front ran somewhat as follows: ‘I was with our advanced troops in the invasion of Salerno on Monday. The enemy artillery was advancing rapidly and with ceaseless firing. The noise was terrible, and it was obvious that unless a miracle happened, our troops could never hold-up the advance long enough for the beach-head to be established. Suddenly, for no accountable reason the firing ceased and the Nazi artillery stopped its advance. A deathly stillness settled on the scene. We waited in breathless anticipation, but nothing happened. I looked at my watch — it was eleven o’clock at night. Still we waited, but still nothing happened; and nothing happened all that night, but those hours made all the difference to the invasion. By the morning the beach-head was established’.”
In the last great prayer-battle of the war — for the opening of the Second Front — we will quote again some of Mr. Howells’ own words. On April 6, 1944 just two months before “D” Day, he was saying in the meetings: “We are concerned for the young people who are about to enter the Second Front. Can we believe that our young men can go through with the minimum of loss? If God intervened in Moscow, Stalingrad, Alexandria and our own country, can’t He intervene in the Second Front and stop us from having a set-back? We have a perfect right to ask God to come and fight with our young men, because our leaders only want the Atlantic Charter and its Four Freedoms, as the result of this war. If we got victory at Stalingrad, we can get it here. We know that He is on the side of our men, and I see nothing tonight but victory.”
A month later (May 7), he said: “I am speaking at a time when 5,000,000 men are facing the Second Front. These young men from America are in our country waiting for the invasion, and many thousands may be lost. In Verdun the French lost 1,000,000. If I am not called up to fight, and I know another way to help them and I don’t do it, I ought to be killed instead of them. They are facing death, and anyone who has faced death knows it is a serious thing, and they are facing it for you and me. If they suffer more than we suffer for them, it will be our lifelong shame. If there is a Second Front next week, is there a God in heaven who can intervene? When it starts, Governor Dewey of New York is calling all his State to prayer. The worst of it is that Germany is a Protestant country, and so are we, but it is not the German nation we are fighting; it is the Nazi regime. We believe God is on our side and He says; ‘I will not sheathe the sword until the Charter is established and the world set free’.”
In another meeting God gave the assurance to the College that on “D” Day “He was going over before our troops, and they would not have a set-back.” “The believing was so strong that we were able to take it,” wrote one who was present. “After the burden we had been carrying, the relief was so great that I went to my room, fell on my knees and burst into tears. They were tears of joy and sheer relief from a tremendous tension. It was just as real to me ‘then as if the whole Second Front had been established and the victory actually won.”
On June 6, the day of the opening of the Second Front, Mr. Howells read with great approval General Eisenhower’s Order of the Day to the assault troops, in which he said, “The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you… let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking”; and still more, the wonderful speech of the King, which he broadcast to the country, solemnly calling his people to prayer and dedication, when he said, “Surely not one of us is too busy to play our part in a nation-wide, perchance a world-wide, vigil of prayer as the great crusade sets forth.” In the meeting Mr. Howells said: “If there is going to be a Day of Prayer, it ought to be a day of victory and moving God.” And in his own prayer at the end of that meeting, thinking of the assault troops already landing in Normandy, he prayed, “If You hadn’t intervened at Dunkirk, not one of us would be here today. So lay a burden on us, don’t allow us to be slack. If Hitler had won, Christianity, civilization and freedom, would have gone. Oh Lord, protect and keep our men.! Don’t allow us to pray any differently from what we would if we were on the front line. We do believe the end of this will be victory.”
Finally, on July 8, he said: “I don’t think there is anything to compare with the night we invaded Normandy. We said that God was going before our men, and it wasn’t going to be like Dunkirk. The Daily Telegraph reported that it was only that night the U-boats did not patrol the channel. The way we went over to ‘Normandy’ was beyond imagination — 4,000 ships and 11,000 planes — and they never met a single ship or plane of the enemy! God said, ‘I am going over and there won’t be a set-back’; and although, while I am preaching, there is a big battle on, I go back to His word that there will be no reverses.”
The consummation of these six years of prayer came in June, 1945, with the establishment of the United Nations at San Francisco. No vain hopes of final world peace were based on that, for the prayer in the College for the Gospel to go to every creature, and for the Jews to return to Palestine, has always been with the one great anticipation of the return of the Saviour in glory, and the setting up of the Millennial Kingdom, when at last there will be “peace on earth”;’ but it was the answer to these years of prayer for the reopening of the world to the Gospel, so that every creature might hear in this generation.