This talk, given at October Conference in 1946, is composed of one story after another about the Saints in Great Britain during World War II, given by the acting mission president during the war. For more background on Pres. Anastasiou, see this article. Hat tip to Anne (U.K.) for this post.
ELDER ANDRE K. ANASTASIOU
Former President of British Mission
I feel it a great honor to stand before the Presidency and general authorities of the Church assembled in this great building, together with the multitude of Saints.
For twenty-eight years I hoped and prayed to be in Zion and to be inside the Tabernacle. This is a great opportunity and I feel very humble, indeed, standing before you, brothers and sisters.
It was my task to be called to preside in an acting position over the British Mission from January 10, 1940 until May,1944 – for four years and five months.
May I take you back to the year 1937 when the British Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was celebrating its centennial. It is the oldest mission of the Church, the mission which contributed eighty-four percent of Church membership, originally. It was our centennial. Our late President, Heber J. Grant, and President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and Sister Ruth May Fox, and many others, came from Zion to Great Britain to celebrate our centennial. We learned the day and the hour when the train would arrive in London, at the Liverpool Street Station, so a group of about twenty young people of the MIA gathered to meet President Grant. After waiting sometime, the train finally pulled into the station, and we eagerly looked into the windows of the carriages to see whether we could find President Grant. We were fortunate enough to be about the middle of the platform and his carriage pulled up just about where we stood waiting for him. As we stood there, irresolute as to what to do, one of the sisters touched my elbow and said, “Go on Brother Anastasiou, start,” and we started singing “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet.” We didn’t care about the porters and the people pushing by; we were so anxious to meet President Grant. We had never seen him before. We had heard of him, we had read his speeches, we had seen his pictures, but to see him in person was a great moment in our lives. And so as we sang that hymn, he came out of the carriage alone, as I remember it. He came to our group, took his hat off, and began singing with us. Before we finished singing he was crying. We looked upon him: a noble man, so humble in appearance, so simply dressed and we felt he was a servant of the Lord. I shall never forget that occasion.
The great moment of the Mission centennial was culminated in Rochdale, Lancashire, where we hired a town hall and many other places for our various conferences and meetings. And during the three days of jubilee and rejoicing, the President of the Church sounded the voice of warning. He said, “A day will come when every missionary will be removed from the British Isles.” That was 1937. In 1939 Great Britain was again at war and every missionary had to be removed from the British Isles, literally every one. In World War No. 1 there was a skeleton representation of missionaries from Zion but on this occasion every one had to be removed. President Hugh B. Brown said to me: “My passport has been cancelled and I have to go.” He left London on January 10, at 10:00 o’clock in the morning, and we came to London at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon. My coming to the Mission headquarters, brothers and sisters, and being called to do that work was not unexpected. Almost two years before that we lived in the little village of Bookham in Surrey. It is a picturesque little place. We had two other little villages nearby, Fetcham and Cookham, but we lived in Bookham.
Often we used to bring missionaries from London from our nearest Branch, eighteen miles away. We would say to them: “Well, this is Fetcham and the next is Bookham but we’ll never take you to Cookham.”
One night while I was working on the translation of the Book of Mormon, into the Russian language, my mind was taken away from my work. I looked up into space, and saw in my mind’s eye that we were leaving Bookham and going to London and that we were entering the mission home; it seemed a large home, and particularly I noticed a wide stairway, or staircase as we call it. At that time there was no large mission headquarters and no wide stairway. But by the time I was called with my family to take over the responsibility of presiding with two counselors, the war was upon us and the mission office was removed from 5 Gordon Square to the southwest part of London and there we found a large building, known as Ravenslea, and there, as we entered the building, was the wide stairway. We went up that stairway and stayed there for four years and about five months. I am just reminded that President J. Reuben Clark was the one to okey the purchase of that building. I remember taking him in my car to Lavendar Hill; it was night, and he went and bought a torch, by that I mean a flashlight. I took him in my little car to Ravenslea and we flashed around with the flashlight, and he said finally, “Buy it, Brother Anastasiou.” That was the mission headquarters, and it is still there now.
When the war began, Great Britain of course, was unprepared. The “gentleman with the umbrella” strove very valiantly to keep Britain out of the war, but the clouds of war hung very low. His Christian endeavor to keep peace in Europe unfortunately failed, because other forces were too strong for this kind Christian gentleman, Neville Chamberlain. But Great Britain, true to her principles of fair play and justice, kept her word to another small country. In this case it was Poland; in the last war it was little Belgium. In a dramatic moment over the BBC, Neville Chamberlain spoke these words, “Great Britain is again at war with Germany.” We were unprepared, there was nothing we could fight with, no planes, no guns, no tanks, nothing at all. The British navy, of course couldn’t be taken ashore. The sense of duty for the protection of small nations, for taking care of the underdog, as we say overt here, was the decision of the British people and the British nation. So everybody was called to war. All our Church members, male members, were liable to be called up. The first two or three months while we were in London, we anticipated bombing, but the first great task to face us was that most of our men were being called up for the armed services. However, we felt that we were entitled to some privileges as ministers of religion, or ministers of the gospel. I went to the Ministry of Labor and National Service and appealed for exemptions. I said that we would like to be considered as other denominations, who were entitled to their ministers being exempt from military service; not because we do not wish to share in the responsibilities of our country, but we need a few men to administer the affairs of the Church. Very tactfully a representative of the Ministry with his secretary said to me: “Will you please call again, and we will consider your case.”
Within about seven days I was back at the Ministry and was received by the same gentleman. And as we sat he gravely looked at me, and said: “Mr. Anastasiou, it is needless for me to say that the King needs every man.” And as he said that I looked up at him and said: “Every man of our Church who has been called to service has responded and has gone, but may I state, very respectfully, that the King of Kings needs a few men to carry out His work.”
As I said that he looked up at me and said: “You are right. How many men do you need?”
Within ten minutes the interview was over. Within a week we had a letter, an official document of the Minister of Labor and National Service, granting us exemption for all our men in major Holy Orders, which we knew to be the Melchizedek Priesthood. Those in lesser Holy Orders, the Aaronic Priesthood members, were not exempted. So we were able to keep some of our Elders in charge of the branches.
I am reminded of the fact that Elder Joseph F. Merrill remained in Great Britain during the year 1935, and I believe ’36. It was his task to remove all the missionaries from Zion from administering the affairs of the branches. These brethren could see what was coming. When the war was declared the Saints said: “Why, President Grant’s prophecy has been fulfilled. Every missionary, for the first time in the history of the British Mission, has been removed from this land.”
And so we were not unprepared. Every branch was self-administered, and we began to take care of the 68 branches under our responsibility. While men clung to weapons of war in defending their country, in trying to help Poland and other overrun nations, some of us gave up our work and came and gave our full time to missionary work.
London, particularly, and many other large cities were in danger of destruction. Bombing began and it was very severe. Many people perished by day and by night. Latter-day Saints, I imagine, with the rest of the people prayed harder than ever before to be delivered from destruction. We spent nearly two years in cellars and shelters, hiding from destructive bombs, but I am grateful to say that not one Latter-day Saint perished in the destruction of the cities of Great Britain, not one.
I lay certain stress on “Saints.” May I be permitted to say that we have defined some of our Church members as Saints, Aints and Complaints. Among the Saints, we have not lost a single one.
Some people said to me: “Brother Anastasiou, do you mean to tell us that not one member of the Church perished in that terrible bombing of London?”
I said: “Yes, it is true, not one Latter-day Saint.” We lost one family whose mother was a member of the church but in name only. We never knew her. We learned of the destruction of herself, her children, her husband and their home by a bomb, and that was the first time we knew that she was a member of the Church. She never came anywhere near the Church. Her old father, living in Manchester, sent us the word that his daughter and her whole family had perished in one of the bombing raids upon London. But among faithful Latter-day Saints it was a joy to see protection.
In some cases we lost our furniture, our windows, our doors, our ceilings but not a life. In the city of Liverpool, one of our Branch Presidents, Brother Patey told me a story which I shall never forget: One of those five hundred pound bombs fell outside of his little home, but it did not go off. The children immediately said: “Daddy, it is a D.A.” A delay action bomb, and he said tome: “We began to pray.” Five children and the father, no mother. He is a widower. He said they all prayed so earnestly and when they had finished praying, the children said: “Daddy, we will be all right. We will be all right in our home tonight.”
And so they went to bed, imagine, with that terrific bomb lying just outside the door half submerged in the ground. If it had gone off it would have destroyed probably forty or fifty houses and killed two or three hundred people, but the faith of that little humble family was so wonderful that I shall never forget it.
The next morning the A.R.P., Squad was on the scene. The whole neighborhood was removed for forty-eight hours and the bomb was finally taken away. When it was successfully removed the people were called back to their homes.
On the way back Brother Patey asked the foreman of the A.R.P. Squad: “Well, what did you find?”
“Mr. Patey, we got at the bomb outside of your door and found it ready to explode at any moment. There was nothing wrong with it. We are puzzled why it did not go off.”
Brother Patey knew in his heart that it was not a puzzle, that it was not luck as the man said to him, “Lucky people you still have your homes to go back to.” Brother Patey knew deep in his heart that it was the answer to a humble prayer of a good Latter-day Saint and his children.
He said to me: “I was so anxious that our Branch records in my home would not be destroyed.” That was his anxiety.
Well, we had regulations by the hundred; we Latter-day Saints, condensed the principles of the Gospel into a kind of pill form. We said to the Saints: “Brothers and Sisters, if you need the protection of the Lord you must be true to the principles of the Gospel.” We said: 1. Pray night and morning. 2. Keep the Sabbath Day holy. 3. Go to the house of the Lord and take the sacrament worthily. Don’t bear false witness to it. 4. Sustain loyally the Church Authorities. 5. Pay you tithing and fast offerings. 6. Keep the Word of Wisdom, and 7. Do your temple work.
And members adhered to this. We called 101 full time missionaries and most of them went into the field without a penny, and yet everyone had the means. We called 425 part-time missionaries and every one gave us five hours a week for nearly two years, apart from their regular work. Our missionaries were asked to preach the Gospel and not to give talks. At testimony meetings we had marvelous inspirational occasions.
The police sometimes would come and say: “Don’t you think it unwise that you should hold your services while the air raid is on? Think of the casualties you would sustain if a bomb were to fall upon your church.” We said: “Thank you,officer, we recognize the danger but we feel safe in a dedicated building,” and we never cancelled a single service. Many of our buildings, of course, had no windows and no ceilings. The government saw that we had roofs over our heads. We had hardly any heat and hardly any light.
I remember one testimony meeting when every Saint took one minute to bear a testimony, and one little old lady got up. She said: “Brothers and sisters, the testimony of the Gospel is burning in my bosom.” And as she sat down, she said to her neighbor: “My dear, my feet are freezing.”
We went throughout the mission, in accordance with the wishes of the First Presidency, once a year. We called young people to go on missions, saying to them: “Brothers and sisters, if you will answer the call of your brethren it makes no difference whether you have any means or not, the Lord will provide.”
I must give way in a moment, but may I bear a testimony that I have seen the hand of the Lord move among those faithful Latter-day Saints in the British Isles. In Glasgow, Scotland, in 1940, was my first conference, and my first visit to Scotland. On the front bench the res at a young lady with her mother who was deaf and dumb and this young daughter used the sign language. She said to her mother: “The President is calling us to go on missions,” and her mother said to her: “You go on a mission.”
And so she came to me after the conference and said: “President, I am willing to go but –,” she dropped her eyes, “but I have no money.”
I said: “Sister McDonald, the Lord will open the way.”
She was set apart the last thing on Sunday night – and I said: “I will write to you on Tuesday, when I get back.” It took a day to get back to London, to my desk, and among the pile of letters there was the answer to the promise given to that sister. One faithful brother from the army wrote to me saying: “President, I would like to take care of a missionary for six months. Here is the check for the first month, and the others will follow.” All of that money went to that sister.
Time will not permit me to say much more, but by the time my successor arrived back in Great Britain, President Hugh B. Brown, we had 75 branches in operation, every oneself-sustaining and self-administered, and it has been a testimony tome that “the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of Heaven, but that the powers of Heaven cannot be controlled nor handled except upon the principles of righteousness,” (Doc. & Cov. 121:36.) and such is my testimony to bear to you, brothers and sisters, that we have witnessed the hand of the Lord in our midst, by day and by night, and I rejoice in being with you today in Zion.
There are at least twenty or thirty young people in Great Britain today who were denied the opportunity to go on missions because of the war work. Now they are willing to go on missions anywhere in the world and the means will be found when they are called.
God grant that we may appreciate the blessings of this Gospel, I humbly pray, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.