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Description: A prisoner of war in Nazi camps endured horrific torture then refused to stoop to the level of his captors when given opportunity for revenge.
Communion: Against Self-Pity
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
We need constantly to see the whole truth before our eyes all the time. And the whole truth is of
course, is that the son of God has given himself for us and there is only one sacrifice on our part
that is appropriate for that. And it seems important not to lose sight of that and to lose sight of
the depth of that sacrifice. And I suppose I felt often that you have read many of the same kinds
of stories as we have but perhaps there’s a dearth in these days of the kinds of sacrifice that of
course, your parents and our parents knew in the first two World Wars. We did not sacrifice at all
during the Second World War, we were just children and it was nothing what we experienced.
But that wasn’t the story with other men. And I think that it helps us to see our lives and what
we’re sacrificing for Jesus or what we’re not sacrificing for Jesus in the light of the sacrifices,
tremendous sacrifices that other people have made for just our freedom and for the victory of truth
over untruth. And this is one of those obituaries, you probably can’t see the man’s picture and it
really isn’t important but this is one of those obituaries of really the would be in a sense
contemporaries of your parents but he himself also would be maybe five to 10 years older than your
But this is how it runs, “Brian Stonehouse, MBE War Time SOE Agent, died on December the 2nd age 80.
He was born on August 28, 1918. A Special Operations Executive, Radio Operator, and occupied
France in 1942, Brian Stonehouse survived horrific periods of torture and imprisonment after being
captured by the Germans in October of that year. From then until the end of the War he endured
unremitting brutality at the hands of the Vichy French, the Gestapo, the SS, and their henchman in a
series of penal institutions whose names are inscribed on the roll of infamy. These included the
notorious Fresnes Prison in Paris, Mauthausen Austria’s very own, (Himmler’s) concentration camp,
Natzweiler set up by the SS in that part of Alsace-Lorraine which had been incorporated in the Reich
after June, 1949 and finally Dachau in Bavaria from where he was eventually liberated by American
troops in the spring of ’45.
For Stonehouse and other SOE prisoners who lived to return to normal life, only the determination
never to give in. For Stonehouse and other SOE prisoners who lived to return to normal life, only
the determination never to give in, never to let their captors reduce them to the level of the
vermin who were their constant companions. And when after these sufferings no knowledge for anyone
in England to comprehend what these surviving prisoners of the SS had been through. Stonehouse
returned to London an emaciated shadow of his former self. Two of his former nursing friends hardly
recognized him and when in their horrified compassion they invited him to the flat and cooked him a
fresh meal with their entire week’s food ratio. He rushed right out into the street desperately
crying, “I can’t bare the smell of burning flesh.”
Brian Stonehouse grew up in France, received his education at the Sorbone. Later he studied art and
was working as an illustrator for Vogue and other magazines when the war broke out. He had first
served in the Royal Artillery before taking a commission in Honourable Artillery. His commander
recommended him. In July, 1942 using the code name ++++++ he was dropped into the wild.
It goes on them about people he made contact with, all that sort of thing. But he was broadcasting,
making radio transmission because all the other radio transmitters had been killed or captured. It
went on for a long time before they were able to capture him.
He was imprisoned first by the Vichy in the south of France before being delivered into the hands of
Gestapo. There, apart from admitting to being a British officer, he gave nothing else away. He
spent the next 12 months in solitary confinement. Each night, as he later recalled, he heard the
sentry calls outside his cell and wondered whether this announced his execution.
Next in November, 1943 he passed into the hands of the SS at Neuengamme and experienced his first
dose of the SS. Thereafter, there was something inexplicably random about the Nazi’s treatment of
their espionage prisoners. For no apparent reason he was then sent to Mauthausen concentration
camp, a grisly place whose Commandant caused it to attain the highest execution rate of any camp.
At Mauthausen he met a number of SOE men he had known in London. And he names a number of them.
Then they sent him to Natzweiler in Alsace. They were classified as being under the category
‘spy/saboteurs’ – which put them in the ranks of those who could be dispatched without a trace.
Equally irrationally, Stonehouse and his colleagues were shoved about the concentration camp system
for several more months before being sent in early ’45 to Dachau. It was here he was liberated and
reduced to the lower level of degradation he and his colleagues refused to succumb.
After they were liberated by the Americans, Stonehouse was presented with a machine gun and offered
the chance to execute the worst of the SS with the promise of immunity from any inquiry. He
refused. He said, “You must not sink to the level of your tormentors.” He was awarded the VC.
After his return to Britain Stonehouse, like many of those who had endured such personal calamity
did not much care to dwell on the past. He left Britain for America and settled in New York where
he revitalized his artistic career and established himself as a portrait painter. He came back and
painted portraits, one called The Queen Mother, and then later on another portrait of her which he
was due to unveil but he died. A brave modest soldier.
I’m not careful over the cause of the war, or heroism, or that sort of thing but certainly over the
readiness of a human being to face almost unbearable difficulties. And I think it’s very important
for us to waken up and see, as I present some of the ideas this evening, for our schedule this
coming year, I think it’s very important for us to see we have it easy.
And it’s very important for us to look that square in the face whenever we have our little self pity
times or whenever we think, “Oh how hard this is.” It’s a party. I suppose I say that because I
mean, there’s no reason it couldn’t be us, you know, why did it have to be them. But we’ve never
had our nails pulled out, we’ve never had our flesh burned, and this dear man has endured it all for
Let us pray.