In the late 1930s Harry Hopkins was the confidant adviser of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. When World War II began in September 1939, the President knew it could spill over to America. It was just a matter of time. The Battle of Britain began in the summer of 1940 and that nation was struggling to survive. England was the only bastion of democracy in Europe and it could not hold on forever alone against Nazi tyranny.
As is true today, most Americans were foolishly pacifistic about entering the war. They would have let Europe die on the vine and fall under the German onslaught. Roosevelt had to move cautiously because of the blindness and the stupidity of the American population. The best he could do was to send his envoy, Hopkins, to England to meet with Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
In London, Churchill held a dinner for Hopkins. After the meal, Hopkins rose to address Churchill with these remarks:
I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return. Well, I am going to quote to you one verse from that Book of Books, and the Song of Solomon 1:16. “Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” And then he paused and with almost a whisper, he said, “Even to the end.”
History records that Churchill began to weep openly. It was not going to be a matter of “if” but “when” the full force of the U.S. would be engaged in the war to help England survive!
Returning to Washington, Hopkins wasted no time in debriefing the President. He reported that it was imperative that Roosevelt meet with Churchill personally. This came about in August when an American cruiser, with the President onboard, sailed into Placentia Bay, Newfoundland where he would meet with Churchill who had arrived on the newly commissioned battleship, HMS Prince of Wales.
For an open church service, both Roosevelt and Churchill met on the fantail of the Prince of Wales along with hundreds of British and American seamen joining to sing and worship the Lord. A chaplain prayed: “O Lord God, whose compassions fail not, support, we entreat Thee, the peoples who are now under the terrors of invasion. … Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” Prayers continued: “Save us and deliver us from the hands of our enemies; abate their pride, assuage their malice. Establish our hearts, O God.”
Some of the great hymns of the faith were then sung. “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” along with “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Having been an Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, Roosevelt asked that they also sing the navy hymn: “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” After the war, Churchill wrote about this meeting that the prayer service had been a “deeply moving expression of the unity of faith of our two peoples, and that none who took part in it will ever forget the spectacle.” He added, “There were there British and American sailors joining fervently together in the prayers and hymns familiar to both. Every word seemed to stir the heart. It was a great hour to live.”
Despite the pride and spiritual warmth of the day, the occasion would be bittersweet. In a few months the Prince of Wales would be sunk by the Japanese and half of those young British sailors who sang with such heart-felt gusto perished.