RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Still sure peace will come, after all these years

A century ago tonight, my father experienced the most memorable Christmas Eve of his life.

Sixty years ago, so did I.

He was on the front line, in a foreign land. So was I, in Jerusalem, though the line was no longer particularly dangerous.

We had driven in a clapped-out RAF lorry from Al Mafraq, in Jordan, to the King David Hotel, scene of the 1948 terrorist attack by Israel against the British occupying forces.

All seemed peaceful now. But we were not too sure. I thought then of my father, as I do now.

He had thought he was a freedom fighter in 1914.

That Christmas Eve a century ago, he discovered the Germans thought they were, too.

That night in Jerusalem, we thought we were freedom fighters, by keeping Israel and the Arab world apart.

After all, Israeli Meteor jets, painted black, and supplied by the British, often tested our radar in the desert over Al Mafraq.

But standing by to intercept were Meteors painted silver, flown by the RAF, protecting the boundaries of Jordan and the other Middle Eastern countries.

It had become a juggling act, yet it was peace on earth and goodwill towards people that night when we moved on to Bethlehem, despite our vehicle getting a puncture and spluttering to a halt somewhere down in the Great Rift Valley.

Somehow we kept on to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Bethlehem. Safe inside, with and Gloria In Excelsis Deo and the biggest star in Bethlehem’s history in neon lights over the altar, Midnight Mass seemed even bigger and better than that in Blighty.

It was a far cry from the holly and ivy pagan symbolism we cling to here, yet which we love as one glorious Christmas pudding of inherited memory from times past.

It was still a celebration of hope, as it was from time immemorial.

Not one of us is alone in that hope for the future.

Back in 1954, I had no idea that it was actually the Bishop of Chichester, Lancelot Andrewes, who in 1616 while making his own personal journey through this troubled world as we all have to, wrote those famous lines: “It was no summer progress. A cold coming they had of it… the worst time of the year to make a journey…the ways deep, the weather sh arp, the days short, the sun farthest off in solstitio brumali, the very dead of winter.”

Words that were used again of course by TS Eliot on his own milestone. My father’s Christmas Eve could hardly be matched for that brief miracle which became an everlasting example to the world of the insanity of war.

He eventually saw peace in the region in only 21 years, in 1945.

I with the rest of the world am still waiting after 60 years for peace in that lovely region in the east where I spent my memorable Christmas.

Meanwhile, Al Mafraq, that tiny settlement in the Syrian desert, where I used to watch the desert larks making their nests, the sand grouse flighting against the sunset, the lesser kestrels hovering for locusts, and the black vultures vortexing into the clear blue sky, is now a vast, sprawling refugee camp.

It has become, like much of the region, a shattered landscape.

But peace will come one day, it always does.