Paul urges us to imitate those men and women of God who are examples for us to learn from and follow. Rupert Lonsdale was such a person; he was a devout Christian and a submarine commander in the Second World War.
In April 1940, Lonsdale and his 59-man crew set off in the submarine Seal to a stretch of water between Norway & Denmark, their mission was to lay mines. The mission was successful but on their home run Seal hit a mine causing a massive explosion, severely damaging the rear of the boat. The submarine sank to the bottom, the bow pointing upwards with the stern stuck in the mud. They made three attempts to surface but to no avail and everyone knew they were in deep trouble. So they sat on the bottom for 23 hours. The air was almost gone and they’d reached the end of human resources. Some men were already losing consciousness, they were waiting to die.
Through the loud speaker system Lonsdale invited the men to join him for a prayer meeting. We have run out of ideas, he said, so we will commit our lives to God and ask for His help because I believe “All things are possible with God”. All but two of the 59 crew came to the prayer meeting, one of which “didn’t consider it possible to surface a submarine by praying”. So Lonsdale lead the crew in payer:
We have tried everything in our power to save ourselves and we have failed. Yet we believe that you can do things that are impossible to men. Please O Lord, deliver us.
Lonsdale then started the Lord’s Prayer and found himself joined with a lot of voices more full of reverence and feeling that he ever believed possible. He finished by asking the crew to say their own silent prayers. It was later established that some of the men came to faith at that moment.
At the end of the prayers Lonsdale had a thought which he believed was a direct response from God. ‘Move all the men to the bow and redistribute the weight’. So they rigged a line and the men struggled to get the energy to climb up to the bow. When all the men were in position, Lonsdale gave his final orders and blew the ballast tanks. Slowly, agonisingly, the submarine shuddered and started to surface, many realised they had experienced a miracle of a divine nature. Even the non-praying stoker was spiritually changed.
Immediately on the surface they came under attack from the air but after a short period trying to defend themselves Lonsdale surrendered to the enemy. Seal was the first British vessel to surrender for 125 years and the only one to do so in World War 2. The crew spent the rest of the war in captivity.
In prison Lonsdale started holding services and bible studies in prison. He learned to preach and saw many men give their lives to the Lord. Upon release from prison 5 years later he was court marshalled for surrendering his vessel to the enemy but was acquitted. He retired from the Navy to follow his calling to become an ordained minister, serving in Kenya, Southern England and Tenerife.
Although Rupert suffered severe depression because of the shame he felt for surrendering his vessel, he was hailed a Hero. The story was published as a book and his testimony was put in booklet form,10,000 copies were distributed and countless people came to know Jesus.
All this was set against a personal life which was full of tragedy which seemed to deepen his trust in the Lord. Losing three wives to serious illness this quiet man once wrote “When I am down, ‘I find kneeling and giving my life and my problems to God enables me to find Him and His grace’
His faith was anchored in the word of God and his saviour Jesus Christ and anything that distracted the focus on Christ was considered a hindrance. All he wanted was for Christ to have the Glory.
After being a torch bearer for Christ for all his life Rupert died in Bournemouth at the ripe old age of 93.
“All surpassing power is from God and not from us”