Off the beaten path in Scotland in the shadow of Ben Nevis lies the Commando Memorial that honors World War II Commando veterans and their families. The monument was erected in 1952, and the small plaque on the front proclaims: “In memory of the officers and men of the commandos who died in the Second World War 1939-1945. This country was their training ground.” My sister, brother-in-law, and I had the opportunity to travel around the Scottish countryside and were delighted when our tour guide showed us this humble monument in heart of the picturesque Achnacarry estate.
I was unfamiliar with the history of the Commandos, but Iain Grey’s little booklet, Warriors in Bronze, described the fascinating history of this exclusive military division. In the early days of World War II, Churchill instructed his commanders to form an elite force to carry out assaults against Hitler’s military advances. Describing what he envisioned, Churchill said the commandos would be undertaking “duties of hazardous nature,” entering “special service,” and that “they must be prepared with specially trained trips of the hunter class who can develop a reign of terror on the enemy coast” (6). By the autumn of 1940, more than 2000 men had been trained and were made up of British Army personnel, US Army Rangers, and others.
What has become so fascinating to me is the training these men endured in order to be prepared for duty. The six-week training was extremely rigorous—the men in charge did not take shortcuts in order to prepare this elite fighting force. They pushed trainees to extreme limits of their physical and mental endurance.
The Achnacarry estate in Scottish Highlands came to be known as “Commando Castle” since the area was perfect for preparation because of the lochs and mountains that could test individuals to their limits to see if they were up to the task. As soon as trainees got off the train, they had to complete an eight mile speed march with their heavy kit in under an hour or they were returned to their units. The speed marches continued, 7 days a week, for the length of training. Living conditions were deliberately sparse; men were housed in either canvas tents or huts and were responsible for preparing their own rudimentary meals (13). Graduating from training culminated in receiving a coveted green beret.
Iain Grey describes WWI veteran Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Vaughan, the officer in charge of training at Commando Castle: “…his standards for soldiers were set by his long service in war and peace. He accepted nothing but the best, whether it be in fitness, training, weaponry and musketry, fieldcraft and tactics, or even in the more apparently mundane matters of administration such as feeding and hygiene. Together, all these factors made the ‘whole’—and the self-disciplined and reliant Commando soldier was ‘fit to fight’ and ‘fighting fit’ with high morale, willing and capable of tackling any military task, under any circumstances, and against all odds” (11-12).
When I read about these commandos and their training, it becomes clear why they were entrusted with some of the most difficult and sensitive missions in World War II—these men were disciplined. They rejected the cry to be average or mediocre and were taught to pursue excellence in each area of their lives. The training officers knew that if these soldiers were exacting and diligent even in “mundane” tasks then they could be trusted to be exacting and diligent in larger tasks when lives were on the line.
Jesus proclaimed this same truth in Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.” I can’t help but think that Christianity needs more commandos—men and women who will resist the path of least resistance, who can be trusted to be faithful in matters big and small, who are willing to endure rigorous training for the sake of others.
One of my spiritual mentors, Dr. Dorothy Patterson, often tells her classes that she is looking for “a few good women” who will answer the call to be theologically prepared in order to equip women in coming generations. Her husband, Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Seminary, often likens seminary training to “special ops” training so it is no wonder that the Commando history strikes a chord with me.
I can’t help but hope and pray that the women that I have the privilege of preparing for ministry at Southwestern will have a commando-like mentality, that they, too, will reject the cry to be average and mediocre and will pursue excellence in all that they do in order to bring God glory (Col. 3:23). The work they are preparing for is life and death. If I can alter the words of Lieutenant Colonel Vaughn slightly, this is how I hope my students graduating from seminary are described: “The self-disciplined and reliant seminary graduate should be ‘fit to fight’ and ‘fighting fit’ with high morale, willing and capable of tackling any task, under any circumstances, and against all odds for the glory of God.” May that also be true of me and you!