Hope Showed Me Grace.
I joined the British Royal Navy when I was sixteen. The initial sign up period was for twelve years, which began after reaching the age of eighteen, with the option to sign on for a further ten years after that.
I had an older brother in the Royal Navy who I looked up to and admired. He was a Leading Seaman. He was a very able person but he led a very checkered career. He would regularly fall foul of the Naval Law and Regulations and be demoted to Able Seaman. After some time, based on the excellence of his work, he would be promoted back to Leading Seaman. This cycle continued until he left the Royal Navy for good after completing his twelve years.
I was in the engineering branch and was promoted to Leading Mechanic. Just like my relative I kept getting into trouble. My downfall was alcohol. I would go on shore leave, drink too much, and end up doing something foolish. This would result in me appearing before the ship’s Captain as a defaulter.
At the age of twenty-three I was serving on a destroyer, H.M.S. Cavalier, in Hong Kong and I was on the point of being demoted. I had been given a final last chance and told that one more appearance as a defaulter would mean demotion and much more. I decided that it was time I grew up, time I changed my ways and kept out of trouble.
I was on shore leave, which ended at midnight, and thinking it was around 10.30 pm, I decided that, rather than take a taxi, I would take a leisurely walk back to the ship. I didn’t realize it but I’d got the time wrong. It was actually 11.30pm, which meant that I got back to the ship after shore leave had ended. I was automatically put on the defaulter’s list.
I was absolutely disgusted with my own stupidity at making such a foolish mistake. I faced demotion, punishment and the contempt of my shipmates. I decided, in the words of the old saying, that I might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. If I were going to be demoted then it would be for a real offense rather than being twenty minutes late.
I snuck off the ship and went AWOL. For two days I stayed ashore, dodging the Shore Patrols and going round the bars until my money ran out. Then I returned to the ship to face the music and my inevitable punishment. Because a destroyer is a small ship the crew is like a family, we all knew each other. Without exception everyone expected the worst for me when I eventually stood in front of the Captain as a defaulter.
He asked me what had happened. I told him of my stupid, but unintentional, error and how I felt when I realized that it would lead to me being demoted. I told him how I decided that I might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb and so gone back ashore illegally.
He considered me for a while and then told me that he believed me. He believed me when I said that I had wanted change and keep out of trouble and that my initial breaking the rules had not been intentional. Furthermore, he said that he quite understood my reaction being what it was when I found out my mistake.
He looked me straight in the eye and then pronounced the sentence. I was fined a sum of several days’ pay, I was confined to the ship without shore leave for thirty days and my daily rum ration was stopped for the same period. That was it. No demotion, nothing else.
The crew was in shock. How could this be? They knew my history of continuous drink related trouble and my many appearances as a defaulter. Bit the Captain had extended grace to me, to me who fully expected the law. Instead of applying the Naval Law and Regulations he had exercised his discretion as Captain and shown me grace.
From that day on I kept out of trouble. I was promoted to Petty Officer, then Chief Petty Officer and eventually Chief Mechanician, which was as high as I could get as a non commissioned officer. Unlike my relative, who left the Royal Navy after only experiencing the Law, I, who experienced Grace, signed on for the further ten years and served a total of twenty-three years.
As a result of the Captain’s actions that day, of the Grace that he extended toward me, the Royal Navy gained over twenty years service from an effective and loyal member. As for me, I gained a life that could have gone in quite another direction.
Isn’t this just like God? Instead of applying the Law and the punishment that we all deserve he, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, extends to us grace. When we receive it our lives take on a new direction, we are fulfilled and we are made whole.
The Captain’s name? He is the only commanding officer whose name I remember. He was Commander J.D. Hope R.N. Hence the title of this article, “Hope Showed Me Grace”