On Remembrance Sunday, 11 November 2018, we will commemorate 100 years since the end of World War 1. It’s sobering to be reminded that WW1 saw a soldier dying every 15 seconds. This amounts to 10 million in total plus 7 million civilians and an unbelievable 23 million wounded. An often unknown fact about WW1, because we often think it was a land battle, is that the Merchant Navy lost 2,479 ships and 14,287 seamen.
King George V, after visiting Flanders Field in 1922, that bloodiest of all battle sites, remarked:
We can truly say that the whole circuit of the earth is girdled with the graves of our dead … and, in the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.
The danger then, and now, is that we don’t learn from history. Professor Washington A.J. Okumu, one of the initiators of the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ in South Africa, wrote:
Looking back at past history is important because without a knowledge of history and one’s links to the past, humankind is a social amnesiac … prone to repeating the same mistakes time and time again.
As the news headlines remind us on a daily basis, ours is not a peaceful world. But, in the relentlessness of suffering, we know that an end is in sight. When Jesus entered our world, he was taking that first step towards us, into the no-man’s land of our broken world, risking everything on the possibility of peace. It was to cost Jesus his life, but in his death and resurrection, the truce was sealed. Not just for a day, a temporary respite, but a new start, an eternal peace.
Some people suggest that Remembrance Sunday is outdated and a relic from the past and that we should stop remembering. It’s a dangerous thing, in my view, not to remember, and even to choose not to remember, all that Remembrance Sunday represents.
Remembrance Sunday is not a day to glorify war, but rather, a day to remember those men and women who gave their lives, and continue to do so in conflicts around our world, in the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It is a day that should never be forgotten and one that we have a responsibility to pass onto the next generation.
On this Remembrance Sunday may each one of us commit ourselves to learning from the past and work towards a peaceful future. As the Kohima Epitaph reminds us:
When you go home, tell them of us and say; for your tomorrow we gave our today.
You can do this by joining in the Act of Worship at Emmanuel at 9.15 am (lasting for 40 mins) when members of the Air Training Corps and Army Cadets join with us before we parade (leaving the Fire Station at 10.35 am) and gather, with the Royal British Legion, Churches Together and representatives from many Civic and Community groups, at the War Memorial in the High Street for an Act of Remembrance at 10.50 am.
The Billericay Town Council, along with many others across our nation and Commonwealth, will be gathering for a final ‘Battle’s Over’ commemoration at 6.15 pm at Sun Corner which includes the lighting of the Beacon at 6.55 pm. The ‘Beacons of Light’ tribute is a poignant reminder of the darkness brought by war so evocatively captured in Sir Edward Grey’s quote from 1914:
As the lights go out and the beacons are lit it is timely to reflect on what we might learn from our forefathers’ experiences. We owe it to those who have gone before us to help the younger generation, further removed by time from war, to see beyond the mud and the blood and the casualties. We might learn about national resilience and community spirit, and in being repaired to fight the war we might have to fight, there is a much better chance of deterring that war from ever happening.
May I encourage you, and your family, to join with us on this most poignant of days?
This is a copy of my article for the November 2018 edition of the Billericay ‘Around Town Magazine’
As you look forward to Remembrance Sunday, why not help to raise funds for A Headstone for Arthur Charles Argent organised by local resident Karen Dennis or the There But Not There tribute organised by the Billericay Town Council?