THE BATTLE’S OVER! – 100 YEARS OF REMEMBRANCE
‘Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it’
On Remembrance Sunday, we spend just 2 minutes of the year in solemn remembrance of those who have died in war. The very first ‘Remembrance Day’ was held in 1915, on August 4th, on the first anniversary of the outbreak of WW1, and throughout that war it was a time of patriotic, drum-banging recruitment, instilling a hatred of ‘the enemy – the Hun’ to fire up enthusiasm. As in all wars, in order to fight wholeheartedly, both armies had to set aside any thought of the humanity of those who faced them across the acres of mud and devastation and do everything they could to kill them.
But in 1918, after 4 years of war, King George V and Queen Mary called upon the nation to pray for peace instead, and 100 days later, an Armistice was declared. It was not until 28th June 1919 that the war was officially over, and a single commemoration was held on November 11th, the anniversary of the Armistice. The annual commemorations began in 1921, when the Remembrance poppy made its first appearance. Made famous by Lt. Colonel John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, the wild poppy, which had flourished in the mud of the battlefields when all else had died, was soon widely recognised as a gentle token of remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice of life itself.
The long list of names on the Roll of Honour in the church gives a glimpse of the losses in the parish, but sadly there are many more names not recorded. Notably, there are several sets of brothers, including 3 from one family, the Rutters. Another surname, Buckley, is repeated on a plaque near the rear entrance of the church, commemorating the death of John’s brother Fred in the Boer War – a double blow to their family.
If we are to avoid the dreadful repetition of war around the world which has continued for a century, we do well to recognise the humanity and suffering of the combatants on both sides, and focus on the price that has been paid again and again by our armed forces, their families, and civilians too. Jesus gave us the answer to our longing for peace: ‘Love your enemies; do good to those who hurt you, and pray for those who use you spitefully.’ (Matthew 5:43-45).
This year, as we observe the silence, perhaps we might spend that time not only honouring the dead and giving thanks to God for deliverance from our enemies, but also praying for peace in a world which has not known true peace for a very long time.