For over more than a century, people in the Commonwealth have gathered on this 11th November to remember those who have died in wars and armed conflict. Today, Armistice Day, marks the day that the First World War ended, on 11th November 1918. Over the course of that war, 880,000 members of the British forces died. This was 6% of the adult male population and 12.5% of those serving.
In the Second World War there were 384,000 British soldiers killed in combat, and 70,000 civilians in this country died largely due to bombing raids during the Blitz. In the 75 years since 1945, just over 7,000 members of the British military died in armed conflict.
Here at Hurst College, much smaller then than now, the numbers also reflect the enormous impact the two World Wars had. During the First World War 112 former pupils and teachers died in the service of their county. During the Second World War 75 men lost their lives. In addition to them, another ten members of this community have died fighting for our freedom in various other conflicts, including most recently in Afghanistan.
A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter Acts 7.55-60 & John 14.1-14
We have been adjusting to a new and unfamiliar way of life now for almost two months. We have come to realise the things we miss, and our hopes for the future. The news in these past few weeks has focussed almost solely on Covid-19, and I do wonder if we are indeed focussing too much on ourselves, but I will come back to this later.
The one day on which the news here in the UK was different, was last Friday: VE or Victory in Europe Day. I suspect a particularly poignant day for those of you who remember the first VE Day: Churchill’s memorable speech and street parties throughout the country. The question in how far the Church should be involved in civic celebrations such as VE Day and Remembrance Day has always been a topic of conversation, as there is a wide range of opinions on the relationship between our faith and armed conflict.
Remembrance Sunday Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough, 11th November 2018
It is good to see so many people here this morning: the Mayor and Town Council, members from the Fourth Military Intelligence Battalion, Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, Air Cadets and people from the Town. Thirty years ago, it was generally assumed that people would slowly lose interest in Remembrance Sunday, as fewer and fewer of us have lived through, let alone fought in, a war.
However, as we have commemorated the centenary of the First World War, the last four years have seen a renewed interest in the lives and stories of those who fought and died in the trenches. In many ways, I think that I, we, have very little authority to speak about them and their experience. Those who were there at the time and survived, were often unable to speak about what had happened, as it was too horrific to put into words, and so I would like to suggest that we can only do so, because we don’t know what it was like.
A reflection for the season of All Saints’ and Remembrance
Today, 1st November, we celebrate All Saints’ Day. Today, we give thanks and remember the lives of the saints and tomorrow, on what is called All Souls, we have an opportunity to remember all those who have died, particularly those who have loved, encouraged and inspired us. So, this week marks the beginning of a time of remembering in Britain, as, coincidentally, it is also the time that Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the House of Lords on 5th November 1605, and the First World War ended on 11th November a century ago.
Why do we remember? What is the point, is it not something that prevents us from looking forward, as we continue to look to the past? I found a moving and profound answer to these questions in a recently published book, which I read last week. It is called “War Gardens” and it is written written by Lalage Snow, a writer, filmmaker and photographer. Over a period of about six years, she went to different areas of conflict, such as Kabul, Ukraine and the West Bank, and interviewed people who had a garden. She asked them why they kept a garden going at a time of war and oppression, and what their gardens meant to them.
It is remarkable that in an era where society calls itself more and more secular, music, arts and literature festivals are increasingly popular. I would like to suggest this evening that a reason may be we are facing a level of disillusionment, and that arts, music and literature are a beacon of hope and truth. I would also like to suggest that this disillusionment is in many ways not dissimilar from where we were a century ago, at the end, and during the aftermath of the Great War.
Of course, there are many ways in which our society is completely different now from the 1920s – as historians will be very able to point out. However, when I came across the following quote from the artist and author David Jones written in 1926, I sense that there are some parallels to be drawn too. In his first published essay since the Great War, Jones wrote that art must express contemporary culture and that, since today – 1926 – we are generally unable to create ‘a thing of beauty’, the only hope for authentic art is a counter culture determined ‘to avoid … the general decline.’
Art: a thing of beauty, determined to avoid the general decline.
Watching Journey’s End this week, brilliantly performed by a cast of Marlborough College pupils, I was once more struck by the ‘matter-of-factness’ with which so many gave and risked their lives. No great sense of heroism or vocation to fight for justice, peace and freedom, but much more a sense that this is just what needs to be done. Continue reading “Remembering and Responding”→
Beginning with All Saint’s Day today, November is a season of remembrance. We celebrate and give thanks for the holy people who have gone before us, and we remember with thanksgiving those who have died, including those who gave their lives for our freedom. Maybe also in more trivial ways, as the leaves are falling, we remember the long summer evenings and, in our melancholy, we may also think about those people who have crossed our paths but who have disappeared out of sight. Continue reading “Do this to remember me”→