Lest We Forget.
In a few days’ time the town will gather around the memorial on Market Square. The familiar words of the Kohima Epitaph will be read out, words from Lawrence Binyon’s poem, the Last Post, a chiming clock – the Silence.
For one hundred years this autumnal ritual has been performed. When an act of commemoration was inaugurated to mark the first anniversary of the end of the Great War I doubt any suspected that a century later it would still be observed. I doubt anyone thought that within a few short years the world would be at war again but this year we mark 80th anniversary of the beginning of that Second World War. And this autumnal ritual of remembrance continues. When I was first ordained it was not uncommon to see veterans of the wars on an Armistice Day parade. But the years have taken their toll: I have taken funerals of a good number of men (and a few women) who served during WWII; now there are very few left. It will not be many years before there is no veteran of the war left.
As a young(ish) curate I would often ask about wartime experiences. These mini-biographies helped shape the way I approached Remembrance Sunday. There was one group for whom the war was the best thing that ever happened to them. It gave them opportunities and broadened their horizons. They wore their medal with pride and would readily talk about (some of) their experiences. At the other end of the spectrum there was another group who never talked about the war; for whom Remembrance Sunday was a difficult day often spent in silent reflection in the privacy of their own homes. They may have been awarded just as many medals but those medals rarely saw the light of day for the memories associated with them were still, decades later, too hard to face. I remember an elderly gentleman in a nursing home being traumatised by an afternoon entertainer who led a sing-a-long of wartime songs in one of the day rooms. He was too frail to remove himself and the staff couldn’t understand why he was so distressed.
When I lead the service on Remembrance Sunday my mind is full of the stories that I have heard over the years, but most especially the stories of those who wanted to forget what they had experienced but were never able to. For me, this is not about glorifying war but about remembering the horror that so many lived through: some died, others carried the scars, mental and physical for the rest of their lives. As the generation that survived the war passes the motto of the Royal British Legion ‘Lest We Forget’ become ever more powerful, for if we do not remember, who will? If we do not remember history will repeat itself.
On this Remembrance Sunday we will pray, as we always do, for ourselves and for those wo would do us harm; we will pray for a world of peace where war is known no more; we will pray for that day when God’s Kingdom of justice, righteousness and peace will be known by all humanity. But in order to meaningfully pray for all these things we need to remember.