Remember, remember, the eleventh of November
Tyne Cot, Passchendaele, Ypres, Somme… These, and many others, are names that are inscribed in the mind of anyone who has studied the Great War. To visit any one of the battlefield memorials is a sobering experience. But when one looks at row upon row of identical tombstones we can perhaps be overcome by the scale of the loss of life and forget the individual significance. When the deaths are recorded in their thousands we can lose sight of the nineteen year old boy and what impact his death had on his family.
One hundred years have passed since many of these battles were fought. No-one is alive who remembers the Great War – who lived through it as a teenager (if that word had been invented then) or an adult. The people who fought and died are (as individuals) forgotten: they are simply names on a memorial in some foreign field and a village or town in which they lived.
I wonder how often townsfolk ever read the names on our town memorial. It has stood in the centre of the Market Square for nearly a century. After the Second World War more names were added. It is possible that other names may still be added even though we hope and pray that may never happen. This year, on Remembrance Sunday, I read out a few of the names on the memorial: men – boys – who had dies 100 years ago but who had lived in this town
Private Henry Joseph Wood (Lincolnshire Regiment) of 2 Mareham Lane. Died 4th Oct 1917, aged 19.
Private John Richard Arnold (Middlesex Regiment) of 2 Alexander Square, Westbanks. Died 31st July 1917, aged 24.
Private Glendy Lord (Lincolnshire Regiment) of 51 Electric Station Road. Died 1st July 1917.
2nd Lieutenant James Richard Reed (Royal Fusiliers) of 5 Kingston Terrace. Died 24th November 1917, aged 25.
Private Samuel Carter (Lincolnshire Regiment) of 35 Handley Street. Died 26th September 1917, aged 25.
Private Horace Feneley (Machine Gun Corps) of 44 Westbanks. Died 1st August 1917, aged 22.
This information was not too hard to find – it is all readily available on the Commonwealth Graves Commission website – but these small details (an address, a service number, the location of the memorial or grave in a foreign field sometimes the name of a parent or wife) humanise the individuals that make up the thousands.
If all we encounter is the vast numbers of war dead laid out in regimented cemeteries from wars of long ago them we can easily forget the personal tragedies and grief borne by so many families back home: 5 men who lived in Electric Station Road died, neighbours from 6 and 8 Playhouse Yard died. Several of the buildings that overlook the market square housed families who lost sons.
As we approach the centenary of the Armistice we must continue to remember, but we must remember in ways that speak to us and challenge us today. Why did they fight? Why did they die? What was the impact that it had on their families… this town? The Great War radically transformed this town forever – it would never be the same again! The memorial in the market square is the symbol of that radical upheaval. If we do not remember then we cannot learn from the past, and if we do not learn from the past then history will repeat itself.
Ever-living God, we remember those who you have gathered
From the storm of war into the peace of your presence;
May that same peace calm our fears,
Bring justice to all peoples
And establish harmony among the nations,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.