Around this time last year, I posted on this blog some of my thoughts concerning the wearing of poppies and the underlying act of remembrance. While my thoughts remain much the same now as they were then, something has particularly struck me this time round. Remembering those who died in the Great War and other conflicts subsequent to this has become more intensely and more seriously observed by more people than it ever has has been in my recent memory. Put somewhat cynically, some 20 or 30 years back remembering in this way was often seen as being out of favour, with many questioning whether this act was appropriate, but now, even though there are a range of attitudes we might observe, it is very much in favour and that sentiment is set to increase. The increased turn out at remembrance services and coverage given in the media, especially social media, are but two examples of this extra interest.
I do not regard myself as especially qualified to pontificate as to why this increased interest, other than suggest that the state of the world as it currently stands, with so much unresolved (and some might say unresolvable conflict) in many parts of the world and so many uncertainties, has led people to want to remember. As for what we remember, that has to be a personal thing. I suspect there are those who use these occasions to promote one or other agenda. Be that as it may, for what matters is not the force of public opinion but rather that of private conscience. It is a matter between the individual and his/her creator. For me it is about paying my respects to the fallen dead, and reflecting on things that matter most, such as preserving family and society and freedom from tyranny. I also reflect on the futility of war and the needless suffering that takes place, especially from among the civilian population (today’s refugee crisis is but one example). Speaking personally, I have been less affected than many when it comes to family and friends who died, although there have been some, but in any case I want to stand with those who have lost loved ones, without in any way wanting to preach or patronise. I can still remember my grandmother crying on remembrance day for her brother who died in World War 1, in a submarine, and others close to me overcome with emotion over the death of a loved one.
I have just been listening to yesterdays remembrance service on BBC iPlayer and I may well later listen to today’s proceedings at the Cenotaph. I find these moving and salutary experiences. Today my own church held as part of its morning service an act of remembrance. I was touched by the presentation reflecting on the various inscriptions on graves of dead soldiers in the battle fields of France and Belgium. I was captivated by one half of the memorial board, that has been recently rediscovered, which would have been put up at my church shortly after the end of World War 1. There were ten names inscribed on it, covering the first half of the alphabet, suggest that maybe twenty young men from a relatively small congregation had lost their lives in that particular conflict. There were two pairs of names where the surname was the same, suggesting this often affected more than one person from a single family. One can only begin to imagine the devastation experienced. I reflected later on the order of (remembrance) service of my old school, where again a memorial board bears witness to a similar sacrifice made in that community. I look forward to attending a remembrance service to be held in my own local community, when on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, when World War 1 hostilities ceased, we remember in silence those who had paid the price for our freedoms, with their lives.
In a sense there is little I can add that is particularly profound to what I have said already, and what many others better qualified than I am, have said on the subject of remembering those who have fallen in one or other of the many conflicts that have taken place from World War 1 onwards. While remembering can be morbid and awake feelings of bitterness and anger, it can also be hopeful and awake feelings of gratitude and thankfulness. We need to set aside a time to remember for if we don’t our natural state would be to forget and that would be detrimental (for us and others). This applies in all sorts of areas. For me the most poignant act of remembrance is what takes place in Holy Communion (the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of Bread). This for me, for a long time, took place once a week and was the highlight of my week. Here one remembers the Lord of the universe, by God’s amazing grace, laying down his life, not for his friends in this case but for his enemies, and then coming back to life. Somehow this helps to make sense of all that really matters.
Update 11/11/17: Two years on as I contemplate another remembrance day, I see even more the poignancy and relevance of the words that are often spoken on this day: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.”