At the two Services held here at St Mary’s on 4th August this year, one in the morning and another in the evening, almost a hundred people met to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War. The Service in the morning took place outside by the War Memorial, where we shall continue out Service with the Act of Remembrance. As part of the morning Service, the Candle of Remembrance and Peace that now rests on the High Altar was blessed. It was then carried into Church and placed by the Book of Remembrance for those who fell in the First and Second World Wars. The Candle remains alight here in church, day and night, and will do so throughout the four years of commemoration – until Armistice Day in 2018.
For the evening Service, the Candle was carried out to the War Memorial and from it were lit all the candles of those gathered. This was as part of the #LightsOut act of remembrance suggested by the Royal British Legion. Across the country, thousands of people gathered in towns or in places of worship, stood by War Memorials, or were simply at home, and wherever people were, there they lit a candle to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War, and to remember in prayer those who died in this particular War.
We remember so that we don’t forget. We don’t forget the lives lost. We don’t forget the search for peace. We don’t forget that others gave their lives so that we might live ours. For our tomorrow, they gave their today.
Those of a certain age, when I tell them I was born in Catterick will say, “Ah, really, so your father was in the Army.” As some of you will know already, my father was indeed a member of the Armed Services. He served for 22 years as part of the Royal Army Medical Corps during which he was stationed in Hong Kong, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Part of his Service in the UK saw a number of periods of Active Service in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. It wasn’t a good time to be in Northern Ireland. It wasn’t a safe time to be Northern Ireland. There were killings and bombings on the streets, and no-where was really safe. I grew up living in Army Barracks, and it was the norm, the ordinary way of things, for soldiers to come and to go for their Tours of Duty – with their families hoping they would come back, but not always certain if this would be so. I was quite young, and so it was normal for me for my father to come and to go. I didn’t realise so clearly then, that others were not so lucky.
Like many soldiers, my father did not talk that much about what went on whilst he was away. It is only as I got older, much older, and when I visited Belfast myself in 2001 (for a holiday of all things!) that I had some small glimpse into what that City might have been like back then. If you visit, even today, there are still sectarian paintings on the walls of houses and buildings. There are memorial plaques over the front doors of houses to commemorate those ‘martyred in the cause’.
As time goes on, I realise that I was one of the lucky ones. I was fortunate for my father came home. Not everyone’s father came home from Northern Ireland. Just as so many fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, wives, mothers, neighbours, friends did not come home from the Second World War or the First, from the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanstan or all the military campaigns with which Great Britain has been involved for the past 100 years. Realising now that I was fortunate, that I am fortunate, makes me so much more aware of those who were not and who are not today.
As armed conflicts continue to rage, and as terrorist organisations seek to engender fear and mistrust in peoples across the world, there are many families who are not ‘lucky’. Their family members and friends are torn from their lives – and the possibilities with which their lives were filled are cut off, often in their prime. This Service today is about each life. It is about the individuals, the men and women who each, individually, lost their lives. They are not an amorphous mass; each person who died was someone’s father, brother, son, daughter, wife, mother, neighbour, friend. We list their names on War Memorials, we write their names in Books of Remembrance, because each one of them had a name; each of them meant something to someone, each of them meant something to God too. Whichever side they fought on, whatever language they spoke, wherever they died in the world – each person is remembered because they meant something and they mean something still. For our tomorrow, they gave their today.
On the altar lie poppies in memory of those whose names are listed on our Town War Memorial. A member of the British Legion carried them in, and a young person will carry them out to the War Memorial – alongside the Candle of Remembrance and Peace. On Tuesday, Armistice Day, we shall gather in prayer and read aloud the 193 names inscribes on our Town War Memorial, just as we did on 4th August. We undertake these simple actions, we wear these simple red poppies, we offer our simple prayers – all to signify and symbolise something so much bigger and greater – our gratitude for the gift of life, won for us by others giving theirs. It is so hard to put into words but it is so important to try.
My father was among those who came home and, as time goes on, I realise just how thankful I should be. We pray for and remember today who did not come home, as well as remembering those who loved them. Those who died, those who loved and lost, each in their own way gave their tomorrow for our today. Let us give thanks for the gift of life that is ours and, in doing so, honour the memory of the fallen and all who loved them. Amen.