Sunday, 12 November 2006

We will remember them

The picture shows a group of WWI officers during training, including my grandfather, Henry Norman Schofield, who is in the middle with a baton under his arm.

From today's homily

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Major John McCrae’s poem, written on a scrap of paper in May 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, sums up for many the spirit behind Remembrance Sunday. Today will always be connected in our minds with the Great War of 1914-18, because it was at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 that this devastating conflict came to an end. There are currently only 52 World War One veterans still alive around the world – six of whom live in the United Kingdom. It’s amazing to think that, within a few years, the First World War will no longer be a living memory.

I remember so well listening to the memories of my Grandfather, who had gone ‘over the top’ at the Battle of the Somme with the East Surrey Regiment. Out of several hundred men in his company, there were only two survivors from the German machine-gun fire. My grandfather got fairly near the German trench, but realised that there was little chance of him single-handedly taking the enemy line, armed only with a pistol and a baton. So, he sheltered from the grenades and gunfire in a shell hole, and crawled back to his trench at night. When it was discovered that he had been studying at University before the war, he was given the unenviable task of writing letters of condolence to the families of those who had been killed. Many of us will have similar stories carefully passed down in the family.

Remembrance Sunday causes different reactions in different people – for those who have experienced war at first hand, it is a red letter day of the utmost importance; for the younger generation it might seem to be a rather irrelevant day for remembering past heroes.

Remembrance Sunday is about remembering the victims of conflict and praying for the repose of their souls. It is not about glorifying war. For the Christian, war is a result of sin, a consequence of the fallen world. War is never inevitable. Pope John Paul II said that peace always remains possible, especially with all the modern diplomatic resources. And, he added, ‘if peace is possible, it is also a duty!’

Of course, in the past, the Church sometimes actively promoted military aggression. It introduced ceremonies for the blessing of weapons and armours, and instituted military orders of Knighthood (such as the Order of Malta, which still exists today). Most famously (or, some might say, infamously) the Church encouraged the Crusades against the Turks. Many write the Crusades off as a shameful and bloody episode in our history, although it’s worth remembering that they were an essentially defensive reaction against the militant spread of Islam. We forget that for many centuries the Turks were seen as the number one threat and that, as recently as 1683, the Turks tried to capture Vienna. The Church felt duty-bound to help in the defence of Christian civilisation.

The Church teaches that war can sometimes be justified, but only if certain conditions are fulfilled. For example, a ‘just war’ must be fought for a just cause (to protect the innocent or defend basic human rights) and be declared by the competent authority. War must always be the last resort and aim to achieve security and peace, rather than being inspired by hatred or territorial greed. There should be a good chance of success and a proportionate use of means to the end. Moreover, the death of civilians is always to be avoided.

Of course, we can perhaps think of modern wars that don’t fulfil these conditions. Today we pray for peace, we hope that the lessons of history will be learned, and we remember those injured and killed by warfare, especially over the last year. We pray for members of our family and parish who died in the two world wars of the last century.

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. We will remember them.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a listen to the Remembrance podcast on iTunes or on the Royal British Legion blog. It's a good way to remember.

10:01 pm  

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