Remembrance Sunday 2018
I want to begin by recounting two very different memories of Armistice Day.
The first is a letter home sent by Jock Crawford, an officer who had served all four years of the war on the Western Front. Years later he would become the father in law of Diana Allison, whom many of you remember fondly and who lived until earlier this year just across the street in
It is a letter dated 12th November 2018 and was accompanied by a
picture of Jock that captures the exact moment when the war finished – standing
looking confidently at the camera and holding a
half eaten apple given to him by the Belgian villagers he has just
He writes (it’s a long letter, so I’m quoting just part of it): -
“My dear Mother,
How can I possibly express my feelings! I never dreamt that I would live to see this day. Yesterday I was the first British Officer to come into a town of 15000 in Belgium – I was kissed by everything between nine and ninety and taking it alround it was most harassing. The civilian have gone mad…Needless to say the troops got pretty ‘happy’ last night so I was kept busy seeing they kept quiet and never had a single drink!...My men are all decked up with the inevitable three colours Red, Yellow, Black (NOTE). Love to Mrs Wallis (NOTE) – I cannot help but think how hard it must be for her with the thought of the one who will never return.”
The second is the memory of Ruby Ord who was serving in
with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. France
“I think it was a bit of an anti-climax. Suddenly you thought about, you see, all the people you had known who were killed, etc. They were just in the war zone, and they could come home in your imagination. But the Armistice brought the realisation to you that they weren’t coming back, that it was the end. I think that it was not such a time of re
as it might have been. You were glad the fighting was over and that not more
men would be killed. But I do think it was dampened down very much, in .
I think they had all the enthusiasm probably in France ,
but I think we were too near reality to feel that way. I didn’t, certainly. I
did not go out of camp on Armistice Day.” England
Joy and Relief and Sadness and Exhaustion all mingled together must have been a common feeling one hundred years ago.
I wanted to begin with these stories because in many ways this is a day that belongs to Jock Crawford and Ruby Ord and the many millions who lived through those four years, those who served and those whose lives were affected by the Great War; those who had the stories to tell, and, on this day which bears the weight of remembrance, those who never returned to tell them.
And incidentally, if you haven’t already done so, please do go down to the Village Hall after we have finished here and spend time at the exhibition put together by
Moreman. For there are plenty more stories told there – of
those who died far too young and of those who lived on and were changed.
There is another reason for emphasising the idea of story. It is because who we are is fashioned by the stories that we tell about ourselves. The story of those four brutal years that changed so many of the old certainties and the struggle twenty years later against National Socialism, together with the heroism and the cost that this brought out has become part of our national consciousness. It has become a story owned by us all, not just by the participants. The fact that we continue to tell these stories long after memory has become history is evidence enough of that.
For there is a connection between our self-identification as members of particular communities and the stories we tell about the past. I am who I am partly because I am a member of a country that has a particular story to tell about those four years and about those six years. It is by the things that we remember, and the way that we remember them, and by the things that we fail to remember, that we identify ourselves as belonging to this or that group. What we remember, or do not remember, moulds our reactions and our behaviour towards others at a deeper level than that of conscious reflection.
In itself it is quite natural and proper that that the various groups and societies we belong to should be characterised by their own particular myths and stories – that the story of
between 1914 and 1918 is different from that of Britain
or France in
those years. What we call sin wheedles itself in when that difference is turned
into division, and when our different stories, with their distinctive emphases,
distortions and omissions are put to use for the maintenance of grievance, for
self-justification and for keeping other people in the wrong. Germany
So this morning is quite properly a service of thanksgiving for this day, a day which has come to be a symbolic representation of all the relief and euphoria brought out by that end to an epic conflict and the cost which it involved.
At the same time we make our Act Commitment in the hope that never again will the different stories that different communities tell be allowed to divide us to the extent that they divided Germany, Austro-Hungary, Turkey from France and Great Britain and her allies. At another time of great upheaval and uncertainty in
we commit ourselves to our own ongoing stories that recognise our differences
but will not allow them to become divisive again.
For when we assemble to give thanks for the Armistice we cannot but remember also the catastrophe that
suffered while that victory was being fashioned. The figures are familiar and
easy to reel off – 20 million dead across all theatres, half of those
civilians, the world’s first genocide in ,
the end to dynasties and old orders and the economic crippling of this country.
And then a botched peace that led to even greater suffering twenty years later.
The peace that the Armistice heralded came at such a cost. That is why we must
cherish a society at peace, no matter how flawed and tarnished we may believe
it has become. Armenia
That is, to an extent, why I wanted to choose a bible reading that is full of hope. For services of remembrance and commitment such as today can only have any real and long lasting value if they impinge on how we go about our lives in the future. We heard from the last book of the bible and a passage that is often read at funerals – another occasion that bears the weight of both remembrance and hope. And the book of the Revelation of John is most certainly about the future. It is about the end of all things. The author looks forward to that new Jerusalem, to nothing less than the
John himself was living in a troubled age. The threat of persecution and
extinction was never far away from the Christian communities to whom he was
writing. And yet he writes to reassure them that no matter the evils of the
past and the concerns about the present, that all is, in the end, in God’s
hands and that his loving and sustaining presence with and loving and
sustaining plan for his creation will not be broken. John’s words are
reassurance to us that no matter what evils have been unleashed by the
conflicts which we remember, that God will prevail, that the future is in his
hands. He looks forward to and we can look forward to a time when the only
story that we will want to tell will be that of the people of God and his
abiding, loving presence with them. kingdom of God