Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remembrance Sunday

This year, for the first time for a lot of years, a wreath was laid at Preston war memorial on behalf of the Borough and it was my privilege as a ward councillor to lay it. It was the first time I'd been to the service there as my more usual venue for remembrance is at Egglescliffe or representing the Liberal Democrat Group in Stockton centre.
During the church service leading up to the Act of Remembrance a serving officer spoke of his experience in Iraq in recent times and of the comfort and support given to members of the forces by their padres. But the words which struck me most strongly were those with which he started: "Until a few years ago Remembrance Sunday was about history. Now it's about the present. Almost everyone knows someone who's been affected by the recent conflicts". How right he is. So many people now knows someone who's serving in one of the conflict zones of the world, or has met a refugee from a conflict zone. It does help us to see something of the reality of war.
Only a handful of survivors of the fighting in 1914-18 are here to see the 90th anniversary of the end of that war. It was "the war to end all wars", and yet there hasn't really been peace since it ended. Human mistrust, greed, fear, pride, hunger - all contribute to ongoing conflicts. We fight over ownership of the world's resources instead of learning to share them. We fight because we're frightened that the other person will strike first. We fight because we perceive the other as wronging us or our friend. Turning the other cheek and loving our neighbours seem very remote concepts. Yet if we don't learn to do that we're going to fight ourselves to destruction sooner or later.

Some years ago on holiday in France we stopped for a break on our route and realised that we were in the region of the Somme, scene of so much bloodshed in 1916. I looked out over low lying marshy ground and the horror of trying to fight there with the equipment and clothing available then hit me. Several years later on another holiday we stumbled across a war cemetery - row upon row of gravestones for French and German soldiers. Countless hundreds of graves - one of the most moving sights ever for me. And then further along the road, small plots - half a dozen Canadian airmen here, a handful of another nationality there - all carefully tended, some by local people others by their own countrymen, but all immaculate. Small acts of Remembrance taking place every week as grass was cut, shrubs were trimmed, headstones were cleaned.
Those brave men and women who gave their lives in the great wars of the last century, many of whom lie buried in "foreign fields", will have died in vain if we don't do something more positive about living in peace. There's a hymn chorus which says "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me". Maybe that's the kind of action that should flow from the Act of Remembrance. A decision to work towards peace, at whatever level we function - at home, at work or in national government.
On Tuesday, the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day, we have the chance to stand together in silence and ponder just what we have done with the legacy of that war and what we should do in the future to make a fitting tribute to the fallen. Or do Laurence Binyon's famous words only apply at 11am on November 11th each year?
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

1 comment:

Jennie said...

1968 is the only year in living memory in which a British serviceman has not died in foriegn combat. You're right, we've not learned the lessons yet.