Remembrance Day service 2004
Remembrance Day is a day of sombre reflection on the two world wars of the twentieth century. Wars which resulted in the deaths of more people than in any other wars before then, as well as causing suffering to countless others. Today we give thanks in particular for those of this village and parish who gave their lives so that we may enjoy freedom and prosperity. We remember their families, (particularly those family members who are here today), and any others here today who lost loved ones in those wars. Life moves on, but there is always a space in our lives for those whose lives were cut short by the sacrifice they made.
As we recollect with sadness all the consequences of the two World Wars, I would like us to hear the words of three men who fought in them. The first two were involved in the D-Day landings: the last was a sergeant in the Sherwood Foresters, who fought in the First World War.
(i) Bill Farmer
Bill Farmer was 19 on D-Day. He went through many months of training in Scotland before being sent to France with the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry. Around ten days before the actual deadline, he and his comrades were kept out of all communication, in a sealed camp.
Thinking back to the war, Bill said: “As the days went on, we thought to ourselves, or I thought to myself, 'It's a funny thing to say, but a few days ago you were just lads, you hadn't been out of school very long, just boys, riding along on your push-bikes, and playing about with other lads. Then you come up against this, and you feel that you've become a man all of a sudden, when you've gone through all this nightmare.'
It is a nightmare, of course, absolute nightmare. And I suppose that the German soldiers, the ordinary German soldier probably thinks the same.”
(ii) Sid Capon
Sid Capon was a soldier in the 9th Parachute Battalion, which attacked the German gun battery at Merville, in Normandy, following D-Day. This attack preceded the main assault by Allied troops, and was deemed to be of strategic importance to the success of the landing.
Sid commented about the attack, “It's all hurriedness. You're not interested in anybody else, at all. And you don't realise death is death. When it's your own men, it's strange to say this, but it was an everyday occurrence. Men being killed.
But you don't grieve. There's no grieving. 'Oh, what's-name's gone' - you know. Same as, 'Cartwright didn't get down there.' 'Jefferson didn't get down there.' You don't know how badly they're wounded. You know, Tom Stroud, he was wounded. But, you see, when you lose a man, it's just a loss. You've no grieving.
'We've lost so-and-so.' 'What's-name's gone' - that's it. But you're ... you're hardened to this.
(iii) Sid Wood, Sherwood Foresters
Sid Wood was born in 1885, one of 9 children. His life among his 2 sisters and 6 brothers, and parents was far from rosy. He left school in 1898 at the age of 13 . At age 16 he ran away from home, lied about his age and joined the Sherwood Forester Regiment. There he remained for about 9 years serving in different countries, including India. He then returned to Derby where he opened a shoe shop in Normanton.
On 11 th July 1917, Sid wrote from the Front near Passchendale to his wife Florence in Derby:
“I intended writing this afternoon, but had to have my kilt and boots repaired. This is not the worst. I had to sit outside in a field whilst they were done.
I have been thinking what a great thing science is, if used in a proper manner. Through it we have been able to see the stars more clearly, and to bridge the seas that divide nations, thereby helping one another to prosper. Science has helped us to alleviate pain, in the shape of surgery and medicine. But man is cruel. He has turned science into a totally different channel – as we see from the devilish destruction of men in many ways during the great catastrophe. He, by the making of gas, gas shells, liquid fire and so on is making the name of man a byword for almost inhuman cruelties, far surpassing the heathen of old. Generations to come (who will be far more enlightened than we) will look on with abhorrence. Children will say to themselves, “Was my Grandfather so wicked?”
Notice the following aspects of those stories:
(i) - normal home life is suddenly replaced by a nightmare … the reading reminds vividly us of the horrors of war, and the sudden and violent change from a quiet life with one’s friends and family to the nightmare of battle;
(ii) - tells how one man coped with the death of those around him – by shutting himself off emotionally from them. When they were gone this was a ‘loss’, rather than a ‘death’. You just had to get on with the job. The grieving probably came later – and for many people was stretched out over many years after the war had come to an end. Maybe a reason why Remembrance Day continues to be such an important day in our National calendar.
(iii) - tells of the consequences of using science and technology for military rather than peaceful purposes. It is ironic that Sid Wood expects that people in the future will see the use of technology for military purposes as barbaric, and that people in the generations which follow his will rise above such behaviour.
As we look at the nature of war today, we see with sadness that in all of these three respects little has changed. The contrast between the violence of war – just look at Iraq – and ordinary domestic life remains extreme. Soldiers still have to harden themselves to the deaths of their fellow men if they are to be able to continue to do their job. And of course military technology has reached new heights of sophistication and power, with no sign of this process coming to a halt.
“When will they ever learn?” is one of the refrains which characterise this day. Our world has so much which is good: unprecedented prosperity, a steady reduction in poverty and a decline in disease in many countries. But still we try to solve our problems by military force. When will we reach the time when all countries will realise that the costs of war far outweigh the benefits? We still have a long way to go. On this Remembrance Day, therefore, let us give thanks for the sacrifices made by many for our benefit and for the benefit of millions of others; but let us also pray that the time will hasten on when people around the world will realise the futility of war, and be unfailing in their determination to make peace prevail for all.
back to sermons year C by Christopher Harrison
Ashbourne Deanery churches