Remembrance Day 2008

Sermons year A

Christopher Harrison home page

 

‘We will remember them’ ... words which are etched deep into this nation’s consciousness ... Very simple words, on one level – but each of those four words resonates with meaning on this day.

 

 

In a couple of days’ time we will mark the ninetieth anniversary of the Armistice which brought the First World War to an end.  Over those four years, almost one million people from the 45 million inhabitants of this country were killed, by far the majority being members of the armed forces.  Over the world as a whole, it is estimated that over 18 million died, military and civilian in roughly equal proportions.  In the Second World War, almost half a million people from this country died, four out of every five of these being military.  But in the world as a whole, it is estimated that over 70 million people died, including 23 million in the Soviet Union, 20 million in China and over 7 million in Nazi Germany.

 

And so when, a few years ago, that there was some talk in the press of scaling down Remembrance Day, that it was time to move on – you can see why it is simply not possible, at least in a free country, to suppress a nation’s need to remember and to give thanks for those on whose lives today’s freedoms have been built.  But as the generation which experienced the horrors of the First World War gradually becomes fewer and fewer in number, it is absolutely right that the nation should ensure that its commemoration of our war dead should remain fresh and contemporary.  In October last year, a new Armed Forces Memorial was opened at the National Memorial Arboretum just north of Lichfield. There are also many other memorials on the site, including memorials for the Police, Fire and Ambulance services.  But the Armed Memorial is especially prominent, and is the place where all those who have given their life in the service of their country since the Second World War are commemorated.  Over 16,000 names have been carved on the memorials, of those who have died in more than 50 operations and conflicts around the world, also including those who have died in training or as a result of terrorist action. 

 

The chapel at the site is the only place in the country where the words of remembrance are said at 11 am every day of the year, with the Last Post and the Reveille being sounded.  And that’s a powerful symbol for all of us.  For it can be tempting to come to this service in November and then allow the memory of those who died for their country to slip from our memory until this time next year.  Another thing about the Arboretum is that it reminds us that there are families in this country who are grieving from the recent death of a loved one in the conflicts which still go on.  This was brought home to me only a couple of days ago, when I met a recently retired officer who said that his last job had been to be on the tarmac with the families as the coffins of those had died in Afghanistan and Iraq were brought home – one of the most difficult jobs in the army, he said.

 

In a few moments we will read out and commemorate the names of those from this village who died in the two world wars.  As we read these names, we also remember and pray for their families, some of whom still continue living in this area to this day.  And we must never neglect the reading of names in this way – for it reminds us that each one of those who died was an individual, unique to his family and in the eyes of God.  At services like this we don’t glorify war, of course, we don’t minimise its brutality and terrors.  We pray that never again may we or indeed the world have to endure anything remotely similar to the two cataclysms which caused  the greatest loss of life ever in the history of the world.   But we do commemorate heroism, bravery, courage – as well as giving thanks to God for all those who served their country in ways which were not glamorous or heroic, but who simply did their duty.

Sermons year A

Christopher Harrison home page