Am I my Brother's Keeper?

Remembrance Tide and Advent are approaching. These are seasons to make us think deeply and feel deeply about our troubled world and of our responsibilities to it, for it and within it. I was born into this world in April 1943, the third son of Denis and Nora.

Denis was a gifted Architect but working as a Civilian for the Royal Engineers designing camps for Polish Airmen and for Italian and German Prisoners of War. Nora was a “Daughter of the Rectory”, a scholar and a teacher of French and English literature.

Our home was next to the Holywood Golf Course with panoramic views over Belfast Lough and the shipyards and aircraft factory.

On one afternoon in the late summer of that year, Nora was dozing beside me, her infant, on a rug in the garden. She became aware of some movement and opened her eyes to see a line of German soldiers looking at us across the garden fence. Nora grabbed me and ran into the house to re-emerge moments later, with her loaded shotgun and quite prepared to use it.
 As she approached the group, it occurred to her that she had not been threatened by them and she realised that they were Prisoners of war being escorted by British soldiers on a recreational walk. So Nora put down her gun and went over to them. What happened next was that I was passed around the group being showered with hugs and kisses, while they showed Nora photographs of their” loved ones” in Germany. They were not to know that Nora’s eldest brother Ben, had been killed in 1916 at Loos in northern France, nor that her youngest brother Harry, was a Prisoner of War to the Japanese in Kuching and later in Labuan in Borneo, from where he would never return.

I do not know for sure what Denis and Nora thought or felt about this remarkable encounter, but they were undoubtedly deeply “moved” by it, moved indeed to ask the Camp Commandant, who of course knew Denis well, if he would allow some of the prisoners to come to our house at Christmas under escort.

The Commandant agreed and indeed provided some fresh chickens as his contribution to the party. Something special was happening, Denis and Nora had searched their souls and had moved as the Holy Spirit inspired them. My eldest brother remembers singing Silent Night and other Christmas Carols with our guests harmonising and humming tunefully.

Seventy two years later, our world is still convulsed with many of the same issues, mass movement of persecuted groups, regimes which have failed their people and Politicians at a loss as to how to restore the situation.

So, I return to the question   “Am I my Brother’s Keeper?”.

I feel Denis and Nora telling me “of course you are your Brother’s Keeper”, search your soul and let the Holy Spirit inspire you.
Columb Hanna