Pause for Thought November 2016

poppyWhen I was teaching each year First World War poetry was part of the syllabus and students always found these poems cause for much thought and they were always moved by them. The reflections of these young men caught up in war, most of whom did not return, caught the imagination of the young generation, but the true horror, of course, evaded them and the danger of this was a tendency to romanticise a war that was brutal. Many who returned never spoke of what they had witnessed and that has been true of subsequent conflicts.

Remembering is a huge part of November, particularly in our churches. We begin the month with All Saints Day, commemorating  all whom the church remembers for their holiness, from saints of old, such as St Paul and St John to those of more recent times such as Oscar Romero and this year for the first time Mother Teresa. The following day we have All Souls Day when we remember family members who have died.  This is very important for many who come to church just to be still and reflect.  Then, on the Sunday nearest 11th November, there is the Remembrance Day Service in most churches organised by the local British Legion Branch. Locally, after the church service in Barnack, many gather at the War Memorial for the Act of Remembrance and the two minutes silence.  And it happens again on November 11th if it does not fall on a Sunday.

Although many gather, often cars will sweep by the memorial it seems totally unaware of the silence and what that means. It was on the King’s initiative that on the first occasion of the ceremony at the Cenotaph on November 11th 1919 people throughout the country were asked to remain silent at 11o’clock: to cease activity, to stand with bowed heads and to think of the fallen. The silence was announced by maroons or church bells – and it was universally observed. Everything and everyone stopped: buses, trains and factories halted; electricity supplies were cut off to stop the trams; wherever possible the ships of the Royal Navy were stopped. Workers in offices, hospitals shops and banks stood still; schools became silent; court proceedings came to a standstill and so did the Stock Exchange. The minutiae of everyday life stopped completely in what The Times described as ‘ a great awful silence’.

But we have to recognise that Remembrance Day has never been a nationally-unifying event. It has provoked a variety of responses over the years: triumphalism, reverence, anger, pacifism, celebration. And no doubt it will continue to do so. But what we must never do is to be indifferent. We need to take this annual opportunity to think seriously about wars and their consequences.

We need to remember so those children we hear playing in Barnack School each day may grow up in a peaceful world and the traumatised children of Syria may be healed. And we need to pray that ‘War shall be no more.’