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Reflections: Remember

By Revd Preb Julian Ould

On the 11th day of this month, we stop and remember. On the nearest Sunday to this date, huge parades and services will be held across the country to remember, – but remember what?

The simple answer is to say those who gave their lives in war for the freedom that we enjoy today. In reality, however, the true answer is far from simple and runs much deeper. For me, which is to speak personally for there are many reasons why we remember, this special remembrance is about three things:

Firstly, at the risk of repeating myself there is a huge dept we do owe to those who gave up their lives for the freedom we enjoy. Over the years I have talked to many who saw active service in the World Wars of the last century and whilst stories and anecdotes were shared, there were areas that were just not talked about. Every now and then I pushed to hear a little more and rarely got any further, but on one occasion was told, “you really don’t want to know, there are just no words to describe how awful it all was but believe me hell is real enough and you don’t want to go there”. The price in human life that was paid was very dear and we need to remember this. We need to remember that not only do we owe them much, but we owe it to them to make the most of the life they have enabled us to have. I feel it is a sobering reflection to ask, ‘have we made the most of this freedom and done all we can to make our world a good and happier place to live in?’ With horrific wars still raging, I wonder?

Secondly, as we remember those who did die, I feel we need to ask ourselves what have we lost? Good decent people, who had gifts and talents, that are lost for ever. Who knows what wealth of art, music, literature, technology, in fact skies the limit, has been denied to us within the sacrifice of so many human lives. When reflecting on this it becomes apparent that the price of our freedom was significant in the extreme and this is before we turn to the anguish of loved ones who were left to grieve and only speculate about subsequent generations that might have been born to them. Our world might have overcome a great evil and have its freedom for many, but I wonder what sort of world it might have been if those we remember had lived.

And then finally, we remember to hopefully identify the real horror of war. I am lucky to have gone through my life to date only experiencing war at a distance. The closest I have come, which filled me with a certain amount of dread, was to see the war-torn wrecks of some of the ships that fought in the Falklands War, limp home to Tyneside when I was in my first parish. I marvelled at how they had managed to stay afloat, I struggled to even begin to contemplate what it must have been like to have been on board as they were hit. One of the reasons for the formation of the United Nations Council was to hopefully prevent any further World Wars, – it would be nice to think we could stop war altogether and therefore we need to remember to make subsequent generations aware of the real traumas of war. It is a fact that in war everyone loses. Yes, in the two World Wars victory was declared, but thousands of lives were lost, homes and communities were destroyed, people’s lives were devastated and scared for evermore.

There is a danger that Remembrance Day and the Sunday acts of Worship might become just another custom like the other remembrance of November, the thwarting of the plot to blow up Parliament and the burning of Guy Fawkes. Obviously, the Gunpowder plot is insignificant in the face of a World War, but as subsequent year’s role on and the two World Wars slide into our history books the impact, both good and bad, lessens. THIS MUST NOT HAPPEN. So, we must remember and should go on remembering and whilst acknowledging those who gave so much, pray that, if at all possible, we may be able to avoid going that way again.