WE WILL REMEMBER THEM – Remembrance Day 2019
Last year at this time we marked the 100th Anniversary of the First World War. It was a day for recalling the sacrifices of that war that was to end all wars – the one they called the Great War. For the first time in history, every continent except North America and Antarctica witnessed firsthand the destruction that war brings. And while actual battles were not waged in North America, there was considerable espionage activity and there were incursions into the waters surrounding both the United States and Canada.
The Great War – that lasted just over 4 years – saw unprecedented slaughter of both military personnel and civilians. While tactics employed had changed little since the wars of the 19th century, the range of weapons that were available and the progressive introduction of more sophisticated and deadly weapons made for a gruesome outcome. Infantry charges, cavalry charges were still the common means of waging war, but more modern machine guns and large artillery revealed the futility of such actions. Survival in such circumstances was less a matter of skill and more a matter of luck.
And as much as we may have heard people speak of a noble sacrifice, there was no escaping the fact that this war would effectively wipe out a large portion of the youth of many nations or leave people crippled in mind, body and spirit – many unable to even imagine a normal life.
November 11th – the day chosen as the day when all fighting would cease in that Great War. Certainly the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month seemed fitting. It would be a date and a time that would be easy to remember. And no doubt that was the thinking behind it. But I believe that there were some other reasons to commend this time. November is that month that heralds the passing of the Fall with its leaves and harvest. The earth is preparing for sleep and rest before the winter snow would cover the fields and a time of stillness would set in. Something else that occurred to me is this: no one wanted to have another Christmas go by with no hope for peace.
For so many, the message of God in Bethlehem must have seemed unreal. How to even imagine that God was declaring peace on earth, good will to all people when nations were bent on destroying nations; when people who had mixed with one another from different countries suddenly became mortal enemies. How to imagine that a Saviour had been born who was to be the Prince of Peace and whose mission on earth was to call people to repent of their sins and find healing, hope, mercy and forgiveness. The message was one of love – love from God, love to all people. Yet here were nations – all professing faith in the same God and yet locked in mortal combat seeking to kill or be killed. And as much as there were rationales for why that war was waged, in the end those who endured the pain and suffering, those who lost their lives, those who lost limb, health and sanity, those who lost friends and comrades – for them there was no rationale that even made sense anymore.
All they wanted to even think about was building a world that would no longer know the pain and suffering of war, a world where such intense hatred would never again be expressed. The call to remembrance that spread across Europe, Asia, Africa and to North America was a call from those who had suffered. Their fervent wish was that never again would the world know such a brutal and total war.
Yet it was only one generation later that the world was again plunged into conflict on a massive scale. Parents who had themselves fought in war watched as the children they hoped would never experience what they experienced went off to fight themselves. This time the fight was truly one to overcome tyranny and evil, but it did not make the sacrifices any easier to accept.
We have been fortunate to live in what we may believe is a time of relative calm in the world. There are conflicts, there are wars, but the reality of such conflicts feels too far away to really impact our daily lives. We experience no hardships, no sacrifices in terms of our goods or services. We are not rationed, nor do we experience shortages due to supply. We can leave our homes for work or school or other activities and feel reasonably sure that we will return home again.
But while the actual conflicts may be happening far from where we live and they may not be directly impacting our lives or the lives of our children and grandchildren, that is not the reality for others. We still have people in our country who have committed their lives to the defence of our country and its way of life. They have committed to bearing arms when necessary and they have been prepared to sacrifice themselves mentally and physically. These men and women who are serving in the military in this generation are being impacted as much – if not more – than those who fought so long ago.
On Remembrance Day in 2018, we rang the bells one hundred times – one toll for every year since the end of that Great War. Yet while we marked the end of one war, we know that the tolling of the bells – which was to be a sign of our hope for peace – we know that those bells also helped to remind us of the sacrifices made by the generation that was born from that war and that marched to their own war. We are also reminded that conflict, war and the need for people to serve in our armed forces did not stop in 1945 but continued in Korea, Cyprus, the Middle East, Rwanda, Somalia, Serbia, Croatia and Afghanistan just to name a few.
For most of us, there is but one day a year when we pause to remember but for those who have served or are serving with the armed forces of our country and other countries in the world, every day is a day to remember. We wear the poppy for a short time. But those who have served, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and those for whom their battle never seems to end, for them the poppy is with them all the time. They can never forget. They will always remember.
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them, we will remember them