We will remember them
It is often asked of chaplains: why do we serve? What motivates men and women who preach of peace and love to stand with those who take up arms? In my time with the forces, I met very few individuals who relished conflict, who would do anything to seek it out. The vast majority wanted nothing more than peace; but they also knew that it was important to be ready to meet aggression that could not be reasoned with and do whatever was possible to bring about a resolution. The only real agenda of those who serve is to do their duty and – as chaplains – our duty is to minister to them emotionally and spiritually. Time spent on exercises, deployments and in barracks are opportunities for the chaplains to connect with their people and build relationships that are critical in time of need.
Today, this day and this time of remembrance is accompanied by the sounding of the Last Post and the Reveille. But those bugle calls did not always signal a call to remembrance. In the beginning they were simply ways for the soldiers to order their day.
Recognition for soldiers who died in service did not exist; but around the time of the Crimean War, things started to change. People wanted to mark the sacrifices by people of every rank. Every soldier who died in service was given a grave and a moment for the regiment, the village they came from and their country to remember them. The regimental bugler was tasked with playing the Last Post followed by a time of silent prayer and the Reveille.
From that moment on, the importance of that simple ceremony grew. Today the Last Post and the Reveille are not only part of every Remembrance Day ceremony but also part of the service marking the passing of every soldier. We have come to see those who serve as more than just numbers, as more than just bodies sent forth to take part in a conflict. We have come to see them as brothers, sisters, children, parents and friends; and – as such – they are to be remembered.
The Last Post – the signal that the camp is secure for the night – now marks for us the passing of those who answered the call. It marks for us the end of a life lived and lived well. It marks for us the life of one who was willing to sacrifice for the good of all. The Reveille – a call to wake up – now marks for us our belief that the one we love, the one who has made that sacrifice will rise to a new life that no sorrow, no pain, no suffering can ever touch again.
On this day 100 years ago, the guns fell silent at a time agreed upon by all parties to the war. It was decided that on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour all hostilities would cease.
November can be one of the rawest and sombre months of the year. It can certainly add to our sense of loss as we reflect on the lives that war has cut short. As for the 11th hour, it remains a time for decision.
And so, on a day at a time of the year given to sober reflection and at a time for decision, we pause to reflect and decide what we will do to affect the future life of our community, our province, our country and our world.
When we stand at the cenotaphs today in Chesterville or Morewood and when we stood at the cenotaph in Winchester last week, we will be encouraged to remember that war leaves no real winners. War leaves holes in people’s families, in people’s bodies and in people’s minds. War tears at the fabric of every human who has ever been involved either in uniform or civilian. It leaves scars that time is supposed to heal but that healing is often hampered by the memories and thoughts that just won’t go away.
When we ring the bells for peace this evening, we will be putting forth the hope that the generations who follow us will never have to learn the art of war, that they will never have to experience the heartache of lives torn apart. With each sounding of the bells, there will be a pause. In that moment, recall the name of a person who you know has served or is serving, the name of someone who has returned from conflict but who is struggling, the name of someone who did not come home to family and friends.
As the hear the lament of the piper, as we hear the ringing of the bells, at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them, we will remember them.