This is a very special year as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ending of world war one. As people in our three parishes stop and remember, we join with people across this country and world in remembering the lives of so many who went off to war and never returned. In our three parishes we remember 68 young men from the 1914-18 conflict who left our villages and never came back; can you imagine the effect on local life?
Over the years I have never really understood why the first world war happened – I heard stories about the Balkans and Archduke Franz Ferdinand – but what really happened? So I bought a book by the historian John Keegan and I read the story of how the nations of the world ended up in such a mess. I suspect that many of you know already, but for me to discover that essentially we all went to war for nothing came as a real shock. The Tsar of Russia could have stopped it! The German Kaiser could have stopped it! We too could have helped to avert war; but we didn’t. Keegan describes how crowds jubilantly cheered as war was announced, as if people were going on a picnic. And then the awful story of 1914-18 unravelled – and the world was never the same again. He writes, ‘the first world war was a tragic and unnecessary conflict. Unnecessary because the train of events that led to its outbreak might have been broken at any point during the five weeks of crisis that preceded the first clash of arms, had prudence or common goodwill found a voice; tragic because the consequences of the first clash ended the lives of ten million human beings, tortured the emotional lives of millions more, destroyed the benevolent and optimistic culture of the European continent and left, when the guns at last fell silent four years later, a legacy of political rancour and racial hatred so intense that no explanation of the causes of the Second World War can stand without reference to those roots.’ (John Keegan – The First World War)
The mess of 1914-18 inevitably led to the second world war. In the end over the two wars spanning some 10 years in total millions of people died; for World War One alone, seven million civilians and ten million soldiers; the figures for the second World War are even worse. So how can we not remember?
I have written before here in my letter that the danger with time is that we will forget or at worst try and erase the memory of the past. Some might even argue that it is time to move on and put the past behind us. I wish I could be that confident in our humanity; without the lessons of the past I worry about our future, without the memory of all those lives I fear their sacrifice was for nothing.
So I encourage all of us, wherever you are on the 11th November at 11.00am STOP and remember! War on a global scale may not be our experience of the world, but for previous generations it was. When I first came to Easebourne I did the funeral of a man who had fought in the First World war; his family told me he never spoke of it, it had all been so horrific! Nobody should ever go through that and remembering helps us to work for peace.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.