T42D: Remembrance Day
It’s that time of year again when after remembering the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 we turn our attention to November 11th, remembering all those service personnel who have given their lives in all the various conflicts since World War I.
Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the fallen’ will be read up and down the land: “They shall grow not 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.”
Czeslaw Milosz said, “The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.”
As far back as Saturday 17 October 2020, Robert Hardman was writing in the Daily Mail bemoaning the fact that almost all veterans are banned from Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph. Then on Saturday 31 October in the Daily Mail he reported again that the Government rules on Covid-19 mean the royal guests cannot sing ‘God save the Queen’ or anything else. Only 30 veterans will be admitted, while all members of the public are excluded and the Metropolitan Police plan to erect giant screens at either end of Whitehall to deter sightseers. He says, “Veterans are becoming increasingly critical of this year’s arrangements and many are dismayed by the Government’s decision to shrink the national commemorations at the Cenotaph to a token presence”.
I have always smiled at the story of the little boy who was visiting a cathedral with his mother. Looking around he said to his mother, “Who are all those names up on the wall?” She replied, “Those are people who died in the services”. To which he said, “Was that the morning or the evening service?”
Synonymous with ‘Remembrance Day’ is the wearing of a poppy. During the First World War much of the fighting took place in Western Europe. Previously beautiful countryside was blasted, bombed and fought over, again and again. The landscape swiftly turned to fields of mud: bleak and barren scenes where little or nothing could grow.
The field poppy is an annual plant that flowers each year between about May and August. Its seeds are disseminated on the wind and can lie dormant in the ground for a long time. If the ground is disturbed from the early spring the seeds will germinate and the poppy flowers will grow. This is what happened in parts of the front lines in Belgium and France. Once the ground was disturbed by the fighting, the poppy seeds lying in the ground began to germinate and grow during the warm weather in the spring and summer months of 1915 to 1918.
In early May 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lt Col John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies to write a now famous poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’, which reads:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
McCrae’s poem inspired an American academic to make and sell red silk poppies that were brought to England by a French woman. The [Royal] British Legion, formed in 1921, ordered 9 million of these poppies and sold them on 11 November that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately and that first ever ‘Poppy Appeal’ raised over £106,000; a considerable amount of money at the time. The monies raised helped WWI veterans with employment and housing.
One of the most powerful scenes in the film ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ directed by Mel Gibson, is when World War II medic Desmond Doss prays, ‘Help me get just one more, Lord’. In this true story, Desmond Doss cried to God for help as he rescued 75 men from the top of an imposing rock face the soldiers called Hacksaw Ridge near Okinawa, Japan. He showed courage and sacrifice like many others, drawing strength he found following Jesus, who made the ultimate sacrifice 2,000 years ago for all of us.
The body of an unknown British soldier was buried in Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920. His grave commemorates the multitudes who died in the Great War of 1914–18. At the base of the tomb there are four Bible texts and one of them is from John’s gospel chapter 15 verse 13, which says: ‘Greater love hath no man than this’, and the rest of the verse is [that a man laid down his life for his friends].
Rudyard Kipling wrote, “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow we gave our today.”
John F Kennedy poignantly said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
In the mud and gore of trench warfare, many soldiers longed to be home with their families. But they were comforted by knowing God’s love and the certainty of a heavenly home where there is ‘no more death or sadness’.
So the Thought For today is as we remember ‘the fallen’, there was one who gave His life for us and who has made a way for us to experience life in all its fullness, not just for now but for all eternity.
For the Bible makes it clear that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4v12]
For Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” [John 14v6]