The last three surviving service men of First World War died this year. There is no-one left who can tell us first hand what it was like. Some have suggested that we should stop remembering and move on. I don’t agree. I think we should try even harder to remember and to understand because we don’t seemed to have learned much.
I watched the act of remembrance at the Cenotaph this morning. Apparently if all those British soldiers killed in war since 1914 were present in the parade it would stretch from London to Edinburgh. We should never forget those who gave everything or those who are left behind with scars, both physical and mental. Their decisions are not political. They went where they were sent and did what was asked of them on our behalf. They deserve our respect and thanks, no matter what we think of why these brave men and women are currently placed in harm’s way.
I used these words as part of last year’s worship on Armistice Sunday. I don’t know who wrote them but they speak of why we should remember… and hope.
‘I’m only an old man now – my hair is grey, my face lined and my back bent. Only an old man. But I’ve got memories. I remember the wars. I remember how we fought to rid the earth of evil, to make the world a better place. I remember the blackouts and rationing, newspapers filled with battles lost and won, ships sunk and planes missing. Countless millions dead, dying on foreign fields and in strange waters.
And yet – there was a dream. After the war things would be different – things would be better. We won. The war, as all wars must eventually do, ended. We won, and now, looking back, I wonder?
Did we lose that for which we fought? Were we simply swept along powerless on the tide of history? Did we try to control events, shape them for a better, finer world? Or did we only swim with the ebbing tide of dying visions?
And you, young with the strength of youth, will you also be swept along? Controlled by self-centred dreams and selfish visions? You have all the things we did not, leisure, money, affluence. Too late for me, and perhaps too dangerous for you.
But we had a dream, a burning, shinning vision. We would remake the world, a world with peace and harmony, a world of respect and love, a world of truth and righteousness. But it was only a dream.
Now, I confess, I do not like this world. Perhaps my generation failed you. We did not make this world, and yet, we built it. Forget, if you will, our suffering and disappointments. But please, please an old man. Take up our dream, our feeble vision. Make it a shining beacon in a world without hope. And take up hope, not in princes or armies; not in political systems and leaders but in the God of hope.’