Magazine Articles

Dear Friends

Earlier this year, Phil and I took a long promised visit to the WW1 battlefield

sites in France and Belgium. In the April and May of 1917 there was an

offensive in the area between Vimy and Bullcourt, which like so many others

ended in stalemate. It was purely by coincidence, we happened to be in Arras

on the centenary of the death of a great uncle of mine – 5th May 1917. Our trip

therefore turned into a pilgrimage to the Arras memorial. There amidst 34,848

inscriptions we could just make out his name - Alfred Brazendale. It is possible

that his remains are buried in a grave marked with the words “Known unto

God” in one of the small cemeteries dotted around the South East of Arras, or

in one of the fields which were once a mud bath, but as far as we know that is

the only record of him.

Of course there is nothing unusual in my story. Millions of men died in the

“War to end all Wars”. The sight of the countless names at Arras, the Menin

Gate and elsewhere, and the ranks of white graves give silent testimony to the

appalling loss of life, to great bravery and to great sacrifice. And it goes on:

in Staffordshire at the National Arboretum there is a huge stone memorial to

members of the armed forces who have died since WW2 in action or in acts of

terrorism.

Following our visit, I read a book by Neil Oliver called “Not Forgotten” which

recounts tales from some of the nearly 38,000 WW1 memorials in towns and

villages, estates, schools, places of work and worship. His premise is that

although the memorials stand as reminders, the personal connection between

those who recall individuals and those still alive is slipping away from popular

memory. We can see that from the two war memorials in church, the WW1

plaque bearing fewer names than that for WW2, a most unusual situation given

the greater loss of life generally in the first world war, but how many of those

names, even in our small community mean very much to us today? I could say

the same about the memorial book, the windows around the church or the

various objects given in memory. It doesn’t take more than a couple of

generations for “Not forgotten” to become only “Known unto God”.

Does it matter that we cannot connect with individuals? I don’t think so. The

importance lies in recalling the terrible damage that war inflicts on individuals

and communities and acts as a warning. Those windows and mementoes around

the church and in our homes too, remind us that our lives are part of something

greater than families and friends, important as they are to us. We are

“surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses”:  Witnesses to foolishness, witnesses

to loyalty and service, witnesses to love which is stronger than death.

The Remembrance season starts this year with our commemoration service on

29th October, near to All Souls (Halloween) and All Saints’ Day and continues

with Remembrance Sunday on 12th November. Days like these give us the

opportunity to reflect on the fragility of life and the hope that is set before us. In

that hope and in faith we believe that our names are inscribed on the most

important memorial, the Book of Life. “Not Forgotten” and “Known unto God”.

Blessings from your friend and reader Helen