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November 2018

Remembering matters

What is the difference between remembrance and remembering? In dictionary terms, very little, but the term ‘remembrance’ is often used in connection with special moments in time. We remember a wide range of things in passing, randomly, but remembrance is about setting time aside to think deeply about the past.

The first two-minute silence of remembrance in Britain was held on 11 November 1919, when King George V asked the public to observe silence at 11am, exactly one year after the end of World War One. He made the request so “the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead”. This reminds us that remembrance is a shared activity – something we do as a community.

During the 1970s many people predicted that Remembrance Day would soon be forgotten. In fact, since the Falklands conflict and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Remembrance Sunday seems as relevant today as it was in 1919. It is a day which marks more than the end of one terrible war, in 1918, where industrialised killing achieved horrors never previously imagined. On this day we fall still – to remember the cost of war, and the burdens carried by those who fight in our behalf. Many of those leaving our armed forces become homeless; some suffer lasting mental health problems.

Remembrance isn’t just about recollecting things we know – it’s about learning. We might find out about long forgotten wars – for example those who served in less well known conflicts in 1940s Israel, 1950s Korea, 1960s Malaya, or 1990s Bosnia. We might take the time to find out about those wars happening across our world today, often unnoticed by the media. We might say a quiet prayer for all those in harm’s way somewhere in the world, and those who wait for them.

If remembrance means learning, we might look at the bigger picture of the 20th Century, where around 200 million people died, directly or indirectly, as a result of war, and millions more were displaced or exiled.

This year naturally we focus on the 1918 Armistice. Some communities across the UK will be thinking this month not just about those named on war memorials, but those who returned and tried to pick up the pieces of their lives. We remember, too, families who have endured wars at home, waiting for an awful telegram.

Remembrance is an action, a choice. It might mean hearing new stories. For example, finding out more about the largely forgotten contributions of African and Caribbean servicemen to the First World War, where over 2 million Africans and 16,000 Caribbean citizens were active participants. We might find out more about the wide ranging roles undertaken by women in war.

Remembrance also means trying to understand; to fathom what causes wars and what avoids them. To understand the full range of experiences of those who go to war, oppose war, or whose lives are consumed by war.

And finally, through understanding, we seek wisdom. One thing all faiths have in common is hope for peace – generosity before guns, tolerance before trumpets. Peace, we know from experience, is precious and needs to be cherished and protected.

Christians know that peace is God’s hope for the world, and that it begins with a simple action – treating others as we hope to be treated ourselves. As we fall still this November we call to mind a powerful truth: peace begins among us.

Revd John Lees, Associate Priest

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