Remembrance and Reconciliation 2012


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Remembrance and Reconciliation 2012

  1. 1. Remembrance Address, Nether Compton, 11 November 2012My principal theme in Remembrance Addresses in the diocese over theyears has been to try to bring home the horrors of war and to emphasisethat remembrance is not only about those who paid the ultimatesacrifice but also, increasingly, those who survived. For example, thenumber of troops who were killed liberating the Falklands, 255, has beenexceeded by the number of veterans who have taken their own livessince returning home.But this year, for reasons that will, I hope, become apparent, I have beenmoved to link my theme of remembrance with that of reconciliation. Toset the scene:Remembrance itself is a deliberate attempt to capture the past throughthe memories of people who are still alive to talk about it and those whohave written about it. We need to remind ourselves that those who diedlive on through gratitude, in the hearts and minds of those of us who areleft behind. Remembrance works through the sharing of memories.The past is part of the present. Every person we have known, everyplace we have lived in, everything that has happened to us, lives in us,and it doesn’t take much to bring it all back. But keeping alive thememories of those who died is only part of our act of remembrance.Another part of Remembrance is upholding what those who died would,I suggest, have regarded as civilised values: compassion for those inneed, consideration for others, freedom within the law, respect for thelaw, and the importance of family life. Values I believe we hold in trustfor future generations, and to which I would hope all true Britishpatriots, whatever their religious beliefs, will re-dedicate themselvestoday.Remembrance does not work by dwelling on the enormity of the losses:In World War One the total killed, Allies and Germans, was about9,000,000, nearly all engaged directly in the fighting. Of those,700,000 were British (equivalent to the current population of Dorset)–– more than twice as many as were killed in the World War Two.The carnage in the Battle of the Somme alone is staggering. On the firstof July 1916, the first day of the Somme battle, over 19,00o Britishservicemen were killed and 35,000 wounded. 19,000 killed on thatone day alone.In World War Two, the total deaths on all sides was around 50 million.
  2. 2. And let us not forget the 4,000 of our servicemen and women who havedied in the line of duty since World War Two. It is unsurprising, therefore, that for many young people today – andeven some not so young – repeating “we will remember them” at aService of Remembrance such as this, merely conjures up images ofghostly hordes of anonymous men and women whose names areengraved on war memorials. We can’t contemplate the numbers withoutour senses reeling – unless we put a human face to them.So, let me now share a few examples of that human face, to illustratehow I believe remembrance and reconciliation can work together:* Private Harry Patch, whom I was privileged to meet, was the lastsurviving British soldier from World War One. He died in 2009 aged111, only a few years after he had attended a ceremony with one of thelast surviving Germans of World War One to mark the 90th anniversaryof the battle of Passchendaele in which they had both taken part. Theylaid wreaths, at the memorial for the British dead, and then at a cemeteryfor the German victims of the offensive. Harry Patch later describedhow they had sat in silence together, staring out at the landscape,remembering the stench, the noise, the gas, the blood-encrusted mud,the cries of their fallen comrades. They had no common language butthey had one common thought: they owed it to the millions of deadnever to let the world forget.* In World War Two, Major General Johnny Frost (who was Liz’s uncleand godfather) commanded 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment forthe parachute drop to capture the bridge at Arnhem in the summer of1944. His battalion held the bridge, often referred to as ‘a bridge toofar’, for three days while the rest of the division was trying to reachthem. But he was badly wounded and forced to surrender. After the wara new bridge at Arnhem was named after him: John Frostbrug. On the40th anniversary of the battle, in 1984, he arranged to meet his Germanadversary under that bridge where they shook hands as a sign of mutualrespect.* An even more powerful example is that of Leonard Wilson who wasBishop of Birmingham before he retired and for whom I had a very highregard. He was Bishop of Singapore in 1943 when the Japanese invadedand he was imprisoned and tortured in Changi prison. Moving on 55years to the 1998 Lambeth Conference it was the turn of the Japanesebishops to celebrate the Eucharist for the whole conference. It was held
  3. 3. on Hiroshima Day, which marks the dropping of the first atomic bombon Japan. And they invited Leonard Wilsons daughter, who was then amember of the General Synod, to preach a sermon. She spoke withpassion about her fathers torture and about her own belief in peace andreconciliation. And she described how her father had achievedreconciliation by converting some of his torturers to Christianity andconducting a confirmation service for one of them.* The last of my individual examples is Eric Lomax who died lastmonth aged 93. He wrote a harrowing memoir, The Railway Man,about being captured by the Japanese and then forced to work on theconstruction of a railway from Burma to Thailand. He was subjectedto unimaginable tortures, resulting in nightmares for the rest of hislife. 48 years after his release from prison, Eric Lomax reluctantlyagreed to meet the Japanese interpreter who had been present duringhis interrogation and who had written a book to express his deepremorse. The two of them met on the bridge over the River Kwai,when something extraordinary happened: they became friends.But I would like to finish with what I regard as the most complete anduplifting example of them all:* Before I took early retirement from the RAF in 1975 I commandedan RAF fighter station in Lincolnshire where I hosted a reunion of 70survivors of an Australian Lancaster squadron which had operatedfrom that base during World War Two. They came from Australiafor three memorable days during which the RAF Chaplain-in-Chiefand the Bishop of Lincoln dedicated a memorial in the village to the978 aircrew of their squadron, just one squadron, who had beenkilled on operations.* The vivid memories of that experience nearly 40 years ago lead medirectly to the Bomber Command Memorial which was unveiled by theQueen in Green Park last June. Thousands of poppies were released bythe sole surviving Lancaster during the ceremony. To put the unveilingin perspective, a Battle of Britain Memorial was unveiled by the QueenMother near Dover almost 20 years ago. Yet more bomber aircrew werekilled in one night over Nuremberg than Fighter Command lost in thefour months of the Battle of Britain. It has taken 67 years to honour the56,000 aircrew of Bomber Command who were killed in World WarTwo.
  4. 4. * But, you might well ask, where is the reconciliation here? Well, lastChristmas Liz and I went to Dresden where we visited the Frauenkirche,a majestic Lutheran church which had been lovingly rebuilt and re-consecrated in 2005. A magnificent gold cross and orb which nowadorn the top were presented by the Duke of Kent on behalf of TheQueen in February 2010, the 55th anniversary of the Allied bombing ofDresden. The cross was designed and made by a British MasterGoldsmith who was the son of an aircrew member of one of theLancasters which bombed Dresden that night.In one of several acts of reciprocation, the people of Dresden presentedthe people of Coventry with miniature replicas of that 26 ft cross andorb. And the British Dresden Trust then presented a silver chalice foruse in communion services in the church in Dresden. The artwork onthe chalice expresses with undisguised honesty:– the flames from the bombing to represent the conflagration whichengulfed the city in February 1945,– linked hands to represent friendship and reconciliation betweenBritain and Germany, and– finally, 12 rubies around the neck of the chalice, representing the 12Apostles.Thus remembrance and reconciliation walk hand-in-hand in manyforms. Lest we forget, and hard though it can be, Jesus entreated us tolove our enemies. And, as Eric Lomax, who had been tortured by theJapanese, eventually discovered: “Continuing to hate gets you nowhere.It just damages you as an individual. At some point, the hating has tostop.”As for peace on earth, let us have the humility and grace to accept that ifMan will not end war, though we pray forever, God will not end it forMan. It is not God’s responsibility to bring peace – its ours.Amen