As we approach the anniversary of the Armistice that brought an end to over four years of conflict, villages, towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom have been debating how to commemorate those who lost their lives in what is referred to as ‘The Great War’. The new memorial in Knutsford is the response of the Town Council and local branch of the Royal British Legion. Other memorials or plaques have been unveiled across the country. Inspired by the installation, ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ at the Tower of London that commemorated the centenary of the outbreak of the war, many people have been knitting or crocheting poppies to place in locations round this country and abroad. In our parishes some people have been contributing poppies to help decorate St George’s Memorial Chapel in Ypres. Many people will also have seen silhouettes of WWI soldiers which are being placed by roadsides, one is outside the gates of Tatton Park.
Shortly before the outbreak of WWII my grandfather went to France and visited the war cemeteries, the majority of which had only just been completed. He wrote how they were swarming with the families and friends of those who had been killed, either visiting the graves of their loved ones or looking at their names on the panels that record those whose bodies were never found. My own family served but by the grace of God none were killed. For those whose forebears were killed, including a friend whose grandfather was the first soldier from Knutsford to lose his life, there is still an immediacy to a conflict that will soon be over a hundred years in the past.
Observing a silence on the 11th November, the anniversary of Armistice Day, began in 1919 and continued until 1945. With the country once more at war, Remembrance Sunday then became the day in which to recall the sacrifice of those whose lives had been lost in both wars. This year Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday coincide which is appropriate for the centenary of the day the guns fell silent. At St Mary’s we will read the names of those on our war memorials and then sing , as we do every year, the hymn ‘O valiant hearts’ whose words are based on a poem by Sir John Stanhope Arkwright. The hymn has fallen out of favour in recent years with some questioning whether it is right to compare the sacrifice of those who died with that of Christ on the cross. Some say that it makes assumptions that have no theological justification, that not just Christians but those of many faiths, agnostics and atheists also died. However, the hymn does remind us that the suffering of Christ was not simply an act of sacrifice but intended to redeem what is often a suffering world. As the final line of the hymn reminds us, we can justifiably commit all those who have died to the gracious love of God.