Lay Reader's Letter
It's 97 years since Britain first came to a standstill, in 1919, to honour the dead of the First World War and, on Remembrance Sunday, 13th November, we will stand in silence, as we have done in each of the previous years, in memory of the men and women who gave their lives in that and subsequent conflicts around the world. We will use the wonderful words of Laurence Binyon's poetry:
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them."
It is right that we should remember and recall the sacrifice of those killed in war, for many of you reading this will have had family members killed or maimed in one of the World Wars. Remembrance Sunday is held in their memory and for the memory of those from villages like ours; I hope you will purchase a poppy and wear it with pride.
Young men from our villages marched innocently to war in 1914 and 1939, proud to serve in defence of those they loved, but they soon experienced the unspeakable horrors of war. This year marked the centenary of some of the most awful battles of the Great War: Jutland, Verdun, the Somme - the very names cause me to shudder.
25 years later the world was at war again and, with merchant vessels mostly deployed to carry armaments, fuel and troops, starvation was rife throughout Europe. In this country the challenge of starvation was met by the 'Dig for Victory' campaign which encouraged people to transform gardens, parks and sports pitches into allotments to grow vegetables. However, in Europe the threat of starvation was met in the most callous ways. A whole race of people, the Jews, was singled out for slaughter so there would be more food for German mouths whilst the German army ruthlessly invaded Russia, slaughtering troops and civilians alike, in order to capture the grain harvests from Ukraine (the bread-basket of Europe). By the end of the war, over 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children, and 9 million Russians had been systematically murdered.
At the end of the war in 1945 returning troops surely could not have imagined that in every subsequent year members of the British armed forces have fought and been killed on active service overseas nor that the total number of people killed in the wars of the twentieth century would be around 160 million. Warfare didn't come to an end with the turn of the millennium; it is estimated that over 1 million lives have been lost in war since the year 2000.
So on Remembrance Sunday maybe we should also reflect on today's wars; we are told that these will be primarily fought over diminishing natural resources - oil, mineral wealth. water. Just as throughout human history there are those who consider it acceptable to use brutal violence to take what they want from the poor and weak to satisfy national and corporate greed. As G K Chesterton once wrote "It isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't see the problem."
Jesus was born into a peasant family in a country ravaged and impoverished by occupation of the great empire of his day, Rome - he wouldn't be surprised by today's wars, just dismayed that his teaching had been ignored and distorted. As we remember the fallen dead from the last century we might ask "What is more important today, human greed or human life?"
Gordon - Reader at St Mary's Eaton Bray with Edlesborough
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About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.