Gone but not forgotten…

An address for Crewkerne Remembrance Sunday Service at St Bartholomew’s Church.

grave kranji

The stole I am wearing today (that is the coloured scarf that vicars wear to remind us of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and of our service to others) was given to me by a man called Father Angus Robson.  He had become a priest exactly 60 years before I was ordained, and I had the pleasure of serving with him in Jersey. Angus had served as a chaplain in WWII landing on the beaches on D-day and going all the way to Berlin.  Towards the end of his life in his 90’s he was in hospital and he was desperate to get home – he said he had seen enough blood on those beaches to last a lifetime and lost too many people he knew, to stay and see more blood in the hospital.  The memory of those events decades earlier and the colleagues he had lost still affected him greatly.

As a young man in Scouts and then later as a Cadet I always took part in my town Remembrance Day parade.  I grew up in Folkestone where on a clear day you could look across the English Channel to see the coast of France.  We would march along the steep road now known as the Road of Remembrance which was where most of the soldiers ‘stepped short’ to go down the slope and onto the boats to transport them to trenches in Belgium and France.  There was always a large group of veterans, many from the first war, marching proudly with their walking sticks in their hands, medals on their chests and with tears held back in their eyes as they remembered their companions during those hard times.

At the reading out of the names – I would always think of my Nan who lost her husband, my grandfather.  He was shot whilst he was serving in Singapore just after the Second World War.  Having died after the end of the war I don’t think his name was included on any memorial in the town.  But several years later I was in Singapore and after nearly 50 years I was the first member of our family to see his gravestone on the other side of the world, and read his epitaph which read ‘Gone from us but not forgotten, never shall his memory fade.’ But each year on remembrance Sunday I would march, and stand for the silence and think about my Nan whose life changed suddenly one day when she received the terrible news, and went from living in the relative affluence of the ex-pat ‘black and white’ military house, to return to England and a life as a single mother, sharing a home in a war torn town.

Each one of these names that have been read out today represents a family devastated.
Their memory has faded – for many of the 127 Crewkerne men listed on the Severalls War Memorial not much is known now –  who they were, who was left behind at home to cope, which sweethearts were devastated, the parents grieving the loss of all their sons.  We have above the main church door, a memorial for the Boer war.  We probably know very little about them either. No photographs, no family history just a name.

Today, even the living memory of the men of the Second World War is fading.  But the work of the British Legion goes on.  There are men and women whose lives have been literally blown apart in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We don’t remember this day to glorify war but to remember its cost.

So I think too of a young man I got to know in Cornwall, who 10 years after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan was still on medication for Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Sometimes the cost of freedom is severe.  We come into church because we remember that 2000 years ago there was another mother stood weeping at the loss of her son. As Jesus died on the cross in the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate self-giving, there was a battle raging in heaven.  This battle Jesus won, but at a great cost.  We are here in this church because we remember that for every sacrifice, there is God’s love to cover and restore.  There is the promise of eternal life and eternal peace.  There is the presence now of God’s love and the Holy Spirit’s comfort.

Love is costly and peace comes at a price – we pray today for those who have felt that loss and paid that price.  But we pray in the hope and in the knowledge of Christ’s ultimate victory and of his assurance that he walks with us, comforts and supports those left behind; and for Jesus at least, they are not gone and forgotten but returned home and restored to life eternal.  Amen

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