Very few of us today will have a direct remembrance of those who died in WWI and increasingly as the years past from the end of WWII, this will become the same. No one in my immediate family actually knew my great, great Uncle Ern. My Grannie knew him but not my father and now they are both dead the link to him is very fragile. I have his photograph, in his Sapper’s uniform, on my desk but I doubt any of the next generations of my family will do so. The heroes like Uncle Ern are being forgotten as the individuals they were and are becoming part of a historical event that no one now alive was part of.
Recently while waiting for the Paddington train from Reading Station I saw opposite a Great Western Railway locomotive dedicated to those who lost their lives in WWI and most especially to those who received a Victoria Cross for their bravery. As well as the major name dedication every single man and woman who worked for GWR and who died in WWI was remembered. I was very happy to see the
locomotive in its special livery because it told me these men and women were not yet forgotten, especially as for some their names were accompanied by their photograph as well.
‘Lest we forget’ words associated with Remembrance Day are I think increasing important words and sentiment. War is awful, it destroys lives and countries and changes things dramatically and violently. Because of this you might think that we humans would remember not to fight and destroy each other - sadly events all too current in the world today show this not to be true. For an ideology or a few miles of territory we fight to prove a point and never stop to count the cost in hums lives and the destruction of Creation. How God must weep to see what we do to each other!
We wage war because we forget what war does. The majority of our population in great Britain has not lived through a major war and politicians and others can because of this, sometimes be too quick to commit to the use of force in a conflict. When the immediate memory is lost the collective memory is not
strong enough to make us think about what war and violence actually costs and does to us.
What I mean by the collective memory of war is that it becomes simply a historical event that happened years ago and has little impact on the individual. Although saying this one can be surprised. A recent report in the Church Times told of how Dr. Megan Olshefski a historian walked the infamous Death March from Dunbar to Durham. Following the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 the Royalist soldiers and supporters were march from Durham to be incarcerated in Durham Cathedral. Of the 4000 who began the march only 3000 reached Durham, the others dying on the way and the inhuman treatment of them in Durham over the next two years increased the death toll to well over 3500. Those who survived were later released and many emigrated to New England. The Battle of Durham was 375 years ago but Olshefski was surprised by how many knew of the march as she followed in their footsteps. She said of the experience:
“I was surprised to find many ... knew the story already, dnd those who didn’t were excited to learn it.”
It was good that Olshefski set out to remember those who made the march to Durham and those who died and perhaps her actions will cause those who met her or saw her walking the Death March to remember those who died in 1650 once again. No one knew those men today but they are now not forgotten.
I hope and pray that as the collective memory of WWI and WWII grows, we will not forget the individuals who gave their lives to ensure we live our lives in freedom. Remembrance is more than just remembering it is honouring the memory of the dead with dignity and thankfulness and acknowledging that they did not died in vain even if we still have a lot to learn about living peacefully together.
LEST WE FORGET. LEST WE FORGET.