Bishop Trevor Willmott:
It can be hard to relate blurry black and white film of men marching to the trenches, or photos of nurses in strange clothes caring for the war wounded, to our lives today. Harder still perhaps, to understand why we should commemorate a war that started over one hundred years ago, where none of those who fought are still alive, and when our present lives seem so removed from life a century ago.
Across the world, the First World War claimed the lives of nine million soldiers. Another seven million died from the effects of war. In this country, the war had an impact on the lives of everyone in every town, village and city.
And one hundred years later we are all still connected to the First World War, either through our own family history, or through the way the war changed the history of our communities. If we care to look back at our ancestry, most of us will have great-great uncles or grand fathers who were war causalities. If we care to look around us, we can see how the war shaped today’s society.
August 4th 2014 marks the start of four years of national and international commemorations marking the centenary of the First World War. Churches across Kent will be marking this day with special services and vigils, or by simply opening their doors for prayer. Churches will also be sharing information about the local people who are commemorated on their war memorial.
How often have we seen a war memorial without properly looking at it? The long list of inscribed names above the yellowing poppy wreath; all too easily our war memorials, whether they are in our churches or other public buildings, become part of the scenery, something we get used to seeing, without comprehending what they mean.
The centenary provides us with an opportunity to understand a little more about the men and women who served and died between 1914-1918. It provides an opportunity to appreciate the lives of local people, men and women like you and me, who were uprooted from their everyday lives and made to fight in countries they had never visited, against an enemy whose language meant nothing to them, or who were forced to work in factories to create the ammunitions that fuelled the war machine.
Prayers uncovered from WW1 do not damn the enemy, and are not filled with vitriol for the aggressor. They simply recognised the tragedy of the times and asked for God’s mercy and forgiveness. There are, after all, no winners in war.
With bloody conflicts taking place in Gaza, Syria and the Ukraine, we realise more than ever that the centenary is not a time for celebration. It is a time for commemoration; a chance to honour the past and those who suffered and died. A chance to reflect on the on-going horrors of war and pray for those caught up in conflict.
Please consider visiting your local church this August and as you take a moment to learn about and commemorate those who died one hundred years ago, pray also for those suffering today in wars and conflicts around the world.
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