This month.....

Remembering and learning from the past.

Harry Patch died on the 25th July 2009 at the age of 111 years and 38 days. At the time he was the oldest man in Europe but in the summer of 1917 he would have had serious doubts that he would have seen the year out as he served with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment at the Battle of Passchendaele.

Harry Patch was of course the last surviving soldier of the First World War and with him passed that direct connection to the 1914-18 conflict.

I remember as a child going to the Remembrance Sunday Service in my village church. I was dressed in my Cub Scout uniform and the uniformed organisations were on parade. The service was in the afternoon and the veterans of the First and the Second World Wars sat in the nave. First World War veterans in their 70s and 80s then, on the south side. Second World War veterans in their 40s and 50s, on the north. Looking back over the years, the two groups were of similar number but apart from the veterans and the Scouting and Guiding organisations there were few others present.

In the 1980s attendance at acts of Remembrance seemed to dwindle away. The keeping of a minutes silence on the 11th November at 11am was rare. This all seemed to change at around the time of the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It might have been that the First Gulf War a few years previously brought the realities of conflict back into people’s attention. It might just have been the way that keeping two minutes silence caught the public mood but since 1995 remembrance has again become an important part of our national life and at times of great tragedy as a nation we often respond with a minute’s silence.

In Church life November is a month when we remember. 1st November is All Saints day, often celebrated on the nearest Sunday. All Saints day arose in the early church as a day to remember those who had disappeared during periods of persecution. It was known that some of these early Christians had died a Martyrs death but some had just disappeared but it could be presumed that they had met the same end.

2nd November is All Souls day, which is a day when we remember our own personal saints, the people who have inspired and guided us in the past. Of course there are other days in the year particular to them, when we remember those inspirational people but it’s good to have a day when we draw all those memories together.

Remembrance Sunday has also become an important day of remembering and a day that has evolved from remembering those who died in the First World War to a day of remembering those who have died in many conflicts. I’ve found that so many young people relate to Remembrance Sunday in a way that I didn’t when I was there age because unfortunately it has become relevant to them as they remember people of their age, whether known to them or not, who have died in recent conflicts.

But when we remember, when we look back we should also look forward and apply the lessons of the past to the future. The end of November is the Feast of Christ the King and during the month Bible readings point to Christ’s kingship. We look forward to Christ’s heavenly kingdom but it’s not about “Pie in the sky when you die”. If we reflect on the past and look forward to a heavenly kingdom but do nothing to work for justice and peace now then what have we learnt? We remember to be inspired to improve the present and the future.

I hope we all have moments to reflect this November.

Richard Curtis