I came from a church tradition that didn’t pay too much attention to Remembrance Day or Remembrance Sunday but I have grown in my appreciation for this annual reminder of the cost of conflict.
In 2016 I spent a few days at Talbot House in Poperinge with a small group of clergy. We visited several of the surrounding cemeteries of Flanders where almost every grave held the remains of young men close to the age that my son was at the time and we walked along the trenches of Sanctuary Wood, muddy even in summer, where many of these soldiers had met their end. Being present for the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, the ceremony that takes place every evening to commemorate those who fell in defence of Belgian lives in WW1, was a humbling experience. That the Belgians faithfully recall with such gratitude the service of British military as well as other allied forces all these years later was deeply moving. But it was in the Upper Room of Talbot House where many, very young servicemen had had their first and last communion before returning to the battlefields, that the weight of remembering our history really made itself felt.
War is terrible but conflict that divides can also unite people and nations. My visit to Poperinge was a few days prior to the referendum on whether the U.K. should leave the European Union. The Belgians we met were all involved in remembering what unites us – a shared history and sacrifice for common values and beliefs. They felt connected to us in a way that I had not appreciated before and the mere idea that we would want to distance ourselves from them politically caused them real hurt. Since then I have witnessed how many people from all walks of life have tried to build bridges to ensure the political divisions do not escalate into more hostility. Real efforts are being made to maintaining relationships between the U.K. and Belgium. On Remembrance Sunday I now remember many of the Belgians I met in Flanders and I remember not just those who died but the importance of caring about the living, the need to pay attention to our individual relationships with people as well as building bridges of reconciliation with other nations so that conflicts are less likely to flare into violence.
There are so many violent losses to reflect on now and the human cost of war in the Ukraine has come close to the many villages and market towns that are hosting Ukrainian refugees. Remembrance must be more than a remembrance of the past; it means nothing if it does not also affect our actions and attitudes now. We are called to be peacemakers in our communities and we honour those we remember if we also spend some time thinking creatively about how we can go about healing tensions between us and other people and commit to do this. If Remembrance is only for one Sunday or one day of the year then we’re really missing the point of it.
Director: Wales and South West England