Photo: Keith Blundy

Bishop's blessings on eve of commemorations

On the eve of the start of commemorations for the centenary of the start of WW1 the Bishop of Jarrow blessed a newly refurbished memorial and gardens at Washington Old Village and called for respectful and thoughtful silence in a world still troubled with conflict and suffering.

The Right Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow blessed the new refurbished memorial gardens and monument in Washington Village on Sunday 3rd August in a short service of remembrance organised by the Washington branch of the Royal British Legion and attended by local ward councillors, ex service personnel, families and members of the local community. The service held on the eve of the centenary of the outbreak of hostilities in WW1, used the re-dedication to remember not only those that lost their lives in WW1 but in all hostilities since.

Poppies, crosses and wreaths of remembrance were laid by the community, serving armed forces personnel and association as well as members of the general public, miners associations and civic representatives.

Bishop Mark said: “The original idea of commemoration was of course to remember the terrible things that had happened, so that we wouldn’t do them again. Now sadly we haven’t done that very well as the events of the last week have shown only too clearly. What I have been saying this morning is that in the face of such appalling tragedy, all we can do really is to hold respectful and thoughtful silence.

“We are not very good at that these days, if ever anything goes wrong, everybody feels the need to say something, and I think there are times when the only sensible and respectful thing to do is to keep silence, silence in the face of tragedy, silence in the face of heroism, silence as we try to work out what we can do to build a better future.”

Photo: Keith Blundy

One of the tributes of remembrance was laid by WW2 veteran Bob Douglas (89 of Washington) supported by James Hurst (7) of Usworth, Washington.

Bob said: “I was in the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and I went to Normandy 9 days after the D-Day landings. Then, as today, we were doing our bit for the youth of the future and it was a privilege to stand alongside young James at this rededication and on the eve of the WW1 centenary of the outbreak of war.

“The Bishop talked about the events of the last week in the Middle East. I remember standing at a port in France when the war in Europe had ended and was waiting to board a ship to go to fight in far-east, when news came of the dropping of the atomic bombs in Japan. Instead I was sent to Palestine, and spent the next two year there - things don’t seem to have changed much; it’s really important to remember and to hope for a peaceful future.”

The Bishop of Jarrow also attended a service of commemoration at St Herbert’s in Darlington on Sunday 3rd August to bless a brass with the names of fifteen local men ( one only sixteen ) who gave their lives in the 1st World War. The Plaque was recovered from a local methodist church which recently closed.

Extract from Bishop of Jarrow's Address

What we are remembering here is a war in which 745,000 British soldiers died and one and a half million were wounded. Overall estimates vary between 9 and 15 million before we start to count the wounded.

In amongst these figures there are stories of extraordinary poignancy:

On the eve of the battle of the Somme in which our nation alone suffered 60,000 casualties in a single day a boy writes home...

“I took my communion yesterday with dozens of others who are going over tomorrow; and never have I attended a more impressive service. I placed my body in God's keeping, and I am going into battle with his name on my lips, full of confidence and trust you implicitly in him. Should it be gods will you will to call me away I am quite prepared to go. I could not pray for a finer death; and you my dear mother and dad will know that I died doing my duty to my God my country and my team. I asked that you should look upon it as an honour that you have given your son for the sake of King and country.

One of the army chaplains found his brother died on the battlefield

He was lying on his face, obviously killed outright. I stroked his hair and commended him to the Father, Who made him, to the Son who redeemed him, and to the Holy Spirit who made him good and prayed that we might meet again, and crawled away

A few days later with help from some other soldiers he manages to retrieve his brother’s body for burial.”

Indeed when the war ends in 1918 people in the streets do not know whether to rejoice and party or to weep.

This was for the people of the time the GREAT war  (The Great War for Civilisation I read on a medal I saw recently) -  unlike anything they had experienced before.

100 years on we know that

•             It was not the war to end all wars

•             Remembering the dead did not stop people going to war again

•             And now we know with a speed and immediacy which would have been unknown the horror of the bombing of Syrian communities and the dislocation of life in Iraq and Palestine and Israel. Indeed so immediate has it become that we have grown almost immune to it

What can we say? Or is it. Better to try to keep silence

•             Silent in the face of the death of so many

•             Silent in the face of acts of such extraordinary heroism that we find it almost impossible to imagine people doing that

•             Silent in the face of so many terrible wars and atrocities since

We are not good at being silent. If anything in the world occurs, politicians and media journalists must rush to say something. Often there is nothing to say that adds to the situation. All to rarely is there a respectful silence; a silence that acknowledges that there is nothing that can be said.

It often seems to me so good that in our acts of remembrance since 1919 there has always been as there will be this afternoon two minutes of silence

•             Silence to remember those who have died

•             Silence to try in some small way to commit ourselves to the making of a better world

•             Silence because at Times it is impossible to know what to say or think.

Christians will want to say that this is not an empty silence, but silence in which God is to be found; and the God who is found is the God whose Son hung on the cross.

Many of the reports from the First World War say how striking British soldiers found the crucifixes in almost every village they went through in France – less often in the UK than now and it is striking that when the people in this community decided to erect the war memorial window over the altar they chose a picture of a crucifix

That cross says to us that in the midst of difficult and terrible and wicked things we are not alone

Imagine if you will, two friends who are out walking late at night.  It is a dark night, there is no moon and no stars to show them way and they are walking in an area where they have never walked before.  They walk along for some while and then all of a sudden one of the men misses his footing; he falls and finds himself at the bottom of a deep pit.  He calls out to his friend above to try to prevent him making the same mistake.  The friend above calls out to see that the friend at the bottom of the pit is alright and promises that he will go and find help.

After what feels like a very, very long time, the man at the bottom of the pit hears footsteps above.  He calls out to whoever it is to warn them of the danger of the pit.  He hears a scrabbling sound and after a moment or two he can make out in the darkness the outline of another person who has fallen into the pit.

To begin with he turns to the man angrily saying: “why did you not take more care?  There are two of us now in this pit who need to be rescued”.  The man who had just fallen into the pit replies: “Do not worry, there are two of us here now and together we can help ourselves climb to safety”.

Whatever we may face in our generation perhaps that is what we hold onto

Let me end with some words from a war memorial that I know well from a small village in Hampshire

'Remember children the glory and the sadness of war, the courage of the men, and the sorrow and suffering of all the people'.

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