Sunday, 8 November 2015

Remembrance: A Meditation

3000 BC at the Dolmen

The tribe can rest now, and our stone temple is complete. Into the side chambers, the tribal priests will place the grave goods - amulets, bracelets, and some of the bones of the ancestors. The fires will burn brightly down the passage, and we will chant the sacred songs, and the past will be very close tonight. 
The air is thin between this world and the next, and we build this to remember the past, our ancestors who will always be with us, and as long as stone will endure, may not be forgotten. Most are buried in earthen graves, but these bones are a token, a sign for the tribe, and it is enough. 
At the turning of the sun, at the matching of the night and day, and especially at the cross quarter day when the nights are growing long, we shall see the patterns in the stars, and know that it is time. We shall gather with the shades all who have gone before, and all their hopes shall be our hopes, and we shall pray for a good harvest and a mild winter. The fires will burn bright, and we shall remember them.

11th November 1918, In the Trenches

Today, we are told, sees an end to the mud, all the cold and wet, the noise of the guns, and the shells pounding down. Too late for some of my friends. And we are all wounded now, one way or another, with scars in our memories, which will remain with us until the day we die.

Now all we can do is to hope for a better world. We have been promised a land fit for heroes. It seems like only yesterday, but another world, a bright and sunny day, in which we marched up and down the parade ground. The band played a rousing marching song, and we felt sure we would find victory; we were full of thoughts of valour and brave deeds. 
Little did we know the despair and misery that would be our lot; the lice, the trench foot, the iron rations, and the endless mud and rain. This was, until today, our lot, for those of us lucky enough to survive, and those not driven mad by the endless noise of guns.
And when we are old, we will look back and remember those Islanders who died here, in a foreign field, friends and comrades in arms, taken in their youth, never to grow old, as we who are left grow old.

But our hopes are now for a brave new world, fresh shoots of spring, and families to build in a time of peace. Will there be that world so promised by the politicians? Or will we be forgotten, as some have said, only remembered on ceremonial occasions once a year, standing at cenotaphs across the land, but forgotten for the rest of the time?
Will we grow old, struggling to make ends meet, fretting over food and warmth, while those we fought for, and their descendants, stand and make fine speeches, and enjoy acclaim and wealth? Will we decline into an old age in which we again face hardship, frugal rations, and the biting cold of wintertime? Who will really remember us?

1944, The Normandy Beaches

We landed on Normandy to the sound of machine gun fire, and shells from the German positions. The carnage was dreadful, and I saw many of my mates fall down beneath as they struggled up the beaches. But now, the day is over, and we have won a victory, and taken a beachhead, and we move inland tomorrow. The great attack is over, and victory is in our sights. A time to take stock, and reflect of future hopes, if any of us come out of this alive.

One thing is certain, we will not be cheated like our grandfathers and fathers were, with glib promises of a land fit for heroes. Where there is the chance, we will take it, and we will vote for change. It is time for change. People are dying here, and they are dying so that all those of use lucky enough to survive will have hope. Well, you can't have that if all those who didn't fight are in charge, in the same old way.

The mood is that we can do this; we will look forward not to just let the politicians do it, but to elect our own people. The English soldiers are already talking of Attlee and Labour. Churchill may have won the war, but when war is past, we want people looking forward, to changes, to free health for all, housing, a decent pension, social security, and a fairer society.

We want a world built from the ranks of the ordinary soldier, the common man. If we are to remember our fallen comrades, we shall pay tribute to them in this way, by changing the world. I don't know if there is another world, like the padre says, but I know we don't want pie in the sky, but fair shares for all in this world. How much we build a better world, I do not know, but this will be our memorial to the dead; our monument to their lives. In this time of hope, we shall look back and not forget that ordinary folk paid with their life's blood for our future. Yes, we shall build a better world. And we shall remember them.

1972, Northern Ireland

I would not have thought our Islanders could be caught up in this conflict, but they have. I am here as a representative of the funeral directors to convey, with dignity and respect, the remains of a poor lad shot and killed here last month. To the rest of the world, the conflict here must seem a very private little war, but it still has the power to destroy lives.

I remember my grandfather taking part in the Great War, the war to end all wars. Only it was not, because then there was the Second World War, in which my father fought. Warfare has become less global, but smaller private wars continue, many still die, and so often those fighting have lost sight of all reason why the war began; hatreds become inbred, and even those who are brought in to keep the peace get caught up in the madness.

Now there will be a new name on the Cenotaph; a new date, and a new war, in which we remember the dead.

600 AD, A Remote Bay in the Island

We landed today in our small boats. This is an empty bay, with rocks at either side, and no signs of habitation; here we can settle and begin our small community. The Lord gave us a strong wind, and blew us onto the beaches, bringing us safely through the storm, in his great mercy. Under the shadow of his wings, we came safely into harbour. Blessed be his name.

Once we have settled, we will seek out those who live here, and trade with them, for we have many skilled artisans, skilled in working with metal and wood. We have scribes who can read and write, and who can bring the Lord's word of peace and joy to the people who live in this land. 
For in our travels, across the channel dividing our lands from these southern regions, we have come across much sorrow, tribal laws which are not just, where the widow and the orphan and the stranger are forgotten. We shall teach these peoples to know the justice of the Lord, and his mercy on us all. For we are all strangers in a strange land.

There is wood here, and we can fashion a shelter for worship, in which we can pray for the peoples of this Island. We shall gather the names of their ancestors, and the names of the living, and all their songs and stories, and we shall take care that nothing is lost that the Lord has entrusted to us. We shall light our candles, break bread, and we shall remember them.

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