We will remember them
Yesterday was a very poignant day across the whole of Europe, as many attended remembrance services to mark 100 years since the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. In the first hour of the battle, 2400 men were killed. On the first day over 60,000 lost their lives. It was one of the bloodiest battles in history, with an estimated 1 million who died over the course of the 5 month period during which the battle took place.
The Queen attended a remembrance service at Westminster Abbey on the eve of the centenary, during which she laid a wreath on the grave of the unknown soldier. Other members of the Royal Family travelled to France and Belgium to be part of the remembrance events there, including at the Thiepval memorial on which 90% of those named were killed during the battle of the Somme. But surely for many ordinary citizens this centenary may have gone unnoticed amongst the hustle and bustle of every day life? No.
Up and down the country in schools, villages and cities there were dawn vigils at memorial crosses, including at my school where 7 boys were killed on the first day. A letter was read out from the Officer in command of 2nd Lieutenant Charles Fouracres Greenlees (Old Boy) in which he expressed his sincere sympathies to the Lieutenant’s family, following his death on 1st July 1916 at the Somme. Citizens, students, teachers, government officials (who turned out en masse despite the political turmoil in the country at the moment) and soldiers gathered round memorials with military flags, wreaths and prayers to offer 2 minutes of silence to remember those who died, framed by the Last Post and Reveille. But something bigger, a campaign to remember those killed during the somme, was taking place.
All of the main stations in Britain yesterday were flooded by soldiers (see pictures below). Thousands of actors dressed in WW1 uniform were scattered and marched around the stations in London, Sheffield, Newcastle, Belfast, Swansea, Salisbury, Glasgow and more, with their faces blank and harrowed just as if they were waiting. Waiting to go over the top. And waiting to meet with certain death. To anyone who asked why they were there, they handed a card with the name and regiment of a man who died on the 1st day of the Somme. Underneath it simply said: #wearehere.
What a powerful message it was to the millions of British citizens who were met with these scenes on their morning commute. It was something quite moving and shocking that all those thousands of men, who were each a ghost figure of a single soldier who died, were asking one thing. To recognise that they were there. To recognise that war has a terrible human cost. To recognise that the Battle of the Somme was something that no country should ever have to suffer ever again.
Perhaps this should speak not just to the people of Britain, but to people across the world. These men, many of them barely 18, paid a sacrifice for their country, that was so shocking, and caused so much suffering. The memory of them is here among us and we remember them. Yet are wars across the world where vast numbers are killed every day.
For me the 1st July was not only an opportunity to remember the men killed, but also to reflect on the suffering in the world today. People find reason to make war. I don’t always understand it, but they do. Wars rage on in other continents, while we sit here and moan about our First World problems like eating too many canapés (trust me – this is something I caught myself doing yesterday). No one should have to suffer war – that is something the Great War taught us. Yet they do. And people die. And 100 years on who knows whether will they be remembered? Probably not.
So today and always, let us remember those who died in the Somme. Let us remember those who died in the whole of WW1 and WW2. Let us remember those who have died in the service of their country throughout history. And let us remember those who continue to die today. Because war is not over. It is still here, a very much present and real trial.
#wearehere to remember those who died.
#wearehere to ensure no one is forgotten.
#wearehere to recognise the cost.
#wearehere to pray for those currently at war.
#wearehere to be a living voice to speak for those who can no longer.
#wearehere as descendants.
#wearehere as siblings and mothers and fathers of those who fight.
#wearehere as brothers and sisters in Christ.
They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them.