“Some of us remembered that sunny last evening in June, when we had assembled with such high hopes in the trenches, the day before the Somme offensive began. How we had jested and joked, even collecting pieces of chalk wherewith to label as our trophies the guns we were so sure of taking! Some of us too, remembered the next night, when, with every officer but one a casualty, and our dead hanging thick on the German wire, we had been withdrawn, sweating and shaking and shattered. It took us three months to recover from that blow.” November 1916
These words are taken from Twelve Days on the Somme by Sidney Rogerson, and although they make uncomfortable reading, I think it’s right, upon this 100th anniversary, that we should be reminded of what life was actually like for those soldiers who endured that particular conflict.
The first war, was of course described as ‘The Great War’, the war to end all wars and with 20, 000 British troops dying on the first day of that particular battle, we can see why many thought that they had already paid a sufficiently high price to ensure the nation’s peace and trusted that surely, the world wouldn’t fall into such a sad and terrible situation again – and yet as we all know barely 30 years later the Second World war was upon us, and there have been various other conflicts since.
We are mindful of the fact that Jesus said “Greater love has no one, than he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13) and its significance for those who have died in conflict defending their country and way of life is obvious. Yet we need to remember that the context of this verse is not war, death or pain – but love, for it immediately follows the command ‘to love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15.12). Military people know the importance of following commands and this is an important one for us all, for we must never allow anger, hatred or pain to define us as human beings. For if we do, then we have allowed these sentiments to rob us of a precious part of our humanity. ‘Loving God and our neighbours as ourselves’ doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight for what we know to be right or make sacrifices, but we do so precisely because we wish to preserve all that is right, decent and honourable. This sometimes means that we have to lift ourselves above a basic ‘tit-for-tat’ mentality (which may be no more than a basic desire for revenge) and strive to reach those higher standards and ideals that we cherish and wish all people to live by. The men who died upon the Somme and other such conflicts, ultimately did so because although they hated war, they were striving to preserve our way of life, freedom and peace. They were fighting for something greater than themselves. To this extent, their selfless act echoes the one made by Jesus when he died upon the cross, the one dying for the many, but achieving in his case for each one of us, the forgiveness of sins and salvation. It certainly wasn’t anger, fear or hatred which drove him to the cross but love, which is why we remember him and all those who have died in a similar selfless fashion with the greatest of respect, praise and gratitude. ‘The Great War’ may not have been the war to end all wars, but we value and respect all those whose efforts tried to make it so. Please join us this Remembrance Sunday as together we commemorate all those who have laid down their lives for us.
“Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15.13