Tag Archives: remembrance

14 October. Letters of Note: War

A Christmas Meeting

Have we not had enough of war? But it doesn’t stop and it doesn’t stop hurting. We are reviewing this book now to allow you to buy it before November begins. There are thirty mini chapters, hence you could choose to read one per day through the month.

Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note: War is a small collection of letters written during various conflicts from ancient times to 2016 and the Iraq war. There is heartbreak here, to know that many of the fighters, willing or reluctant, never returned to friends and family, or went home changed and traumatised by what they had seen and done. ‘Instead of a yellow streak, the men got a mean streak down their backs.’ (p24) ‘All the wounded were killed in a most horrible way … you will see all sorts of accounts in the papers and no end of lies.’ p102.

These letters bring home the reality in a different way to television news. There are always no end of lies, always men who get mean in order to survive but cannot live with themselves later; fighters who endure shell shock and post-traumatic stress.

There’s a special poignancy about the first Christmas of the Great War, when men from England and Germany came together between the front lines, in all friendship, ‘but of course it will start and tomorrow we shall be at it hard killing one another’. (p80)

Go and buy this little book, read and pay attention. The human beings, the animals, the environment devastated by war are depicted truthfully, for these letters were written not for publication but to friends and family, sons and daughters, mothers, wives and partners, friends on the same or opposite sides; officials to officials.

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

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3 March: Memorial to Enslaved Laborers

People on both sides of the Atlantic are revisiting their history and discovering that much has been omitted. One area that has come under scrutiny is slavery down to the 19th Century and its after effects in terms of poverty and social attitudes.

It was slaves that built the University of Virginia originally, a fact unacknowledged until now. The link is to the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers now erected close to the centre of the site. It explores the memorial and its symbolism and how the design came about.

On March 3rd in 1865 Union Troops emancipated the local slaves.

Memorial to Enslaved Laborers

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30 January: Going UN-viral! At the Edge of the City: Manchester.

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I came upon this three year old post when raiding the Will Turnstone blog for a picture of snowdrops for Mary Webb yesterday. A walk in the pre-pandemic park which I hope you enjoy!

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Recently Mrs T and I were at the southern edge of Manchester, in Didsbury, and walked away from the houses, across the main road, into Fletcher Moss Park. I expected Fletcher Moss to be a wetland, as in Chat Moss and other boggy areas around Manchester, but it is named after Mr Fletcher Moss, who gave his house and estate to the city of Manchester early last century.

The land does slope down to the River Mersey, and the lower areas were too wet for our city shod feet, so my expectations were not altogether dashed.

Before we arrived at the park, we crossed the tramway by this Poppy Bridge, remembering the fallen of the Great War. Nearby children from three local schools have scattered poppy seed, to flower this summer, 100 years since the end of that war. (And flower they did, in profusion.)

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After walking through Didsbury Park, well populated by young children and parents off to meet siblings from those three local schools, we came to the edge of Fletcher Moss Park, with its sports fields and fine benches including Rory’s Bench, covered in carved creatures, and a formidable lacrosse player. The game is more popular in these parts than most of England.

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Mr Moss’s garden had been a little neglected in recent times, until a voluntary group was formed to undertake many of the City Council’s responsibilities. We admired the hellebores in the beds near the house, including this one, thriving in the cold.

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Also near the house were witch hazel bushes, worth seeing silhouetted against the grey sky as well as in colour on the dark background of walls and branches. This computer cannot share the scent, clean and sharp.

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More scent, sweeter this time, at ground level from snowdrops and oxlips, a hybrid between primroses and cowslips.

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A little further and we were at a corner of rainforest – well most English people know that if you can see the Pennine Hills from Manchester, it is going to rain; if you can’t see them, it must be raining.

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It wasn’t raining yet … and just around the corner a bank of heather – erica – a plant that shuns our alkaline soil in East Kent.

How’s this for early March?

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We wandered down to the next level; as I said, it was too muddy for city shoes to approach the river, but there was a clump of young willow ablaze in the afternoon light. I’m told by my colleagues at L’Arche that for weaving and basket making, the golden-green and the dark red not only contrast well when woven together, they have slightly different properties. I must learn more.

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And I must come back to Fletcher Moss next time I’m visiting family in Manchester, and see how it looks in other seasons. Many thanks to the volunteers who are helping the City council care for this treasure.

(This post was scheduled before the Mersey flooded much of this area in January 2012.)

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12 January, Going Viral LXI: Will we remember?

Yesterday, Tim; today his mother, Sheila, brings a poet’s eye to the face mask and what it might teach us, now and when we can discard them (and please, not on the street!) Thank you again, Sheila for your artist’s wisdom.

Will we remember that we're beautiful?
When, masks discarded, hands once more held out,
Will we remember - beauty born - oh! Beauty born,
Made by Beauty to be beautiful.

Will we recall when the wrinkles show once more, how smiles light up that beauty, 
When mouths now visible
May kiss and speak in beauty?
In tenderness, you made it so, in praise, in song?
Will we have forgotten the gentleness of touch?

The scent of the winter's buried spring,
Earthbound,
Still masked, but waiting.

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November 20: Lighting a candle

crypt (640x481)

Although the crypt at Canterbury Cathedral is usually quiet, there are always sounds to absorb or blank out; I think most people would soon find their inner silence undisturbed by passing footsteps of pilgrims or tourists passing by or finding a seat.

These steps were different, a measured tread, leather soles with steel segs to make the heels last longer, as worn by the Combined Cadet Force at my secondary school. The visitor advanced to the candle stand, took one, lit it, and positioned it upon the rack. A step back, and he stood ramrod straight before the altar for a minute, bowed deeply, turned and left. It was a man I have known by sight for maybe thirty years, but this  was the first time I had seen him wearing the regimental tie of the Buffs, the East Kent Regiment, now amalgamated out of existence.

It was obviously an important date for him to mark in this way. When I searched the web I discovered that the Battle of Cambrai began on 20th November 1917 and many Buffs were involved.

Perhaps this man’s grandfather was in the battle, but he had come to the crypt  in solidarity with his comrades, even with men he never knew; his regimental tie, his candle and his silent moment a prayer of hope for them and for this ravaged world; his visit, even if it was but a short walk from his home, a true pilgrimage.

 

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11 November: A murky day in Manchester

gassed piccadilly

It was a murky day in Manchester last winter when I met this column of men from the Great War. The sculpture is based on John Singer Sargent’s painting in the Imperial War Museum, ‘Gassed’. He had been to the front line, though he was in his eighties, and seen the men, British and American, suffering blindness after a mustard gas attack.

They are led by a medical orderly; there is a skill to leading such a group: observing the terrain, being alert for mud, ruts, obstacles, exaggerated dropping of the left or right shoulder to lead the men to turn. There are many ways to love your fellow man: the column of men support each other in what the sculptor, Johanna DomkeGuyot calls ‘Victory Over Blindness’.

Her sculpture loves her fellow human beings: honouring the dead but challenging the living through portraying the gritty, grimy reality of unmedalled, unsought heroism. It is a bold but totally right decision to plant the men at ground level, not way over our heads, like the man on the Manchester cenotaph; an image that all but says, dulce et decorum est – how sweet and right it is to die for one’s country.

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Let us not forget that the victims of war, soldiers or civilians, are men, women and children like us and ours; that cruel things have been done in our name as well as against us. Let us do all we can to bring about peace and reconciliation between nations and peoples, and within our own communities.

Lord grant us peace.

DULCE ET DECORUM EST

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

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10 November: The Bugle Call (No one cares less than I)

“No one cares less than I,
Nobody knows but God,
Whether I am destined to lie
Under a foreign clod,”
Were the words I made to the bugle call in the morning.
But laughing, storming, scorning,
Only the bugles know
What the bugles say in the morning,
And they do not care, when they blow
The call that I heard and made words to early this morning.
There are jollier words put to bugle calls than these of  Edward Thomas, a Great War soldier and poet. He was depressive, but he also knew that his chances of not coming home alive and well were real enough. He did die and is buried in France.
The sense that nobody cares for the infantryman is understandable; the War, laughing, storming, scorning, gathers him up and later drops him, broken. 
 Thomas’s prayer of acceptance of death is a morning offering par excellence: In manus tuas, Dómine, comméndo spíritum meum. Into your hands O Lord, I commend my soul.
Memorial Stained Glass window, Class of 1934, Royal Military College of Canada, Victoria Edwards

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Going Viral LIII: Good morning to you all

Saint Dunstan’s Church

Good morning to you all, on another beautiful autumnal morning – and the skies over Canterbury this morning were quite stunning at 6.40am!.
Updates: Our church buildings are now closed for the duration of this lockdown, as instructed by the government, but we are able to broadcast services from them (behind closed doors). 
Sunday Service for Remembrance Sunday: 8th November 2020  
On Sunday we will be broadcasting a Benefice Remembrance Sunday Service from St Dunstan’s (as we have 4G cover), during which the names of the war dead of the Benefice will be read out. This service will be live streamed at 10.00 on FaceBook Live, and then uploaded to youTube (all accessed through our website: www.dunstanmildredpeter.org.uk 

We are still awaiting CofE guidance as to whether or not this can be a team of us, or me on my own and a camera! (I am assuming a team, unless we hear to the contrary)

Immediately after the service, we will have a short Act of Remembrance at the War Memorial, where we will be laying a wreath, and observing the two-minute silence at 11.00 – more details to follow relating to this.

Call for Prayer: Archbishop Justin has asked that we all pray at 6.00 every evening for the nation at this time (this coincides with our night prayer, in which we will be incorporating the prayers). Please do use this resource (attached) – this will also be available on our website.

Today’s prayer: Friday National and Local government We pray for those who are in positions of authority with responsibility for decision making at national and local level at this difficult time. We ask that God would give great wisdom, deep commitment to all and right judgment.    

Words from today’s second reading: Revelation 3: 20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.   God Bless, and please do keep safe, keep connected and keep praying – and do join us on-line…Jo
Rev Jo Richards
Rector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury

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1 November, All Saints: Anne is with Jesus

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A true story for All Saints’ Day.

Standing in a queue, I got talking to a Sister, and by the time we reached the canteen counter I had established that she belonged to the same Franciscan congregation as some other Sisters I had known, including Sister Anne. ‘But Anne is with Jesus’, she said.

I did not know she had died, but from when I worked with Anne, I’ve no doubt at all that she is with Jesus. Her Sister’s faith is not afraid to say so out loud, gently asserting the resurrection and the life, the communion of saints, yes, and the forgiveness of Anne’s sins, and of our own.

Sinner or not, Anne is a now Saint.

Amen to that.

MMB

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25 September: Letter upon a mournful occasion.

Doctor Johnson

A letter from Doctor Johnson to a friend and publisher of his work, sent on this day, September 25, 1750.

To Mr. JAMES ELPHINSTON.

DEAR SIR,

You have, as I find by every kind of evidence, lost an excellent mother; and I hope you will not think me incapable of partaking of your grief. I read the letters in which you relate your mother’s death to Mrs. Strahan, and think I do myself honour, when I tell you that I read them with tears; but tears are neither to you nor to me of any further use, when once the tribute of nature has been paid. The business of life summons us away from useless grief, and calls us to the exercise of those virtues of which we are lamenting our deprivation. The greatest benefit which one friend can confer upon another, is to guard, and excite, and elevate his virtues. This your mother will still perform, if you diligently preserve the memory of her life, and of her death: a life, so far as I can learn, useful, wise, and innocent; and a death resigned, peaceful, and holy.

I cannot forbear to mention, that neither reason nor revelation denies you to hope, that you may increase her happiness by obeying her precepts; and that she may, in her present state, look with pleasure upon every act of virtue to which her instructions or example have contributed. Whether this be more than a pleasing dream, or a just opinion of separate spirits, is, indeed, of no great importance to us, when we consider ourselves as acting under the eye of GOD: yet, surely, there is something pleasing in the belief, that our separation from those whom we love is merely corporeal; and it may be a great incitement to virtuous friendship, if it can be made probable, that that union that has received the divine approbation shall continue to eternity.

There is one expedient by which you may, in some degree, continue her presence. If you write down minutely what you remember of her from your earliest years, you will read it with great pleasure, and receive from it many hints of soothing recollection, when time shall remove her yet farther from you, and your grief shall be matured to veneration. To this, however painful for the present, I cannot but advise you, as to a source of comfort and satisfaction in the time to come; for all comfort and all satisfaction is sincerely wished you by, dear Sir, ‘Your most obliged, most obedient, ‘And most humble servant, ‘SAM. JOHNSON.

from “Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765” by James Boswell, available on-line and on Kindle.

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