Parish Magazine Article - November 2018
Anyone driving around the Counties of Hereford and Shropshire over the last couple of months cannot have failed to see in many different locations the black silhouettes of a lone soldier arrayed in the kit and uniform of the first world war infantry man commonly known as the Tommy. They are there because this year marks the centenary year ending the hostilities of the First World War. The words ‘Lest we forget’ have this stark visual reminder in addition to the more familiar poppy.
It is important to remember that the ending of that war was an Armistice. No one knows for sure of how many casualties there were but estimates of around sixteen million are regularly quoted. There were no winners or losers in the sense of the victorious and the vanquished. It was a mutual agreement to stop fighting and so on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month hostilities ceased.
For much of the twentieth century ‘Lest we forget’ had an obvious meaning in that for many the annual Remembrance Day had a personal link as it provided a way in which individuals could share publicly as the nation expressed its grief corporately. Certainly, after the first war the level of grief and family loss was extensive. Hardly a family in the land were untouched by loss. The Second World War was similar. Of course, we must not underestimate the way that grief still affects those who have lost loved ones in more recent conflicts or diminish the sacrifice they made.
However, as we enter the second decade of the twenty first century what does ‘Lest we forget’ mean now? George Santayana (1863-1952) wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” War may be unavoidable at times but it is always a failure. The lessons of war are surely to work for peace, justice and reconciliation and do all in our power to prevent it. As human beings we are capable of achieving great heights and sinking to abominable depths. Aggression and conflict remain realities. In our digital and cyber age it comes in many and various guises. It is a matter of history that narrow nationalism did not help the inexorable slide into the conflict a century ago. The right to self-determination should never be conflated with narrow self-interest. The pursuit of trust, truth and cooperation are as important now as ever. ‘Lest we forget’ surely needs to focus here as we look to the future.