My father was a World War Two veteran, serving in the Royal Air Force for six years from the beginning of the war in 1939 to after the armistice in 1945. During the war, perhaps as a result of it, he heard God’s call into ministry. In 1950 he met my mother, married her in 1951, and my twin brother and I arrived in 1952.
As a child and teenager, the war was never far away. The coastline of the seaside town I grew up in was dotted with abandoned gun emplacements, air raid shelters, and pillboxes for machine guns. Large cement tank traps littered the beaches where the Germans might have invaded. I rode my bike down the runway of the now abandoned airfield from where bombers and fighters soared into the sky less than ten years before I was born.
I remember Remembrance Day parades with thousands of veterans, from both the First and Second World Wars and from the Korean War. Remembrance was a serious thing. Everyone knew of someone lost in the war. My mum’s first cousin shot and killed in his fighter over France early in the war. My father’s sister who died from a health emergency during an air raid over the shipyards in Glasgow. We wore our poppies with pride because their meaning was etched on the people we knew, as well as on the war memorials we paid our respects at.
In 1965, I remember watching the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, the wartime Prime Minister of Britain, and a few months later marking the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Four years later, in my late teens, was the 25th anniversary of D-Day. My father was flying over the invasion beaches that day. The music of Vera Lynn, the “Forces Sweetheart” was often heard in our house. Ancient history to most today, but not to me.
Now that veterans of both great world wars are gone, and few Korean War veterans are left, “Lest we forget” is more than a line in Remembrance Day observances. It is an imperative. It is simply true that those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. War raging between Russia and Ukraine, and the potential for it to spread into Europe, should alarm us. The war between Israel and Hamas should remind us that innocents always pay the heaviest price when nations go to war. The division and anger we see all around us in both political and ordinary life should further alarm us.
Let us then be committed to making the the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi our regular prayer, and work to put it into action in our own lives and in our community. “Lest We Forget” .
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.