I conducted 25 Remembrance Sunday services at the Church of the Divine Unity, all but three of them in the C20th. There is a tendency for the end of a century to shut a door on events, causing them to belong to the past, to history books, along with many other events: The French Revolution, Trafalgar, Balaclava, and now the Somme, D. Day, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Korea…. There is a danger that we shall have to learn the lessons of the past century all over again. In World War Two alone, about fifty million people died. Fifty million! Dear God, isn’t that enough to last more than a few decades? And the numbers have risen in “lesser” wars and are still rising. Even now we see the lining up of guns: the arrangement of power on the eastern side of Europe and across the world. We see atrocities committed by incredibly cruel people in the middle-east and farther afield, while too many good people sleep. There are race-riots again in central Europe, bringing back memories to too few people, and refugees move in great numbers all over the globe.
Lest we forget. Oh, lest we forget!
My life, as that of countless others, has been dominated by war. My father lost an arm on the Somme. The Second World War damaged our family in more ways than one, and I grew up thinking that the normal way of things was for all young men to have to join the forces when old enough. I was a clerk in Preston during National Service. It was sheer good fortune on my part that I wasn’t a rifleman in Korea. (Luck of the draw.)
As a slim lad of eighteen, my father entered the terrifying maw of war. He said that the fear that he and his friends felt, as they approached the trenches and the heavy roar of the big guns, was indescribable, and life in the trenches was unimaginable. He used to smoke himself dizzy at night in order to sleep. He was Number Two on a machine gun when he was shot in the left arm. He was perched near the top of the trench. The bullet shattered the bone in his arm, blasting it out at the back, and he felt himself about to faint. He was holding a hand grenade in his other hand with the pin out, and as he fell, he hurled the grenade as hard as he could towards the rim of the trench.
He fainted and woke up in the field dressing station, lying next to one of his pals. He said to him, “What happened to you, Jack?” Jack replied, “A ***** grenade.” My father said, “Sorry. That was mine.” The grenade had bounced back from the top of the trench. (Luck of the draw).
Let us hope and pray that the door to the lessons of previous human experience remains open to the memories of good – and evil – people, without limit.
Yours sincerely, Roger Tarbuck.