I do not remember 1914. Of course I don’t! Even Olive Himsley, now aged 101, does not remember 1914. But we do not forget. We vowed we would never forget – the horror, the death, the war that was to end all wars – and we do not forget that it didn’t end war.
I do not remember 1939-45. Some of you will. Some of you will remember the comradeship, the commitment to a common cause, the defeat of evil. You may also remember loved ones who did not come home. You will not forget – and you shouldn’t. We should not forget the lives lost.
I am old enough to remember conflicts since. I remember the Falklands, the wars in Iraq, I remember 9/11 – how could we not remember? I remember Rwanda, Afghanistan, Gaza, Syria. But what I remember are actually distant images on TV screens.
I was born in 1961. In 1961 a wall was built – in Berlin. I grew up throughout my childhood and beyond being taught by the news and TV and cinema that we were the good guys and behind this invisible Iron Curtain were the bad guys. But it was OK because we had James Bond on our side and he always came up smiling, shaken, not stirred! Then I remember hearing about ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’, and Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel and Michael Gorbachev and thinking that they sounded just like the rest of us, with the same desires: wanting to be free, wanting and needing to turn weapons of war into food to feed the hungry. Perhaps they even wanted to be our friends. Many of you already knew that because you had friends on the other side of the wall, dreaming of a brave new world.
I remember 9th November 1989: how could we ever forget? The Berlin Wall came down – East and West were reunited. A brave new world was opening up before us.
A generation on, this brave new world still seems a distant dream. War in Syria, alongside conflicts elsewhere, has caused an unprecedented movement of peoples across continents, often at great cost to those seeking a safe haven. In seeing their plight, particularly having met some of them in the summer, I remember something else – the words of Jesus: “You have my Father’s blessing …. for when I was a stranger, you took me into your home…” (Matthew 25 vv.34-35).
In the face of such a global challenge and a seemingly impossible quest for peace, I remember something else during our season of remembrance: young people from Germany, the Czech Republic and the UK bolding proclaiming in song, laughter and shared fellowship: We are one. We will remember them. We will remember them.
With love and prayers
Russell J Furley-Smith