What does it mean to remember on 11 November?

What does it mean to remember on 11 November?

In the wake of Armistice Day, Head of Religious Studies, Daniel Bennett, explores what it means to remember our fallen soldiers.

November is a time when the Church invites us to remember those who have died and hope to be among the communion of Saints – the friends of Jesus.

On the 11 November anniversary of the armistice which ended World War I, the thoughts of Church and nation turned to those who died in that war and in subsequent conflicts.

Perhaps it is to do with the tension between the ideal of peace and the reality of war as, I wouldn’t say an inevitable, but a common feature of human societies; a tension between a desire for pacifism and the need to stand up and fight against injustice and tyranny.

Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers”; he warned his followers not to take up arms and fight because “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”. He urged them not only to love their neighbour but also to “love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them.” Yet also, as so many of our local and national monuments to those who have fallen in battle remind us, St John’s gospel gives us Jesus’ teaching that “Greater love has no one than to lay down their life for their friends.”

Why do we remember?

Christianity is not alone among religions in teaching that all human life is precious, sacred even.

We remember not only the scale and statistics of conflict but the individuals who had lived lives like ours and were missed by family and friends. Indeed, the youth of many of those who served in the 1914-1918 war and World War II is striking – many who served on land, sea and in the air were only a little older than our students. Some of you will know the names and stories of relatives who were caught up in war, suffering injury, the loss of those dear to them or possibly making the ultimate sacrifice.

You may not have heard of these individuals, but if you don’t have anyone specific to remember then perhaps you could think of them:

Sydney Trottman died on 3 June 1915 aged 28. He is buried in Khartoum War Cemetery, Sudan, but he lived at Brooklands Lodge, the little cottage across the brook as you turn left out of Bateman Street and walk down Trumpington Road towards Brooklands Avenue. 

Patrick McLeod Innes was killed in action on 30 April 1917, aged 19. He was the son of Hugh and Margaret, who lived across Bateman Street at 6, St. Eligius St. He is buried in La Targette British Cemetry in France. His brother, Donald, died on 7th October 1918 – he was also 19 years old when he died. He is buried in the Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension in Somme, France.

William Marshall Goodman was killed in action aged 18 on 25 May 1915. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ypres Menin Gate memorial. But we should remember that his family lived around the corner at 34 Norwich Street. His brother Albert was killed not long before the end of the war on 19 September 1918 having followed his brother into the army. He was also 18.

I think it is good to remember not just the scale and desolation of war, but that in our remembrance we honour individuals – real families who lived nearby and young people who had hopes and plans as we do and who, in the words of John Maxwell Edmund’s famous epitaph to the fallen, gave their tomorrows for the sake of our todays.