This week began with the 100th year commemoration of the First World War. Like many others we put out the house lights at 10:00 pm and lit a candle. Several memorial events were televised that day and through these last few days grainy black and white photographs of young men in the trenches have confronted us in news events and documentaries.
Yesterday, some dear friends from Wheaton - Tony and Marian Payne - visited us for the day. I mentioned that the main American war cemetery lies just outside Cambridge and they asked to see it. We arrived late afternoon at this extraordinary site. A massive white wall holds the names of over 8,000 US servicemen whose bodies were never recovered. In immaculate rows down the hillside are the graves of over another 6,000. For much of the time we just walked in silence. The sense of loss is overwhelming.
The Great War generation tended to keep quiet about their experiences. My grandfather never opened up to me even though, as a teenager, I was keen to hear. My father requested his 80th. birthday meal in Wantage, Oxfordshire. All the (small family) was present and afterwards he pressed us to go with him into the nearby parish church. None of us had ever been to Wantage before. He gave no explanation. We reached a memorial on one wall with the names of all the local lads who perished in 1914-18. He pointed to two adjacent names - both Quickes. 'They were my uncles', he said. 'Both went out as teenagers and died on the battlefield.' To see your family name and sense my father's sadness brought it so close.
One preacher at Westminster Abbey on Monday said that the main focus as we look back should not be remembrance so much as repentance as 'we reflect on the failure of the human spirit that led to an inexorable slide into war'. This week the world seems as violent as ever. Our repentance coupled with prayers and commitment to peace-making remains vital for our world.