LETTER FROM THE VICARAGE
On this page we reproduce the monthly letter from our Vicar (or occasionally from our Licensed Reader Janice Taylor) as it appears in our parish magazine, the Parish News.
Letter from the vicarage
FROM THE VICARAGE - NOVEMBER 2018
This November marks the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War One, and as we see all around us, communities up and down the country are paying particular attention to this event. And, I feel, rightly so.
I was saddened to see on the news the other week that a debate had sprung up in a community in Hampshire or Dorset (I can't remember exactly where), but some felt that the 'There but not there' figures depicting Tommies carrying riffles were inappropriate as they 'celebrated' guns. Somehow I think this misses the message of the figures – 'Lest we forget'. War and gun ownership is not being celebrated, quite the opposite in fact. These figures serve as a timely reminder of the great sacrifices of warfare, and of the impact of wars down the generations. My family is a case in point.
A few years ago, after both our parents had died, one of my sisters caught the genealogy bug and started to trace our family tree. We knew this could only be on our Mum's side as Dad had been privately adopted, something he only found out when he went to enlist to fight in WWII. For whatever reason my Nan felt unable to let Dad see his birth certificate so went with him. She insisted on showing it to the army herself, and then promptly burnt it. Not much help to us! And all we could find out from his army records was that he was baptised in the Parish of St Andrews in Plymouth. Here endeth our family tree – or so we thought.
Having exhausted her research on our Mum's side – it seems Mum's family mainly came from around Chichester, Westhampnett and Bognor (I've come a long way in life!) – out of interest my sister thought she might take a look at our adoptive grandfather, Ernest Cox. The beauty of these genealogy websites (so she tells me) is that if you start to research a person who has already been researched the website offers you a connection to the person who also has an interest. To my sisters amazement she was contacted by a couple in Gosport who asked to meet up for a chat.
The couple from Gosport had been researching the Cox family as they were related to one of Ernest's siblings; he was one of nine children. One of the brothers, Robert Cecil, had been killed in action in WWI in August 1918 aged just 24, and unbeknown to him his fiancé had been pregnant after his visit home in May. Their son was born the following February and, as most illegitimate children were in those days, adopted out. Paperwork post the war was not what it is today either but by joining all the dots and dates it soon became clear that our Dad was Robert's missing son – the biggest give away being that my Dad was also called Robert Cecil. The couple had also located Robert's grave in a CWGC site in Bouquoy, France. It just so happened that Stephen and I had a holiday booked in France that year so we went to find the site.
Up until a few month before going to France I had not even known of Robert Cecil senior, let alone that he was my grandfather, and yet standing in that Commonwealth Grave site I felt very emotional. His grave sits in a small Commonwealth graveyard adjacent to the village municipal graveyard as he is buried in the village he died defending. Tragically most of the graves carry the same date of death, they obviously took heavy losses defending the village and the village still honours their courage by keeping the grounds immaculately. It was very moving.
Our Dad died not knowing of his father, nor would he have known that as he fought in WWII, at times he would have been treading in his father's footsteps, landing on Sword Beach, taking Caen and marching towards Berlin. Dad only started to talk about the war when he was much older and after Mum had died. The stories he told were horrific, and some hilarious. He spoke very highly of the many allied soldiers he fought beside, and had a high regard for the German people. Dad made a very clear distinction between the Germans and the Nazis. There is no doubting that the war left its mark on his life both physically and emotionally. My family's story and the stories of thousands of other families are the stories we are not to forget.
One hundred years ago the pains of WWI were being felt here in our communities. Loved ones had been lost and families pulled apart. But there was also hope. Hope that as news broke that the war was finally ending husbands, fathers and brothers would be returning home and life would return to normal. This too we should also remember. We should remember and honour the strength and determination of those who rebuilt our communities and who willingly served their country to ensure we can enjoy our freedom today. For this we give thanks.
But we should also remember the painful process of reconciliation. The attitude in Europe after WWI was to punish Germany and diminish her as a nation. As a result the Nazi movement grew in popularity and we entered into WWII. Thankfully the lessons of the past were heeded and post WWII Europe sought peace and reconciliation rather than punishment and retribution. If there was ever a time we need to remember this it is now. Europe has enjoyed a time of peace because it has remembered, and because it has a shared history of conflict when we forget.
Jesus calls us to 'love our neighbour as ourselves', if we're honest this is easier said than done at times. Loving someone doesn't mean we necessarily have to like who they are or how they are behaving. At times I certainly didn't like the way our children behaved, but that didn't diminish my love for them, or prevent me from disciplining them when they misbehaved. Living with our 'neighbours' is not always easy but by heeding Jesus' call to love them means we should seek to step back from a volatile situation and look for the better way forward rather than hitting out. Again, easier said than done when emotions and passions are inflamed. Relationships on a national level or within a nation are not so very different from personal ones. Heated exchanges, posturing, persecution, can soon escalate into conflict.
Jesus told us there would be 'wars and rumours of wars' that 'nation will rise up against nation' (Matt 24:6,7) He knew that in our imperfect world the path to peace and reconciliation would be littered with conflicts, some honourable and some not. He knew with sadness that neighbour would fight against neighbour and would be called upon to lay down their lives to bring about that peace. Jesus promised to travel with us through the harsh mad times of life as well as the good. He promised to be with us to guide and strengthen us and comfort us, and I know that this promise has sustained many that have fought and served their country. Paradoxically their faith in the God of love and peace was the only good and true hope they had to get them through.
We owe a lot to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for peace in Europe and around the world.
These are the things we remember on Remembrance, and as we remember and give thanks for them, we also pray that we learn the lessons of the past – Lest we forget.