As I write these notes it is not clear what form our annual Acts of Remembrance can take this year.
You may stand in a familiar spot and hear familiar words; you may join in on-line, you may remain at home, alone with your own thoughts and memories. Whatever the next few days have in store, this week I share with you one personal experience of Remembrance.
It was a typically grey November day. The air was liquid, the cloud reached to the ground. Shapes were shrouded in mist and it was cold, the sort of damp cold that oozes in through every pore and seam. I had come, with colleagues from many nations, Germany included, to the Durnbach War Cemetery in Southern Bavaria; to mark Remembrance there. It was a miserable morning.
Around us lay nearly 3000 casualties of war; young allied servicemen, and I think they were all men, who had suffered violent, premature death. As I stood bemoaning the cold, trying to keep the wet out, and at least some warmth in, I reflected how fortunate I was. In an hour, duty done for another year, a warm beer-garden beckoned. No beer-garden for those who lay beneath the headstones. Their lot was to remain for all time, mute witnesses to the cost of war. Their sacrifice had set the scene for our freedom. We were there lest we forgot and squandered their legacy.
For those of us who have never experienced war, never lost a close friend or relation in battle, our annual Act of Remembrance, however important, can feel detached. My first visit to Durnbach had been on a crisp but sunny autumn day the year before. In that light, the neatly tended cemetery, row on row of white stone set against the beautiful backdrop of the Bavarian Alps, was a place of peace. That peace, healing though it may be for those who come to find rest or release, can add to the sense of detachment. It took the cold and misery of the following November to remind me of the horrors to which those stones stand testimony.
Since that visit I have attended many more Acts of Remembrance and visited other War Grave sites; several in our own parishes. Whenever I do, I find that the memory of a miserable day at Durnbach comes with me. Reflecting then on the suffering of those who lie there; I must in equal measure, renew my gratitude for what they gave, and my determination to work for peace.
Rev. Philip Payne
The Pew Sheet for 8th November can be found in the Downloads section.