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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Our Colourful Past

A graveyard near my home has a notable inhabitant – Harry Patch, known in his latter years as ‘The Last Fighting Tommy’.

When he died in 2009 at the grand old age of 111, he took with him the last living memory of World War I trench warfare.

On November 11th, one hundred years will have passed since the Allies met the Germans in Compiègne, France, and agreed to cease fighting on the Western Front. By the time the guns fell silent at 11 am, the war had claimed 22 million lives. It is estimated 11,000 died just that morning. Harry was one of the survivors.

Along with many others, our churches will gather to remember them this Sunday. We’ll fall silent, we’ll lay wreaths, and we’ll listen to the haunting sound of a bugle playing The Last Post. Or rather, we will try to remember them. These multitudes of fallen men are blurry figures.

But if our remembering is at best an intellectual exercise, the lessons of the past will be left behind. They will lose their power to change our course. Like the people of Israel forgetting God’s faithfulness and repeatedly turning to idol worship, each generation will plough into the same mistakes of their ancestors.

This Armistice Day, a new feature film will receive its broadcast premiere on BBC Two – and it has the potential to engage our emotions surrounding the First World War. They Shall Not Grow Old is created from archive footage which has been colourised and turned into 3D. Lip readers have worked out what was being said, and the dialogue is voiced by actors. Director and Producer Peter Jackson says: ‘it takes away 100 years and makes you think that those who fought were just the same as us… Their human response to what they experienced is strangely familiar because we all go through times of hardship, pain, suffering, and pleasure.’

They Shall Not Grow Old won’t be easy viewing, but we avoid the pain of the past at our peril. This Remembrance Day, let’s remember, really remember, and pray for the peace of God’s kingdom to prevail.

Jo Swinney
Jo is an author, speaker and Director of Church Communications for CPO. She blogs at joswinney.com and lives in Bath with her husband and two daughters.


  1. Thanks Jo, what you have shared is helpful.

    Like many others I will attend my local church this coming Sunday and will pause to remember. It is only right that we should do so.

    Most of the eligible men in my family served in the First World War. A great uncle of mine died at Gallipoli. My grandfather never recovered from being gassed. This war had a devastating effect on my family as it did on so many others.

    While it is right to remember those who suffered and died in this most terrible of wars we must also be mindful of the present. Today the threats we face are more insidious but no less real. We will need the same courage, unity and resolve that our forebears showed if we are going to meet challenges such as climate change.

    There will be no regiments marching proudly down the streets or rousing patriotic music but we will need to organise and but just as determined.

    So, let’s remember the fallen and those they left behind but let us also face the future with the same courage as they.

    Here are two groups that may help us make a start:



    By John Steley  -  9 Nov 2018
  2. Thank you Jo for expressing an ongoing concern of mine and others I am sure.
    I am 60 and as a Baby Boomer I have enjoyed an unprecedented time of peace as a UK citizen.
    It does seem to me with the current atmosphere of dismantling useful International agreements, that we are reverting to National Pride at the expense of cooperation. (The UN is a joke in many people’s eyes i suspect).
    National pride and “God with us” were in the mix as two the causes of two world wars. This time national pride and greed seem to be the motivators.
    You are correct to identify that when we just remember the men who died to keep this country free just as an intellectual exercise we up the risk of regression and selfishness. I welcome any attempt to emotionally engage our debt to those who fell and were wounded for me. This has a resonance with what our Saviour did for us and we need all the emotional engagement we can get with Him as well

    By John from Belfast  -  9 Nov 2018
  3. I am a retired soldier. My horizon is a lot closer than 100 years. While a 100th anniversary is important, let’s share our respect and gratitude for the dead and wounded with those whose war experiences are no less nasty but a great deal fresher than those who are separated from us by time. Let us pray for the living bereaved and those service men and women who carry physical, mental and spiritual wounds right now among us.

    And one more thing. One of the notable things about serving in uniform is that people look after each other as they share difficult and dangerous situations. Do we?

    Ecclesiastes had it right when he wrote:

    10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no-one to help him up!

    By Charles Kirke  -  9 Nov 2018
  4. My father-in-law, Col LWW Marriott, was wounded at Ypres in March 1918 as a very young Captain. The bullet extracted from his leg was shown by his great grandson to his primary school at Remembrance Assembly this morning (where he is the head). The message given to me by Col Marriott (which was also given to the school referred to) was that this war was a just one against a great evil, and that it was fought by us as a Christian country whose values and ethos was grounded in Christianity. The World War battles we have fought were done in the name of Almighty God, and the nation was fully engaged with praying for victory over evil and for justice during both wars. Towards the end of his life, my father in law became increasingly disturbed by the secularisation of our culture, and by the slow erosion of Christian values, especially in the realm of attitudes to women and sexual behaviour in general. He once said to me, in respect of the denigration of the Biblical pattern for this: “You know, we just didn’t think of women in those terms; we respected and protected them, and all this new-fangled stuff was never on the horizon”. One wonders what he would make today of the subsequently invented “LGBTIQ+” crusade, and in particular the current overwhelming push for “transgenderism”, which is fully supported by many organisations and denominations in defiance of evidence-based scientific and medical findings, and in the face of the values listed earlier in this post.

    By John Etherton  -  9 Nov 2018

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