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 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.