100 years on from the Somme
Saturday and Sunday just past brought very powerful and poignant reminders that this year marks 100 years since the Battle of the Somme. On Saturday Naomi & I went walking out in Pednor – and like many of us in Chesham – marvelled at those blood red carpets of poppies. The whole scene looked like a child’s drawing done with chunky crayons – fields full of red swaying poppies, hedgerows thick with the bursting green of early summer, a welcome blue expanse of sky. As we took in the view quietly, we could hear a skylark’s song and it struck me that 100 years ago it might have looked and sounded very similar.
And on Sunday the British Legion held a short service of Remembrance by the war memorial in the town centre. We should not overlook the brilliant work that they do in this community and for those still deeply affected by the scars of war. As we stood by the war memorial in town, we were all conscious – because of the hurt and anger it caused earlier this year, and because you can still see the outline of the letters – of the graffiti that appeared on the memorial:
‘War is not glorious’.
Of course war is not glorious. No-one there on Sunday thinks it is. If any single offensive ever proved this, it was the Battle of the Somme. The pictures that many of us carry in our heads of the First World War – of barbed wire, scarred landscapes, piles of bodies, dead trees, acres of mud and blood and guts – these most likely come from the Somme. It has become the tragic embodiment of a brutal and senseless time of war, when life was unbearably cheap and a generation of men were snubbed out or damaged.
War is not glorious. Ask any serving soldier. But it does call for courage, self-sacrifice, depending on others and being willing to give up your life for others. That’s what is remembered at our war memorial.
We didn’t need anyone to add this crass, insensitive scrawl on a place of sacred memory. But we do need the war memorial as a visible warning of what happends when hatred is allowed to burn out of control, or greed allowed to take centre stage, or mistrust of others allowed to overwhelm love of our neighbour.