Vicar's Letter November
Because of Tier 3 lockdown, sadly, we can’t go ahead with the Remembrance Service around our war memorial this year.
However, on our village website on Sunday 8th November at 10.45am there will be a short service to watch. In this service, we will remember all those who lost their lives in the two world wars, those who have lost their lives in more recent conflicts and all those whose lives have been marred by war. In the service there will be a short video of Father David and I laying wreaths at the war memorial on behalf of all in Hightown. We will lay those wreaths with particular gravity this year as we know others can’t join us to pay their respects. It will feel a real privilege to do this on behalf of our village.
As we move towards Remembrance Sunday, I’ve been reading about the famous football match which happened during the World War 1 in No-Man’s land on the Western Front between the Germans and the British on Christmas Day and learning this wasn’t the whole truth. I’ve always presumed this football match was a spontaneous short burst of the Christmas Spirit. And a one-off. I now know that truces were more common than this.
In his book on trench warfare in the First World War, historian Tony Ashworth describes, what he calls, the 'live and let live system', where there were local truces and agreements not to fire at each other, developed by men along the front throughout the early months of the war. These often began with agreement not to attack each other at tea, meal or washing times, and in some places became so developed that whole sections of the front would see few casualties for extended periods of time.
In 1915 too, there were a few sporadic attempts at truces. A German unit attempted to leave their trenches under a flag of truce on Easter Sunday 1915, but were warned off by the British opposite them. Later in the year, in November, a Saxon unit briefly chatted in a friendly way with a Liverpool battalion.
To do this, to have this agreement, this truce, to trust that the other side will not break this informal agreement, you have to see the enemy as a human being with a conscience. The same as yourself.
Those in authority knew this would not help the war. So in December 1915, there were explicit orders by the Allied commanders to stop any repeat of the previous Christmas truce. On Christmas Day that year individual units were encouraged to mount raids and harass the enemy line, whilst communicating at all with the enemy was discouraged by artillery barrages along the front line throughout the day.
I wonder whether this stopping getting to know the ‘other side’ gave power to use the bloody bombardments and the horrific poison gas which killed or maimed so many as the war went on. Perhaps it was the stopping of the truces by the officers which allowed the soldiers to start viewing the Germans as less than human.
Certainly as the war continued and after the unprecedentedly bloody battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the widespread use of poison gas, soldiers on both sides increasingly viewed the other side as less than human, and therefore, Christmas truces were not wanted.
Yet in the end, peace can only come when we view those who are different from us as human and loved by God and we gain some understanding of why they believe what they do or act as they do. The British soldiers at the start of that war saw photos of the German soldiers’ families or ‘sweethearts’. They had some understanding that they too wanted to go home and be with the ones they loved.
This year we honour those from our own community who died in the wars but the prayers in our Remembrance Service are wider than this. We pray for all those whose lives were and still are harmed by war whatever ‘side’ they happen to be on. It’s easy for us to see ourselves as made in God’s image. However, the more challenging task is to view the ‘others’ as made in God’s image too.
The reported increasing appearance of graffiti around Mosques and attacks on Mosques in England, as well as the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, suggest we, Christians, have work to do. We need to find ways and take time to understand and listen to those people of different traditions and faiths so we can stop seeing them as ‘other’. Just like those soldiers in the early football matches did.
If we don’t, we are doing nothing to stop the racist groups having the dominant say in our society.
We need to affirm all of us as Children of God.
Blessings - Jan
- Revd. Jan Ashton
Vicar of Hightown, Liverpool