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We will remember them

07 November 2014

Kevin Ellis considers the message of the two minutes' silence


Waters are come in: the stricken HMS Sheffield being towed out of the exclusion zone, after the attack on 4 May 1982. She foundered on the 10th

Waters are come in: the stricken HMS Sheffield being towed out of the exclusion zone, after the attack on 4 May 1982. She foundered on the 10th

"THERE is a time for silence, and a time for speech," the Teacher says. On Remembrance Sunday, and again at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, silence will be dominant; you might almost say that silence will speak; for it is more than just the absence of words.

The stillness can hold us captive and stir the imagination. Silence is not "nothing at all". What, however, are we doing in those two minutes? What are we remembering? We recall conflicts of long ago, of course, and faces of men, women, and children, who are now seen in black-and-white photos, can come alive for those fleeting seconds, as we remember that, in conflict, there is a time to die as well as to live.

This has been reinforced more recently by the hushed tributes of towns such as Royal Wootton Bassett, as the bodies of members of the armed forces have been brought home.

In Bartley Green, in Birmingham, where, until last January, I was Vicar, primary-school children will come together to hold an act of remembrance. The ten- and 11- year-olds will walk in silence from the Roman Catholic to the Anglican church, carrying wreaths and crosses.

In previous years, adults have stopped and bowed their heads at this eloquent, evocative witness. Children as young as three and four hold stillness, remembering "the soldiers". Silence can be a simple matter of ensuring that the fallen are not forgotten, and of reminding ourselves that men, women, and children did, and still do, die in fields of conflict.

For those who grew up watching The A-Team on a Saturday evening, as I did, seeing people leap from flaming aircraft seemingly without a blemish, and others like my son, who "re-spawn" their heroes on computer games when they are killed, this can be an important realisation.

Armed conflict creates ending for some, and initiates jagged lives for others. Two events bring this home to me: first, the sinking of the HMS Sheffield during the Falklands conflict; and, second, sharing worship with a D-Day veteran.

I am a Sheffield boy, and I remember where I was on 4 May 1982, when the Sheffield was hit by an Exocet missile in the South Atlantic. I recall running up the garden to tell my dad, and sitting down with the rest of the family as the event was retold on the television news. It was mentioned in my school, and the Bishop issued special prayers to be said.

Death in armed conflict became real for me that day, and has shaped my remembering during the two minutes' silence since then. This is particularly significant for those of us whom stand at a distance from the events of the Second World War, and have no connection with the armed forces.

For three or four years, I had the privilege of joining in worship with a retired priest who was also a veteran of the D-Day campaign. My mind's eye can picture him, wearied by age, but ramrod-backed, as he stood for the silence, and a crisp clear voice as he intoned the British Legion ode. His eyes were moist as he finished with the well-honed words: "we will remember them."

What did he remember, I asked him on more than one occasion. "I am remembering the boys who never got off the beach," he used to say. That priest has died; so, in part, I remember his boys.

In those two minutes, I will do two things: I will respond to my colleague's invitation to remember by doing so, remembering servicemen and -women who have been killed, as well as the countless number of civilians.

I will also be praying for, and committing myself to, work for peace, concerned that Steve Turner's powerful words might become too much a pattern for our lives: "History repeats itself. It has to. No one listens." I remember to remind myself that it does not have to be this way.

The Revd Dr Kevin Ellis is the Vicar of Bro Cybi, in the diocese of Bangor.

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