Remembrance Sunday 2019
Remembrance Sunday in Itchen Valley takes the form of an Act of Remembrance in each of the villages by the war memorial and then a Remembrance Service at one of our churches, this year St John’s Itchen Abbas. The Royal British Legion has been refreshed with half a dozen new members this year with the decorations of more recent conflicts Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. Two or three serving soldiers also attending including two from the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). The Sea Cadets provided a representative party and Itchen Abbas Primary School made a wreath which they laid on the memorial. Major James Young, Chairman of the RBL, led the parade. Andrew Salmon played the Last Post.
James Young read the following poem sent to him while on operations by his father
THE INQUISITIVE MIND OF A CHILD
“>Why are they selling poppies, Mummy?
>Selling poppies in town today.
>The poppies, child, are flowers of love.
>For the men who marched away.
“>But why have they chosen a poppy, Mummy?
“>Why not a beautiful rose?
“>Because my child, men fought and died
“>In the fields where the poppies grow.
“>But why are the poppies so red, Mummy?
“>Why are the poppies so red?
“>Red is the colour of blood, my child.
“>The blood that our soldiers shed.
“>The heart of the poppy is black, Mummy.
“>Why does it have to be black?
“>Black, my child, is the symbol of grief.
“>For the men who never came back.
“>But why, Mummy are you crying so?
“>Your tears are giving you pain.
“>My tears are my fears for you my child.
“>For the world is forgetting again.
Revd. Alex Pease gave the following sermon
We will remember them!
We will remember them!
But its only any use remembering them, if we in our generation learn from remembering them.
We all have ideas of what it must have been like in the First World War: the shell fire, the mud, the snipers, the wire, the gas, not to mention the lice and the rats…but the sheer terrifying noise of shells and the sight of constant death and injuries all around you; the death and maiming of friends….
The painting on the front of your service sheet shows how, for some it might have been possible to endure. Painted by an ancestor of David Swinstead of Easton, it pictures an Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) officer, looking after an injured Tommie but spurred on in the terrible conditions, by none other than Christ himself, who shares in the suffering, who is present in it, by showing to the officer his own wounds.
The painting is entitled ‘the White Comrade’ and subtitled with a quotation from Matthew 28:20: ‘surely I am with you always to the very end of the age’.
Noel Chavasse was a Liverpool doctor aiming, in 1914, to be an orthopaedic surgeon. But he put those ambitions on one side because he felt that he should join up.
He became the Regimental Medical Officer to the Liverpool Scottish, a Territorial Army Infantry Battalion, thus an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps, attached to this unit.
On arrival at the front, he wrote to reassure his parents: ‘I believe that doctors are not allowed in the trenches, so really I shall run very little risk during the war and I do not intend to run any risk at all unnecessarily. My blood is not heroic…..’
This was not how things turned out.
Chavasse was a talented individual: a fast runner, with a good brain, but really no more talented than anyone else from his background in any generation, no more exceptional than any of us here today. In fact very like us.
But he was also a Christian; spending his vacations in Toxteth organising sports for boys from one of the most deprived populations of the country. His father was Bishop of Liverpool.
Most importantly, Chavasse’s biography reveals a life focussed on others, not on himself.
He always did the right thing. He noticed where things were wrong and went and tried to sort them out. Not hiding behind rules and regulations; not doing the minimum and looking after himself. It seems that many doctors and priests (with notable exceptions, of course some of whom we have spoken about in previous years at Remembrance Sunday), when posted to the the front line, did do the minimum and nursed the horror of the trenches by seeking solace in booze.
Although Chavasse had a reputation for not tolerating malingerers, he made his dressing stations (whether in dug outs or buildings) models of efficiency and (in the circumstances) havens of civilisation. He had the walking wounded helping his hard pressed staff by collecting firewood, lime washing the walls, adding furniture chairs, tables, china, even putting glass panes in the windows. Gramophones and records were acquired from home and musical instruments. And even musical evenings were organised, sometimes with the bizarre presence of two or three dead soldiers, lying silently in the next door room of the dug out.
He increased his staff by supplementing them with German prisoners of war, including a German medical officer who helped him enormously who Chavasse described as a ‘fantastic fellow’
He had a talent for spotting those men who were near a breakdown, but not actually hospital cases, and he would give them light duties around the regimental aid post, to give them a chance to rest and recover before returning to the front line.
It was said that he, somehow, even kept a cow, commandered so that his patients could have fresh milk! Any trench party arriving at the aid post would be met by a hot cocoa and the chance to get warm.
But it was not for these acts of humanity and kindness that he is remembered.
As the war progressed, he was to be found increasingly scouring no man’s land, with his brave stretcher bearers, looking for the wounded, refusing to stop doing so until all had been accounted for.
One diary writer described him as having spent three days, immediately after an assault at Hooge, while shells were still exploding in the open, looking for and attending to the wounded in front of the British trenches. For this he was awarded the Military Cross.
But was absent and so missed the announcement of this decoration at a church parade. And was eventually discovered in a little wood, weeping.
As the Liverpool Scottish moved on again to Guillemott, he chose again to step out into no-mans land to tend the wounded. Now not just after an attack but actually during it, under heavy fire,
including at one stage, rescuing three wounded soldiers from within 25 yards of the enemy’s trench. During that action he saved the lives of 20 badly wounded men. For this he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
It was at this stage that he was offered a job at a base hospital in which he would have been able to develop his skills as an orthopaedic surgeon under one of the leading specialists of the time. He described this as a great temptation…..but felt that he could not leave the young lads to fight it out while he ‘luxuriated’, as he put it, in a coastal town, way out of danger.
But the Liverpool Scottish were then transferred to Passchendaele. It was here that he received a serious head injury, while carrying a wounded soldier to the dressing station. But he refused to leave his post and for two days went out repeatedly under heavy fire to search for and attend to the wounded who were lying out.
He was awarded a bar to his Victoria Cross: The only man to receive two Victoria Crosses in the First World War. Sadly, he was mortally wounded during this action, as a shell fell directly into his dressing station dug out.
How could he do it?
How could he be so brave that he voluntarily went out knowing at any moment he could be killed or maimed?
Only if he knew, really knew in his heart that something, that someone, beyond death, beyond life defined him, gave him identity and purpose and was with him through it all.
St Paul writes in the passage that we have had read from Romans: ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?’
The passage continues
‘As it is written. For your sake we are being killed all day long, we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered’ and then he continues
‘For I am convinced that neither death not life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height, nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’
Noel Chavasse lived and died as if this were true; as if he knew that it was true; as if nothing in all creation could separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus; as if Christ, the White Comrade, was with him throughout every challenge; through every step into no mans land, every screaming shell.
Noel Chavasse ‘was a man of valour’ his father wrote ‘because he was a man of God’
In our easier times, when we are not facing the potential of instant death for doing the right thing; when our worries and concerns may seem so trivial in comparison to those of Chavasse’s generation, we are nevertheless often beset with fears.
We, are after all, people of our own generation and we, like those of Chavasse’s generation, have to cope with what the world throws at us, what the tectonic plates of history do, how they move in our time.
And what we encounter seems pretty serious to us; seems pretty frightening to us….
But do we have the same courage that Chavasse showed, to be able to face those fears, in the way that so many of Chavasse’s generation faced theirs?
If not, is it because, unlike so many of them, we do not yet know the White Comrade, that we do not yet know that he will be with us, that his wounded hands of love are extended towards us whatever the challenges, whatever the dangers that we are facing….if we will only open our hearts to him?
As he knocks at the door of our lives, he invites us to be able, like Chavasse, to remember him; like St Paul, to know him and if we let him in, we will be able to say with the same confidence as St Paul ‘nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ro 8:31–39). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.