John 14:27, James 3, 17,18, 1 John 1.5
In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Looking around a church on Remembrance Sunday, there is a sea of poppies –– obviously there are gatherings of poppies in strategic places at the front and round the font as well as poppies scattered across everyone gathered on their clothing. These are like the poppies that grew around the scarred lands used for battles in the Great War. These particularly inspired John McCrae in 1915– the first line of his famous poem – In Flanders fields the poppies blow. And particularly when the battles finally ceased and the land stopped being used that soil that had formed the trenches contained thousands of poppy seeds, all lying dormant. In these areas the poppies bloomed like never before.
One of the most famous bloom of poppies was around Ypres, a town in Flanders, Belgium. This was crucial to the Allied defence. There were three battles there, but it was the second, which was calamitous to the allies since it heralded the first use of chlorine gas in the conflict. This brought forth the poppies in greatest abundance. Even from the deepest of calamities, new life can and did grow in the poppies.
An American woman Moina Michael from Georgia, was the first person to wear a poppy in remembrance. In reply to McCrae’s poem, she wrote a poem entitled ‘We shall keep the faith’ which includes the lines: And now the Torch and Poppy Red – We wear in honor of our dead. She bought some poppies, wore one, and sold the others, raising money for ex-servicemen. Her colleague, French YMCA Secretary Madame Guerin, took up the idea and made artificial poppies for war orphans. It caught on. In November 1921, Poppies were sold for the first time as the British legion was being born and in 1922 the poppies sold came from a factory founded by the British Legion – staffed by disabled ex-servicemen – to produce its own. This continues today and is now called the Poppy Factory.
Remembrance is important – We have been handing the baton of remembrance using poppies from one generation to the next since 1921 – 100 years to this November. Remembrance is about walking in the footsteps and through the stories of those who have gone before us. Standing shoulder to shoulder with them and living learning from their experience. It is important to keep passing the poppy baton on to our children and our children’s children. As we look at our poppies – lets explore the different facets of remembrance.
Let’s think first about the black centre – if we are wearing a poppy you may want to touch the parts of it as I write– so the black centre is a bit like a big full stop. Each full stop in a poppy marks a life lost, lost in conflict in service of their country.
Private William Deane is the youngest of the fallen from Wincanton in the first world war. Just 18 years old. From Tony Goddard’s “More than just names” – Both William’s parents died when he was young, so he and his brother Charles were brought up by his Auntie Mabel living in South Street. William lied about his age and joined up at just 17 in Yeovil in 1915. He died in Roeux Wood near Arras on 3rd May 1917 just 10 months after arriving in France.
In the second world war, David Morse was the youngest aged just 17. He grew up in the Rodber House Orphanage, in Shadwell Lane Wincanton, he joined the navy in the boy’s service in 1937 and died when the Royal Oak was torpedoed in Scarpa Flow on 13th October 1939.
More recently between 2008 and 2014, I lived and ministered in villages in Wiltshire (Broad Town, Clyffe Pypard, Hilmarton and Tockenham) round the back of now Royal Wootton Bassett and Lyneham where the air base then was. In total, 345 men and women were carried through the town in hearses as visitors came from all over the world to say goodbye.
This brought home to me in a new way the cost to many families today of conflict. Parents and grandparents who had lost children, children who had lost a much loved parent. Friends and families now living on treasuring the memories of someone so dear. Let’s also use the full stop centre of our poppies to help us also to remember those who died in more recent conflicts and those living with that loss and grief today.
Let’s next think about the redness of the poppy’s petals – we may want to touch the petals now. The redness reminds us of danger, harm and hazard. In our mind’s eye let’s remember those still involved in conflict today. In a way the colour of the petals is also a visual reminder of the blood spilt. Injuries sustained in and through conflict change the lives of those impacted for ever. Not just physical injuries but the scars caused by experiences – things like shell shock and post-traumatic stress disorder. Things after the first and second world war that the society of the day did not understand in the way we do today. Things that caused pain and stress in family and community life. And in our present – Help us also to remember too those who have been injured in more recent conflicts and those living with significant challenges and disabilities today, and those who support them. Let’s also remember those members of the general population who are hurt in war too.
Next we turn to the stalk of the poppy – we may want to touch the stalk of our poppy now. The stalk reflects the peace in which we stand. Peace won for us by the actions of those who have gone before us, those known to us and those we never knew. Help us to learn from the past and do all that we can to make the world a better place to live in for the future. To always have hearts seeking reconciliation and peace. As we heard in our reading Jesus said – Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Lets share that peace and do all we can to live in peace with our neighbours both near at hand and across our world. Let’s resolve afresh today to live as peace makers and peace bringers to those around us. In our pandemic days let us lean into the peace of God that passes all understanding. Peace that Jesus spoke of and peace that Jesus has left with us through the power of the Holy Spirit and deep peace that we can share with others.
It is particularly important to share that peace in our acts of kindness and compassion for each other – let’s sow peace as people who make peace as the letter from James had it. There is a song I learnt as a child we may know – which says Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!
Finally, if your poppy has a leaf, we may want to touch the leaf – let’s use that to signify our walk together and our growth together as a community in this place – loving our neighbours and caring for those who are most vulnerable. Remembrance reminds us of the sacrifice and the selfless example of our forebears. Help us to learn from this the need above all to work together for the common good as they did.
Let us pray
God of life, from generation to generation you have held all creation in the palm of your hand.
As we cradle our Remembrance poppies: hold us close to your heart this day as we remember those who died in conflict, particularly those who lived before us in this place.
God of life, as we cradle our Remembrance poppies: may the persistence of your healing love continue its work in the lives of individuals and communities still living in the aftermath of conflict particularly our veterans, and all those who have lost loved ones or those living with the impact of life-changing injury. Surround and protect them with your life-giving Spirit.
God of life, as we cradle our Remembrance poppies – We give thanks for all the organisations that support our service personnel, and their families and especially for the work of the Royal British legion in its 100th year. Grant us the strength to always work together for peace, for the common good and to share our peace through acts of kindness and compassion. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
More than just names – the Wincanton Roll of Honour for the Great War and Second World War by Tony Goddard
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Prayer adapted from Rootsontheweb.com