Letter from the Vicarage, Much Hadham Print

There is a wonderful motorway “Aire” in France near the river Somme: a service station and restaurants, with walkways across the reed-covered ditches; carp swim in the water and a viewing platform in a tower enables the visitors to look across the landscape. There is no sign of the carnage
that once was all around. But by an act of imagination, when the birdsong stops for a moment, as the motorway drones in the background like distant guns, you can hear a whisper through the reed beds of a soldier’s voice….“Lest you forget”.

On Saturday November 11th and Sunday November 12th some of us will be remembering. In our Team, in every parish, there will be a service of Remembrance. What we probably will not remember is that some of our First World War soldiers died in Mesopotamia. This Arab region lay within the Turkish Ottoman Empire. During the War we invaded and conquered the territory; afterwards setting up the present nation of Iraq and helping draw the borders of the Middle East, often regardless of the preferences and allegiances of the inhabitants. In the unrest and Arab revolts that followed the War, we lost many more soldiers.

Now, 90 years later we are back. 16 years after the first Gulf War and three years since the present invasion, it is estimated that 2,775 American soldiers have been killed, 119 British; and something like 20,000 military casualties have been sustained. The Iraqi death toll since the invasion is estimated by the UN at 48,000 and by an unofficial Iraqi survey at 250,000 upwards. It does not particularly matter which figures we believe: the fact is that each death matters. We will remember them.

As we gather around the Memorials, we will not be remembering the thousands of soldiers who died in the three Anglo-Afghan Wars, 1839, 1878, and 1921, (in one battle of January 1842, 16,500 men and 12,000 dependents): in all of which we were defeated. We will not remember that in 1893 the Durand line fixed the borders of Afghanistan with British India, splitting Afghan tribal areas, leaving half of the Afghans in what is now Pakistan.

Today we are back in Afghanistan, and so far there have been 500 Coalition forces killed. We will remember them – and the Taliban dead? Will we remember them? Will we dare to pray for our enemies?

Though our memories are short and selective, the value of Remembrance Sunday is increasingly to remind all of us, young and old alike, that, however glorious the battles, in war people get killed and lives are shattered. It is not a game; and the consequences of war go on and reverberate across the centuries, falling upon our children’s children.

Chris Boulton.