It is 100 years today since the peace settlement was signed. How good to know that it is peace and silence that unites us, and how sad to realise that it is violence that divides us.
At 11 am on 11 November 1918, the guns on the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare. The allied armies had driven the German invaders back, having inflicted heavy defeats upon them over the preceding four months. Australian forces were critical in these months of fighting. In November, the Germans called for an armistice (suspension of fighting) in order to secure a peace settlement. They accepted allied terms that amounted to unconditional surrender.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month attained a special significance in the post-war years. The moment when hostilities ceased on the Western Front became universally associated with the remembrance of those who had died in the war.
This first modern world conflict had brought about the mobilisation of over 70 million people and left between 9 and 13 million dead - perhaps as many as one-third of them with no known grave. In the four years of the war, more than 330,000 Australians had served overseas, and more than 60,000 of them had died. The social effects of these losses cast a long shadow over the post-war decades. This would have been made even more obvious with the recent participation of returned or wounded armed service people participating in the Invictus Games, many of them suffering the mental effects of combat.
Armistice Day, the day for the peace agreement, was no longer an appropriate title for a day which would commemorate all war dead, so the allied nations chose this day and time for the commemoration of their war dead.
It was after the end of the Second World War, when the Australian and British governments changed the name to Remembrance Day.
Over the past week or so, I have been moved by the number of people who are wearing a red poppy. The Flanders poppy has long been a part of Remembrance Day, the ritual that marks the Armistice of 11 November 1918, and is also increasingly being used as part of Anzac Day observances. During the First World War, red poppies were among the first plants to spring up in the devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium. In soldiers' folklore the vivid red of the poppy came from the blood of their comrades soaking the ground.
While turning the pages of Sunday’s Sun Herald I came across an Opinion Piece written by Peter Fitzsimons - The incontrovertible truth about World War I. I also found it on the web for those of you who may like to read it in total.
Fitzsimons has the following to say:
The war that finished 100 years ago today was tragic for our nation and catastrophic for the world – a global conflagration that took no fewer than 16 million lives, violently. In Australia, we had sent 332,000 Australians to serve overseas. Of them, 61,000 never came home. That’s right. Sixty-one thousand families around Australia in the course of that war received the dreadful death knock, and opened the door to be given the horrifying cable: Your son, flesh of your flesh, blood of your blood, has been killed, and will not be coming home.
Our starting point for all commemorations thus must be deep sorrow, not only for the lives lost, but the effects on those who remained – survivors and families that lasted for generations after the war was over.
As one who, with my own researchers, has delved deeply into five battles of World War I – Gallipoli, Fromelles, Pozieres, Villers-Bretonneux, Hamel – I think today of so many of those who didn’t come back and the circumstances of their terrible deaths.
This Great (?) War was heralded as the war to end all wars, but as we know, this was not to be, and within 21 years the world faced another world war, with an estimated casualty toll of 60 million people. The scars of these wars, and the ongoing battles and wars since, have left their mark and devastation on humanity. When I think of our Plenary Council question in the light of today’s remembrance, then I think God is asking of us to have an impact on the provision of world peace and harmony. Peace is at the core of who we are and what we are called to be.
One of the readings during the week, from Philippians 2:12-18, struck a chord with me and so I thought I would share this with you:
My beloved, obedient as you have always been,
not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent,
work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
For God is the one who, for his good purpose,
works in you both to desire and to work.
Do everything without grumbling or questioning,
that you may be blameless and innocent,
children of God without blemish
in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,
among whom you shine like lights in the world,
as you hold on to the word of life,
so that my boast for the day of Christ may be
that I did not run in vain or labour in vain.
But, even if I am poured out as a libation
upon the sacrificial service of your faith,
I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.
In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.
So the invitation for you from this week’s message is to shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life. I had a real sense of this, while being with a large community of people who gathered to pray for and bid farewell to Ronald George Mascord, Bishop Brian Mascord’s dad.
On the last page of the Mass booklet, was printed a beautiful poem, Fall in Love by Pedro Arrupe SJ. I think it an apt way to finish this message, and to wish you the blessings of love that comes your way:
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, what you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
(Copyright 2009 Marquette University)