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Sermon on the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme

by Gerry Lynch last modified 02 Jul, 2016 07:37 AM

Bishop Nicholas preached at a special service of solemn commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, at Ebbesbourne Wake on 1 July 2016.

The Battle of the Somme is just beyond living memory. Thanks to the brilliant BBC, the archives of the Imperial War Museum and countless local history projects we have been hearing and reading the memories of old soldiers who fought that first day. 

The Great War had a great and devastating impact. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Dorsets lost 350 men. At the end of the Great War there wasn’t a village in Wiltshire that in Arthur Mee’s phrase could be called ‘a Thankful Village’ whose sons all returned. In Dorset there was just one, Langtom Herring.  

Remember the sight of dead repatriated from Iraq and Afghanistan and the procession of their bodies through Wootton Basset?  That town became a centre for the nation’s respect for the fallen and received the title ‘Royal’ for the care it showed.  In Iraq, we lost 179 personnel, in Afghanistan 456. The repatriation of their bodies moved us deeply. 

In this solemn commemoration of the first day of the Battle of the Somme we remember  the 19,240 British soldiers died on the first day of the bloodiest battle in British history. If there were enough hearses for them they would stretch nose to tail through the Chalke Valley, well beyond Royal Wootton Basset. It would take them days to pass through. 

The sorrows  o’ God must be ‘ard to bear
If ‘E ‘as love in ‘Is ‘eart,
And the ‘ardest part I’ the world to play
Must surely be God’s part.
          Geoffrey Ankettell Studdert Kennedy, Woodbine Willie, The Sorrow of God.

War is a terrible thing, hatred is a terrible thing.  That is why Jesus said the peacemakers shall be called children of God, and that we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves. We owe it to all those who gave their lives on the Somme, British, French, soldiers from all over the Commonwealth, and German too. 

Wars and conflicts persist across the world. Peace does not just come. Peace is made. In a world which so easily spills into violence we can all be peacemakers. 

Since the vote on the Referendum to Leave the EU there has been an upsurge in anti-foreign feeling and racist attacks. That’s the wrong spirit; no matter how we voted, whether we are in the EU or out, we are still neighbours and we must strive to live in peace. Today we remember that the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. 

The poets and the padres spoke truth. Woodbine Willie again: 

It’s always the Cross in then end – God, not Almighty, but God the Father, with a Father’s sorrow and a Father’s weakness, which is the strength of love. God splendid, suffering, crucified – Christ. There’s the Dawn.
             Geoffrey Ankettell Studdert Kennedy, Woodbine Willie, The Hardest Part.

 At this Solemn Commemoration, lest we forget the horror of war, lest we forget each individual known to his mother, family, friends and God; lest we forget, 

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”

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