Three Thoughts, Two Minutes, One Lord

The Cenotaph, London, England (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenotaph)

The Cenotaph, London, England (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenotaph)

ce·no·taph, ˈsenəˌtaf/
noun
1.
a tomblike monument to someone buried elsewhere, esp. one commemorating people who died in a war.

Today is Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, Veterans Day in the United States. Yesterday, the Sunday before Remembrance Day, or Remembrance Sunday, my thoughts turned to the religious and public traditions and rituals observed in the United Kingdom to commemorate the importance of this day as a day of national . . . contrition? penance? gratitude? All of them, I think — “celebrate” is the wrong word for what occurs in the public ceremonies that occur on Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day. It is a solemn “remembering,” a holy Remembrance, because we remember the lives of those who served particularly in the Great War (1914-1918) but also in all conflicts in the protection of national or territorial integrity and political freedoms and heritage; more specifically, we contemplate the sacrifice that it is to put one’s life on the line for these values and ideals. Very few, if any, “celebrate” that these sacrifices were made or that such devastating wars occurred; virtually all unite across racial, ethnic, and religious divides to remember them and commemorate their sacrifices.

* * *

Rebecca Head experienced the public commemoration of the veterans’ sacrifices as she gathered with fellow countrymen and women at The Cenotaph yesterday. In her words:

Rebecca and her father John in London. They are wearing the medals of John "Jack" McLaverty (Royal Navy) and Ralph Stanley Smith (King's Own Scottish Borderers).

Rebecca and her father John in London. They are wearing the medals of John “Jack” McLaverty (Royal Navy) and Ralph Stanley Smith (King’s Own Scottish Borderers).

When I was 7 and sick in hospital, my grandfather died. I remember being distraught I couldn’t go to the funeral. He was a sweet, quiet man who loved his grandchildren. It was years before I knew that that quiet man had signed up to the Army as a teen, lying about his age to do so. He served in Palestine. He was injured on the beaches of Dunkirk in WWII and taken home by one of the “little boats” that saved so many soldiers.

About 25 years later, I said goodbye to my other grandfather, or Banker as I called him (as a child, I couldn’t pronounce Grandpa, and he loved my mispronunciation!). He was in his early 90s. He’d raised my dad and aunt as a single parent since they were young. He’d worked hard all his life. He wouldn’t talk about his war experiences. He served during WWII on the Arctic convoys and had come under fire. He’d watched many friends die.

Today, my dad and I were able to wear the medals of these two brave men who fought and served their country so well. We paraded in London in the annual Remembrance Day Parade alongside soldiers, widows and civilians just like us, trying to honour their relatives.

I stood, with tears in my eyes as the crowd hushed to listen to the beautiful rendition of Elgar’s “Nimrod”, always played on this occasion.

I humbly bowed my head as Big Ben struck the hour, a cannon sounded and the nation stood in two minutes silence for fallen service personnel in all conflicts and in honour of my grandfathers, who are no longer here, but I’m so proud of them and so glad I could represent them today.

This is an example of truly holy public unity, under God.

(Elgar’s “Nimrod,” performed before The Cenotaph — a truly hallowed national Remembrance)

* * *

Poppy Appeal at a Mormon Church in the UK

Poppy Appeal at a Mormon Church in the UK

Ronan reflected on the remarkable unity across religious divides that occurs on this day of national Remembrance:

The Church in Britain has not always given the Remembrance season the attention it deserves. It’s not that British Mormons do not support “Poppy Day” — my memory has always been of Mormons wearing poppies — but rather that the cultural pressure not to deviate from the standard rhythm of the Sunday Block is high. In the past, a two minutes’ silence would be observed at the beginning of sacrament meeting and then it would be back to normal Mormon worship.

Things have been changing recently, at least in my experience. In one ward I know, members leave church to lay a wreath at the local war memorial as part of the town’s commemoration. In another, sacrament meeting is adapted to become a proper Mormon Remembrance liturgy. In my own ward, Sunday school and Primary were interrupted so that we could gather to observe silence at 11 am along with the rest of the nation. There is room for improvement — the American hymnal for one means that our musical devotion lacks an authentically British Remembrance sound — but Mormonism’s closer and closer alignment with the national mood in Britain on such occasions is a definite good.

Our new relationship with the Royal British Legion is an example of this. The Legion are the organisers of the Poppy Appeal and the main providers of charitable care for veterans. For a couple of years, the Church has begun helping to sell poppies. This year our ward joined the shifts collecting at the local train station. In the photo you can see the collection box in the foyer of the chapel.

This incorporation of non-Mormon organisations and cultural rituals into our own British Mormon practice is a sign of a church feeling more comfortable in its own national skin. I am glad.

* * *

I was reflective yesterday on Remembrance Sunday. In the United States, we divide the substance of what our British brothers and sisters commemorate on Remembrance Day between three holidays: Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and, arguably, the Fourth of July. As a result, Veterans Day commemorations as part of public or religious life are much more toned down than Remembrance Day in the UK. In Church, we had an important acknowledgment of the contribution and sacrifices of the veterans in the ward. But the holiday did not find any expression in our services aside from that — no two minutes of silence, no liturgical Remembrance as I’ve experienced in previous years. (Good news reached me from the UK, however, that the long-standing tradition of my ward there has continued in commemorating the day with a liturgical reflection.)

WWI Memorial in Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete County, Utah

World War I Memorial in Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete County, Utah

My people left Ronan and Becky’s neighborhood in the 1860s. After being baptized by John Taylor, my ancestor and his mother and a few siblings left their father/husband and other siblings behind in leaving Pershore, England to end up not very long thereafter in Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete County, Utah after an epic immigration by ship and land over thousands of miles to their Zion. Nearly half a century later, relatives and neighbors of this man’s descendants would end up in a place they never thought they’d see, and certainly not under such circumstances as the trench warfare of The Great War.

Names of those who served from Mt. Pleasant

Names of those who served from Mt. Pleasant

Having lived for a number of years in the United Kingdom, I became accustomed to seeing plaques with lists of names dedicated to those who died in World War I in even the tiniest village churches. But when I was recently in Mt. Pleasant and noticed this memorial, it struck me that so many names from a random, very small town in central Utah were also part of the effort. What interest did these men have in the Kaiser’s bellicose ambitions in Continental Europe, a world away from their rural lives in small-town Utah?

Though the fight was not necessarily theirs, they answered the call to aide allies in the fight. Contemplating the effort, my mind turns to Book of Mormon injunctions to “remember” the Lord’s dealings with ancestors who experienced deliverance at his hands — “remember how great things [the Lord] has done for them; for they were in bondage and he has delivered them” (Mosiah 27:16). In fact, I believe that a particularly Mormon scripture (entirely infused as it is with the ethos of the Old Testament) could serve as a uniquely Mormon contribution to Remembrance Day celebrations:

I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions. (Alma 36:2)

May we remember them today, whether as part of the national public and religious commemoration enjoyed by the population of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, or as part of the honor we give them as our veterans on Veterans Day in the United States.

Comments

  1. This was all so very moving. Thank you. I also think that the proximity to dead transforms how we remember. That is one of the greatest blessings from serving in Northern France.

  2. Thanks for putting this together, John. A brotherly embrace across the sea!

    And thanks to the men of Mt. Pleasant who served with my ancestors to resist the Kaiser. (And let’s not succumb to the revisionism that sees all of the European Great Powers as equally wicked. The cause was just. The Allies’ evil was in being unable to rid themselves of the blood and sins of a generation which prosecuted war with such barbarity.)

    Our ~80 strong ward helped raise over £1100 for the Poppy Appeal this year.

    I have added a picture of Becky and her dad to the post.

  3. Not that it matters a whit what I say, but I also want to thank our friends in the Commonwealth for their support in times of trouble and war. If you go to the Newfoundland Memorial at the Somme, the thought that so many men of that distant British Dominion died in that field so far from home is profoundly arresting.

    “It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault only failed of success because dead men can advance no further.”

  4. One final thing from me: as John will attest, Remembrance Day is thankfully devoid of politicisation in the UK. It’s not about war or politics, it’s about the dead. I saw Tony Blair at the Cenotaph yesterday, a Prime Minister whose decisions, rightly or wrongly, sent British men and women to die in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet that wasn’t a thought for the season. We can debate that later (and we do, vigorously).

  5. Thanks for this, John.

  6. This was very moving….I loved the music. Will share with my family for family night. So grateful for the freedoms paid for by the blood of the brave.

  7. Thank you for all of this, just wonderful! The solemn dignity of the Elgar piece (along with the visuals) was incredibly moving.

    I wrote a few thoughts this evening, if anyone wants to humor me… (and thank you!):

    http://unevieenrose.com/2013/11/12/on-remembrance/

  8. “The Church in Britain has not always given the Remembrance season the attention it deserves.”
    Some wards still do not, sadly. My brother tells me his (Ronan’s former) ward had an excellent Remembrance day service. My ward did not. The organist did play Nimrod as part of the prelude music. We did open with hymn 78, and we closed by standing (I’m hoping they won’t reprimand the chorister for that, given ward leaders forgot to issue the invitation to stand they apparently feel is necessary) to sing “I vow to thee my country” (deemed preferable to the national anthem by the then bishop before my time in the ward), which was lovely, followed by 2 minutes silence before the closing prayer. But the rest of the meeting was given over to the primary presentation (grinds teeth slowly). It made for a very odd juxtaposition of events, though the primary children were all wearing poppies, and had practised the closing hymn. As music chairman, I do wish we had more say, and that it didn’t all have to feel quite so subversive. Cultural pressure is a terrible thing.
    In my previous ward, they did read:
    “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
    We will remember them.”
    before the two minute silence that preceded the standard sacrament meeting.

    I enjoyed John’s 2009 link on a remembrance liturgy. If only this could catch on…

  9. Here’s a choral-ized version of Nimrod.
    Text: Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
    cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,
    quia pius es.
    Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
    et lux perpetua luceat eis.

    (Let perpetual light shine upon them, O Lord,
    with your saints for ever,
    for you are merciful.
    Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
    and let perpetual light shine upon them. )

  10. Hedgehog,
    Being an obedient people, it will need an edict from above to ensure uniform proper recognition of Remembrance Sunday.

  11. That chorale… oh my… tears.

  12. Thank you for sharing information on Remembrance day, everything is interesting, specially music! After reading this blog, I got why Remembrance day is important in our life, but I would like to know more. If you know more then please share. It will be more beneficial for everyone’s who would like to honer the passed people.

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