Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Wars and Remembering

Tower of London -  Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red by ceramic artist Paul Cummins

Lots spinning in my head and heart. Sunday we celebrated or should I say commemorated Remembrance Day at St. CHL Every year, I wonder how to do so with integrity. Without glorifying war. Speaking other truths. We remember, for instance, not just those who died in wars, but also those who lived in japanese-Canadian internment camps during WWII. We look around us at the world today where there are wars and rumours of wars. And where our countries make money in the war industry. When I went, with my aunt Margaret (Dad's sister) to visit their brother Ernie's grave in Bayeux at the end of July - 70 years after he was blown to bits in a tank during the invasion of Normandy, I feel differently ... other emotions swarmed to the surface - and other thoughts.

Below is from my journal after visiting Ernie's grave at Bayeux, France. Row upon row of Brits, Canadians, Australians, NZ's, and - yes - Germans. All young men who surely didn't wish to die. Who may have called out to the same God. So, was God only on one side of the front line? Was God only present in the British tanks and on the fields where Canadians and other Allies fought? Help!

Margaret and I at Bayeux Cemetery, at Ernie's grave
I placed a Union jack and red rose, and lit a tiny poppy-shaped candle (between the flag and rose)

Ernest Malcolm Macgregor. His second name was my grandfather's first name.

Ernie with his young red-headed Irish wife, 'Nipper'

"It’s a thought-provoking experience – an underground river through the fun and excitement. Questions and no simple answers. Joy to have found this uncle we knew not of.  A sense of peace. Margaret just asked me why I care if his body was moved from one place to another, or why it was important for me to place a red rose, a small Union Jack, and a poppy candle at his grave. Delicate, it stayed lit for a minute in the breeze and then went out. (I found information) at the museum to show the progress of the 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry beginning July 30th, under the command of Montgomery until early August when not only was Ernie killed, but 1000’s of others – so few of their group were left, they were sent to join other units. Wondering how many had PTSD as their buddies fell and were blown up all around them?

As soon as we entered France I had a sense of fields of blood. WWI or course, when Granda Hamer was at the battle of the Somme. Names of towns ring bells …. And then WWII. Was it necessary? It looks like a sordid, sick and sickening game of sorts, but instead of tin soldiers, they were flesh and blood. Youngsters, many of them. There’s a photo of a German boy gun in hand and a string of bullets around his neck, and he couldn’t have been more than 15, maybe younger. Ernie was just 21 with a new baby. Someone questioned why they buried German soldiers in the British cemetery. I’m thinking those young men didn’t want to die either. They were following orders. Images in the film of the leaders gathered around tables in the UK and Germany – plotting what to do next, trying to deceive the others about their plans, arrows and pens marking out strategies for attacks and counter attacks… while young men (and some women who were nurses or …) are blown to bits in tanks and walking through woods and fields, in trenches …  each calling the other “the enemy.”

From the museum about Operation Bluecoat:
“As it was crucial to keep the Panzer Division away from Saint-Lo, where Bradley had just achieved a brilliant break out, the British Commander in chief (Montgomery) ordered General Dempsey commanding the 2nd Army to regroup his forces and mount a powerful offensive in a completely different sector. Baptized Bluecoat, the British operation started in the Caumont-l’Eventé sector on 30 July, heading for the high ground at Mont Pinçon and Flers. By means of this vigorous burst across this very uneven hilly zone of the Normandy hedgerow country, Montgomery succeeded in protecting the left flank of the 1st US army as it advanced on Avranches, and driving a wedge between the 7th Army and the 5th Panzer Army (formerly the Panzergruppe West).

Why?? Not expecting answers. Either in myself or from you. What have we learned, as we look around at wards in Syria, Ukraine, Israel/Palestine, Africa  – more fields of blood – blood of innocents? Where’s God in this? Where are we? How much of this have our western countries set in motion through colonization and through setting of artificial borders in places like Africa and the Middle East?

I can’t get rid of the image of fields of blood. Maybe I shouldn’t get rid of it. At the museum there was a quote of Albert Schweitzer: “War cemeteries are the greatest communication of peace.” Hmmm…. "

Tower of London - a veteran in the ceramic Poppy display - 888,000+ -
one for each Commonwealth soldier killed in WWI

I've long wondered, and hesitated to ask, someone of German descent about the wars from a German perspective. We have the privilege of having an honorary assistant, Henriette, who is German-Canadian, a Lutheran pastor and prof, who is articulate and open. She sent me a link for a documentary in German with English sub-titles called "Cato.." Incredible, powerful, horrific, beautiful, challenging, heart-breaking.

Here's the link:   http://tvo.org/video/167862/cato

I looked into the faces, as the camera caught them, of old veterans - some in their 90's - and wondered what they were remembering. The horrors few spoke of. their buddies dying beside them. What is evil? Well, there was certainly Evil abroad. The Holocaust. The Silences of so many. The inaction even when Allies knew of the concentration camps, the massacres, the ill treatment of prisoners of war. 

No, no. Please don't attack me. How can I speak thus on Remembrance Day? The ceremonies were moving, beautiful today. Blood has literally been spilled at the Ottawa Tomb of the Unknown Soldier killed at Vimy. Corporal Cirillo's blood. His friend who stood beside him that day was present today. Heart-breaking. Talk of peace, justice, freedom - Absolutely we honour our veterans and remember those who marched off to war and gave their lives. Absolutely. Granda was in WWI and WWII. Dad was in WWII. Uncle Mel flew bombers. Jim Goat was shot down, and his brother Lorne (Dad's best friend for whom our brother Lorne was named) was a POW. Poppies row on row. Tombstones row on row. 

Now can we translate that warmth and honour into proper treatment for our recent vets for help with PTSD? Can our veterans receive reasonable benefits and pensions? Can we do something to stop the tide of military suicides? 


I'm simply asking questions that burn within. I don't have answers. Other than that our vets must be treated with the respect they deserve by our government.

I wrote something like this to Henriette on Sunday morning, and decided to use it for my homily along with a treasure I'd found on the internet.

Why so many wars - ever and always? Understand that history is not my strong point. Only one history prof ever taught us to understand history as movement, inter-relatedness, relationships, questions rather than memorizing dates and facts ... Robin Burns at Concordia Uniuversity in 1966-1967.

"Each war seems to come about partly because of past history - for instance, I gather that Germany was set up, in a sense, for failure after WWI in part leading to the rise of Hitler. (over-simplification). We now see the wars in the Middle East resulting partially from the decisions taken by US, Britain, France, etc after WWII - including setting Israel up in Palestine - and then allowing Israel to spread and spread over Palestinian lands. (More over-simplification and not anti-Semitic propaganda). 

Wars and genocides in Africa are related to western colonizing and continuing control (or attempts to) the riches of Africa. The Rwandans were set up by the Belgians as 'higher' partly because of their 'finer' features over Hutus - - Country borders set up by European colonizers in Africa and elsewhere that had/have nothing to do with natural people boundaries. My great-grandfather, James Smeaton, fought an Afghan War in the 1880's and still we are fighting. I see Gorbachev criticizing the West (especially the US) for being triumphalist after the fall of the Berlin wall - and he says it is leading to a new Cold War, setting up Putin in his stance towards the West... I don't know the answers, and this makes me feel hopeless and like going back to bed - but maybe I have a partial homily - remembering also those who died - gave their lives - and the many, many on all sides who had no desire to fight and also gave their lives. We also remember those interned in the Japanese Canadian camps... "

What do we learn? What can we do?

And then the other part of the homily - I lost my cool on Saturday at our bazaar. I'm frustrated and unsure how to handle a situation, and wish I had Lori's quick response action in me. Community-building. A place for everyone. No power struggles. That's church, right? Anyhow, here it is: (Get past the blog title - which is wonderful but not what it sounds like)


It's about enemies. I felt a little self-righteous when beginning to read ... A priest keeps a list of enemies? Good grief! What kind of priest would keep a list of enemies? She sucked me right in - and then whap! In fact, I (and we) have lists of enemies. Maybe not on paper. People by whom we're annoyed. People who don't have the same theology or political stance that I do. People who abuse children... Mostly, though, it's the annoying, frustrating ones ... the ones I can't change. The ones I can't make do what I want. Ummm - I doubt very much I am the only one... Ohhh. For Pete's sake! It's human! - 

And Laurie, who wrote this blog has a wonderful approach to what to do once we acknowledge our list of 'enemies.' I'm not going to write it here. If you want to know, follow the above link and read it. Very good theology. 

She's not on my enemy list - yet ... 


  1. Once again a deeply profound, insightful and vulnerable blog... Thank you Ros.