Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
The words, ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ – [it is sweet and right to die for your country], were written by the Roman poet Horace (65BC-8BC). Well known and widely understood at the start of the First World War they were taken to mean, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country. That view encouraged many young men to volunteer for war service, sometimes as a group of friends, out of a sense of patriotic loyalty. As part of this fervour, some ladies handed white feathers, as a mark of cowardice, to those they thought should have joined up. Sadly, as one lady discovered when she handed a white feather to one of our relatives who had been discharged from the army with a terrible wound to his back from which he never fully recovered, they could sometimes choose the wrong man.
As the war dragged on some well-educated army officers, including Lt. Wilfred Owen MC, came to view it as one of pity and horror. That was a minority view standing in stark contrast both to the public perception of war at the time and to the confidently patriotic verse written by earlier war poets such as Rupert Brooke. Wilfred Owen enlisted in 1915 and was posted to the western front in 1917 where he experienced heavy fighting. As a result of the shell shock he suffered at the front he was evacuated to hospital in England. It was as part of his therapy, and encouraged by the poet Siegfried Sassoon, that he wrote Dulce et Decorum Est, a poem describing the reality of dying for one’s country. Owen returned to France in 1918 where he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery, but he was killed on 4 November whilst attempting to lead his men across the Sambre canal under heavy fire. News of his death reached his parents on 11 November, Armistice Day.
Sunday 11 November 2018 marked the centenary of that Armistice Day, the end of the ‘war to end all wars’, although since then the world has hardly seen one day of peace. Even now governments rush to amass an arsenal of bigger, better, more efficient, killing machines at a time when there is already enough in existence to destroy the planet several times over.
But that is not God’s way for Jesus brought a message of peace.
So, today, let us remember those who gave their lives in the service of their country, but let us also pray for peace in the world. Since as St Teresa of Avila said: ‘Christ has no body on earth now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion[note that word] on this world.’ then it is up to us, not only to pray for peace but actually try to do something to bring it about.
Please read Wilfred Owen’s poem for yourself.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years