Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The 11th day

of the eleventh month, the guns of the war to end all wars fell silent. The millions of the dead in that war included my great uncle Launcelot Cumpston. Eleven years after the end of that war, my father was born. I was born eleven years after the Second World War; a war in which my cousin John Cox died.

We frequently commemorate the war dead with the phrase "lest we forget". In its original context, the phrase did not refer to the need to remember the dead and the sacrifice they made. It appeared in Rudyard Kipling's poem recessional as a refrain: it calls us to remember that power politics and military might will not keep us safe.

God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line—
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies—
The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

let us remember all the men and women who served in war and peace, those who stood guard and those who bound up the wounds, those who gave their lives in battle to resist aggression, and those who laid down their lives to witness that there is another way.

Above all, let us honour the memory of those who died without complacency. I believe the near future must include a day on which we can say: here ended war. I believe that if that day does not come, then a day will come, although nothing will ever mark it, when humanity ended. And I honour the sacrifices made by brave men and women in the armed services of our country.

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