Stations of War

A few weeks ago I was watching the television programmes about the commemoration of WW1. For some reason the Stations of the Cross came into my mind and I could see how many themes there were which paralleled what I was watching.
I then started to write my reflections of the war around the theme of the Stations of the Cross – I’ve called them Stations of War.

Tonight we will walk the Stations of War. There will be some stops to listen to a piece of music, and there will be some poetry and prose. I hope they speak to you.

To begin with we will listen to a piece of music by Vaughan Williams called The Lark Ascending. I have always loved this piece and wasn’t aware until recently that it was written in 1914,

‘just as Europe was teetering on the edge of the abyss of the First World War… It evokes a tranquil time when Britain was riding high, having mastered the secrets of the Industrial Revolution, and memories of Queen Victoria’s sixty-four-reign were still fresh. Yet whole countries were now sleep-walking into a conflict that would wipe out a generation.’  

Frank Gardner, Only Remembered, Ed Michael Morpurgo (Jonathan Cape, 2014)

 

The story goes that as he scribbled notes for the music while on holiday in Margate, someone mistook him for a German spy and he was arrested.

Let’s listen to it now as we think back to an innocent era just before the War to end all Wars began…

MUSIC – The Lark Ascending (Vaughan Williams) 16.08

STATION 1 – JESUS IS CONDEMNED TO DEATH

As we contemplate Jesus standing there, wearing a crown of thorns and the scarlet cloak, the crowd cried out “Crucify him!”
How many young men were condemned to death fighting in a war, not of their own making?
How many teenagers, caught up in the propaganda, caught up in the desire to escape their own poor situations to go off and seek glory?
How many fathers were condemned never to see their wives and children again?
They went, believing it would all be over in a month or so.
They went, while politicians sat in boardrooms and played with their lives.
Your Country Needs You said Kitchener.  God is on our side.
Condemned to death.
Condemned to a miserable existence of suffering and misery.

The General

‘Good morning; good morning!’ the General said
when we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead,
and we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old care,’ grunted Harry to Jack
as they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.  (Siegfried Sassoon)

We pray for all those condemned to death. For the innocent, the unjustly accused, the unjustly condemned. Pray for all who are condemned.

 

STATION 2 – JESUS TAKES UP HIS CROSS

As we contemplate Jesus led to the Place of the Skull (Golgotha) he is forced to carry his own cross. 

On their backs our soldiers carried all they would need to exist.
Their kit and clothes, their food and drink, their shelter and weapons. 60lbs of solid weight.
It weighed them down and made marching unbearable after a few miles.
Young skinny, underfed men carried their burden on their backs.
Heavy weighted burdens supposed to keep them alive.
‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag’, they sang with stiff upper lip.
‘Smile, boys, that’s the style.’

And the rain and the mud made them heavier still.
Smiling was the last thing on their mind. 

from NIGHT MARCH by ROBERT GRAVES

Evening: beneath tall poplar trees
We soldiers eat and smoke and sprawl,
Write letters home, enjoy our ease,
When suddenly comes a ringing call.

‘Fall in!’ A stir, and up we jump,
Fold the love letter, drain the cup,
We toss away the Woodbine stump,
 Snatch at the pack and jerk it up.

 Soon with a roaring song we start,
Clattering along a cobbled road,
The foot beats quickly like the heart,
And shoulders laugh beneath their load.

 Where are we marching? No one knows,
 Why are we marching? No one cares.
For every man follows his nose,
 Towards the gay West where sunset flares.

 An hour’s march: we halt: forward again,
 Wheeling down a small road through trees.
Curses and stumbling: puddled rain
Shines dimly, splashes feet and knees.

 Silence, disquiet: from those trees
 Far off a spirit of evil howls.
‘Down to the Somme’ wail the banshees
 With the long mournful voice of owls…

 Our comrades who at Festubert
And Loos and Ypres lost their lives,
In dawn attacks, in noonday glare,
On dark patrols from sudden knives.

 Like us they carry packs, they march
 In fours, they sling their rifles too,
But long ago they’ve passed the arch
Of death where we must yet pass through.

 Seven miles: we halt awhile, then on!
 I curse beneath my burdening pack
Like Sinbad when with sigh and groan
  He bore the old man on his back.

 A big moon shines across the road,
  Ten miles: we halt: now on again
Drowsily marching; the sharp goad
  Blunts to a dumb and sullen pain.

 A man falls out: we others go
 Ungrudging on, but our quick pace
Full of hope once, grows dull, and slow:
  No talk: nowhere a smiling face…

 We win the fifteenth mile by strength
  ‘Halt!’ the men fall, and where they fall,
Sleep. ‘On!’ the road uncoils its length;
  Hamlets and towns we pass them all.

 False dawn declares night nearly gone:
  We win the twentieth mile by theft.
We’re charmed together, hounded on,
  By the strong beat of left, right, left.

 Pale skies and hunger: drizzled rain:
 The men with stout hearts help the weak,
Add a new rifle to their pain
  Of shoulder, stride on, never speak.

 Now at the top of a rounded hill
  We see brick buildings and church spires.
Nearer they loom and nearer, till
  We know the billet of our desires.

 Here the march ends, somehow we know.
  The step quickens, the rifles rise
To attention: up the hill we go
  Shamming new vigour for French eyes.

 So now most cheerily we step down
  The street, scarcely withholding tears
Of weariness: so stir the town
  With all the triumph of Fusiliers.

 Breakfast to cook, billets to find,
  Scrub up and wash (down comes the rain),
And the dark thought in every mind
  ‘To-night they’ll march us on again.

We pray for all who lived, even now, under the yoke of persecution. For those in prison camps, for those doing hard labour. Pray for all who are weighed down.

 

STATION 3 – JESUS FALLS FOR THE FIRST TIME

As we contemplate Jesus falling under the weight of the cross, we wonder how he can go on.

from For the Fallen

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe. 

(Robert Laurence Binyon)

 They fell. These young men fell as easily as petals from a summer rose.
They fell on the first day of war and on the last.
They fell in mud, on grass, in No-man’s Land and some never to be found again.

“On your feet!” shouted the sergeant. “On your feet! No stragglers! No malingerers! Soon as I blow my whistle, we’re going over the top. On your feet or it’ll be a Court Martial for anyone who stays.  On your feet or it’s the Firing Squad.”

Slowly they got to their feet, took a drag on a cigarette, a silent prayer.
It would be death either way.

We pray for all who fall. For those who are injured in body, mind and spirit.  Pray for all who suffer.

 

MUSIC – No Man’s Land (The Green Fields of France), words by Eric Bogle, sung by June Tabor  7.38

STATION 4 – JESUS MEETS HIS MOTHER

As we contemplate Jesus meeting his mother on the road we hear those words “A sword will pierce your soul”.

What of the mothers left behind?  Mothers who said goodbye to their babies, their brave young babies, some barely men?
Mothers who wrote with news of home and waited in dread and fear for the telegram or the knock at the door.
Mothers who poured over newspapers and every small letter from sons who couldn’t tell the horrors they saw.
Mothers who wanted to hold and protect their young from all that would endanger them, but had to let them go.
Wives and mothers bringing up babies on their own, forced to work to provide for them, fearing the worst.

I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier (song)

Ten million soldiers to the war have gone,
who may never return again.
Ten million mothers’ hearts must break
for the ones who died in vain.
Head bowed down in sorrow
in her lonely years,
I heard a mother murmur thru’ her tears:

 

I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
to shoot some other mother’s darling boy?
Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,
it’s time to lay the sword and gun away.
There’d be no war today,
if mothers all would say,
‘I didn’t raise my body to be a soldier.’

 

What victory can cheer a mother’s heart,
when she looks at her blighted home?
What victory can bring her back
all she cared to call her own?
Let each mother answer
in the years to be,
Remember that my boy belongs to me!

(Lyrics by Alfred Bryan; music by Al Piantadosi)

We pray for all women who wait. For all children suffering from hardship and neglect. For all the tears shed.  Pray for all who weep.

 

STATION 5 – SIMON OF CYRENE HELPS JESUS TO CARRY HIS CROSS

As we contemplate Simon, a passer-by who had come in from the country, forced to help carry Jesus’ cross we see a man sharing the load of another. 

And what of those acts of heroism? Of brothers in arms sacrificing their own lives for their comrades.
The orderlies who ran out to carry back the wounded from where they fell.  Who risked their own lives to care for others, to help carry their load.
They watched out for one another, those men in the muddy trenches, passed cigarettes around, told stories to keep away the bogeyman.
They joined up as pals and died as pals.
¾ million signed up as Pals Regiments, loyal to one another.
Whole streets, villages, towns lost all their men because of this.
Nobody ever encouraged Pals Regiments again.

From All Quiet on the Western Front

I am fighting a crazy, confused battle.  I want to get out of my hollow in the ground and I keep on slipping back in; I say to myself, ‘You’ve got to, it’s to do with your mates, not some stupid order,’ and straight after that: ‘So what?  I’ve only got one life to lose.’

 

Suddenly a surprising warmth comes over me.  Those voices, those few soft words, those footsteps in the trench behind me tear me with a jolt away from the terrible feeling of isolation that goes with the fear of death, to which I nearly succumbed.  Those voices mean more than my life, more than mothering and fear, they are the strongest and most protective thing that there is: they are the voices of my pals.

 

I’m no longer a shivering scrap of humanity alone in the dark – I belong to them and they to me, we all share the same fear and the same life, and we are bound to each other in a strong and simple way.  I want to press my face into them, those voices, those few words that saved me, and which will be my support.

(Erich Maria Remarque)

 We pray for all people of good will who help others. For those who give their time, their riches, their strength in the service of the poor.  Pray for all who care.

 

STATION 6 – VERONICA WIPES THE FACE OF JESUS

As we contemplate Veronica, stepping out from the crowd, rushing forward to wipe the face of Jesus we give thanks for the imprint left on her cloth and in her heart. 

There were many Veronicas in that war. Women who left the security they knew to go and work in field hospitals and tend the wounded. 38,000 Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs), semi-trained nurses, left comfortable family homes to tend to the wounded and dying.
Empowered in this new and horrible world, they faced sights they had never dreamt of.
Gangrene, infection, missing limbs, night terrors, and death became their daily lives.
Shell shock (‘no heart for the fight’) left them with dreams too horrible to bear. Nightmares that no amount of hand-holding would cure.
No more the social whirl, no more the simple life – death and destruction, the smell of rotting flesh and putrid blood, the coughing that never stopped. That was the life of service for others.
Writing letters at the side of a man who’d lost his sight, holding hands long into the night.

From Not So Quiet (a novel)

Cleaning an ambulance is the foulest and most disgusting job it is possible to imagine.  We are unanimous on that point. Even yet we hardened old-timers cannot imagine it without ‘catting’ on exceptionally bad mornings.  We do not mind cleaning the engines, doing repairs and keeping the outsides presentable – it is dealing with the insides we hate.

 

The stench that comes out as we open the doors each morning nearly knocks us down.  Pools of stale vomit from the poor wretches we have carried the night before, corners the sitters have turned into temporary lavatories for all purposes, blood and mud and vermin and the stale stench of stinking trench feet and gangrenous wounds.  Poor souls, they cannot help it.  No one blames them.  Half the time they are unconscious of what they are doing, wracked with pain and jolted about on the rough roads, for, try as we may – and the cases all agree that women drivers are ten times more thoughtful than the men drivers – we cannot altogether evade the snow-covered stones and potholes.

 

How we dread the morning clean-out of the insides of our cars, we gently-bred, educated women they insist on so rigidly for this work that apparently cannot be done by women incapable of speaking English with a public-school accent!

 

‘Our ambulance women take entire control of their cars, doing all running repairs and all cleaning.’

 

This appeared in a signed article by one of our head officials in London, forwarded to me by Mother last week. It was entitled ‘Our Splendid Women’. I wondered then how many people comfortably reading it over the breakfast table realized what that ‘all cleaning’ entailed.  None, I should imagine; much less the writer of the muck.  Certainly we ourselves had no idea before we got there.

 

I wonder afresh as I don my overalls and rubber boots. I wonder what to expect this morning, remembering that poor wretched soul I carried on my last trek to Number Thirteen, who will be buried by one of us today.

 

I am nearly sick on the spot at the sight greeting me, but I have no time for squeamishness. I have Commandant’s bus in addition to my own to get through.

 

The snow is coming down pretty heavily now, the waterproof sheet over my bonnet is full, and the red cross over the front of the driving seat totally obscured by a white pall.  Blue-nosed, blue-overalled drivers in knee-high waterproof boots are diligently carrying buckets of water and getting out cloths in readiness for the great attack.  The smell of disinfectant is everywhere.  No one speaks much.  It is a wretched morning and the less one talks the sooner one will be out of these whirling flakes. 

(Helen Zenna Smith, Not so Quiet, in Only Remembered, ibid (page 59-60)

We pray for those disfigured by war and those who care for them. For friendly faces and a caring touch in the face of adversity.  Pray for all who nurse.

MUSIC – Tallis, Salvator Mundi  3.59

STATION 7 – JESUS FALLS A SECOND TIME

As we contemplate Jesus in those narrow streets teeming with people, stumble and fall a second time we wonder if he can go on.

from Armistice Day 1918 – Robert Graves

But the boys who were killed in the trenches,
  Who fought with no rage and no rant,
We left them stretched out on their pallets of mud
  Low down with the worm and the ant.

 

Stretched out on their pallets of mud. They fell and they lay face down in the mud.
Deep in the dugouts, they lay still trying not to whimper with pain.
Old lags, young fresh recruits lying while whizzbangs flew overhead.
Too tired to get up again, too weary of the horror they’d never imagined when they signed up that glorious day.
They fell and they lay with the rats and the worms.
No glory now, lads. No glory now.

We pray for those who fell, innocent of any crime. For those who still lie there, row upon row, some known and many known to God alone.  Pray for all who fall.

 

STATION 8 – JESUS MEETS THE WOMEN OF JERUSALEM

As we contemplate the women beating their breasts and mourning over Jesus, we marvel at his words: ‘Don’t cry for me, cry for yourselves and your children.’

The women cried and cried, they wept until rivers ran with their tears.
They cried for their lost ones, for the brief but intense relationships, for what might have been.
A million men were missing from their lives, men these women never had a chance to meet 

Aunties

When I was a child,
there were always lots of
Aunties.
They were everywhere.

 

Some were real aunties –
Mum’s umpteen sisters,
Dad’s umpteen sisters.
There was no end of them.

 

Auntie Flo, Auntie Betty,
Auntie Edie, Auntie Marjorie,
Auntie Bertha, Auntie Jessie…
the list is endless.

 

I won’t go on,
except for Auntie Violet,
my favourite auntie,
killed on a bus in the Blitz.

 

It seemed quite natural,
didn’t give it a thought.
That was the way the world was –
lots of old ladies everywhere.

 

There were called spinsters.
Some were rather quaint.
And looked down upon.
A few were slightly mad.

 

Then, one day,
when I was grown up,
it dawned on me –

 

First World War

 

A million men were missing.
Why hadn’t I thought of it before?
Then men these women never met,
never even had the chance to meet.

 

All dead

 

These ladies were always kind,
gentle and loving to me.
Not sour, bitter and resentful,
as they had every right to be.

 

A million missing men.
A million aunties.

(Raymond Briggs, ibid (page 240-241)

 We pray for those women who lost their loves, their hopes, their dreams, their futures. For children left without fathers.  Pray for all who were left behind.

 

STATION 9 – JESUS FALLS FOR THE THIRD TIME

As we contemplate Jesus lying in the dusty road under the cross, we imagine the humility and the insults he bore.

 

from Robert Graves – It’s a Queer Time

You’re charging madly at them yelling ‘Fag!’
When somehow something gives and your feet drag.
You fall and strike your head; yet feel no pain
And find…you’re digging tunnels through the hay
In the Big Barn, ’cause it’s a rainy day.
Oh springy hay, and lovely beams to climb!
You’re back in the old sailor suit again.
         It’s a queer time.

In Belgium there’s a Peace Pool, man-made from a bomb crater.  The water is still, the reeds blow in the breeze, frogs croak and it seems so peaceful indeed.
Until you remember that this is where they fell, fell to the sound of silence as the bomb took away their hearing.

Day and night the shells fell.
Dugouts crumbled. Digging became a way of life.
Digging friends out, some suffocated, some smashed to pulp.
The noise of the shells grew into a great crescendo.
In a flash of time they threw themselves down into the mud and cringed at the bottom of the crater.
Red-hot jagged pieces of iron fell around them.

A second or two later they’d laugh, roar with laughter.
Laugh because this time your name wasn’t on it.

We pray for those who suffer humiliation from others. For all who fall daily because of disability and disease. Pray for all who live with pain.

MUSIC – O Sacred Head Now Wounded (Passion Chorale) – J S Bach    3.03

STATION 10 – JESUS IS STRIPPED OF HIS GARMENTS

As we contemplate the soldiers taking his garments and casting lots for them, we imagine what it was like to be so vulnerable and helpless.

For some, their army uniform was the first suit they’d had.  How proud they were, marching through their home towns with crowds cheering.
Proud of wearing this badge of honour, to be a soldier fighting for King and Country.
In time those clothes became something much less glamourous, stained and filthy, burned by shrapnel, seams crawling with lice, socks rotting in boots.
A far cry from that seamless garment worn by Christ.

But as death approached and they lay in a field hospital, clothes torn away, sometimes taking flesh with it, the result was the same.
Vulnerability without that badge of honour, going out of this world as they came in. Naked as a newborn babe. 

From Testament of Youth

I had arrived at the cottage that morning to find [Roland’s] mother and sister standing in helpless distress in the midst of his returned kit, which was lying, just opened, all over the floor.  The garments sent back included the outfit he had been wearing when he was hit.  I wondered, and I wonder still, why it was thought necessary to return such relics – the tunic torn back and front by the bullet, a khaki vest dark and stiff with blood, and a pair of blood-stained breeches slit open at the top by someone obviously in a violent hurry.  Those gruesome rags made me realize, as I had never realized before, all that France really meant.  Eighteen months afterwards the smell of Etaples village, though fainter and more diffused, brought back to me the memory of those poor remnants of patriotism.

 

‘Everything,’ I wrote later to [my brother] Edward, ‘was damp and worn and simply caked in mud.  And I was glad that neither you nor Victor nor anyone who may some day go to the front was there to see.  If you had been, you would have been overwhelmed by the horror of war without its glory.  For though he had only won the things when living, the smell of those clothes was the smell of graveyards and the Dead.  The mud of France which cover them was not ordinary mud; it had not the usual clean pure smell of earth, but it was as though it was saturated with dead bodies – dead that had been dead a long, long time… There was his cap, bent in and shapeless out of recognition – the soft cap he wore rakishly on the back of his head – with the badge thickly coated with mud.  He must have fallen on top of it, or perhaps one of those people who fetched him in trampled on it.’

Vera Brittain

We pray for those who have nothing, whose possessions are few. For all who do not appreciate what they have.  Pray for all who live in poverty.

 

STATION 11 – JESUS IS NAILED TO THE CROSS

As we contemplate Jesus being offered a draught of wine mixed with gall, we hear those words ‘Father, forgive them: they do not know what it is they are doing.’

They practiced with bayonets fixed to rifles running at sandbags. ‘Imagine it’s the Hun,’ they were told.
But when the whistle blew to go over the top, would they be able to look a man in the eye and kill him?
The tot of rum gave them courage but it soon wore off.
What happens when they were faced with someone else’s son, brother, father?

Father forgive them: they do not know what it is they are doing.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
and towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots
but limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame; all blind;
drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

 

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
but someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
as under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

 

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

 

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
behind the wagon that we flung him in,
and watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
his hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
of vile, incurable sore on innocent tongues, –
my friend, you would not tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory,
the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.  

Wilfred Owen

 We pray for all victims of war, for men, women and children. For the innocent casualties and for the work of the Red Cross.  Pray for all who are tortured.

 

STATION 12 – JESUS DIES ON THE CROSS

As we contemplate darkness over all the world we hear Jesus cry out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Then he bowed his head and yielded up his spirit.

Poison gas killed 200,000 men. It was a horrible, horrible death.  1 million killed or injured in the Battle of the Somme.
‘The artillery will have killed most of them,’ they were told. ‘You’ll be able to just stroll over and finish them off.’
And they lay dying in No Man’s Land waiting for a friend to finish them off.
‘Call me a coward, if you like, but I just couldn’t shoot a friend even if he was dying,’ said Robbie.
Some of them lay screaming for days.

Asleep  (Wilfred Owen)

Under his helmet, up against his pack,
After so many days of work and waking,
Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back.

 

There, in the happy no-time of his sleeping,
Death took him by the heart. There heaved a quaking
Of the aborted life within him leaping,
Then chest and sleepy arms once more fell slack.

 

And soon the slow, stray blood came creeping
From the intruding lead, like ants on track.

 

Whether his deeper sleep lie shaded by the shaking
Of great wings, and the thoughts that hung the stars,
High-pillowed on calm pillows of God’s making,
Above these clouds, these rains, these sleets of lead,
And these winds’ scimitars,
—Or whether yet his thin and sodden head
Confuses more and more with the low mould,
His hair being one with the grey grass
Of finished fields, and wire-scrags rusty-old,
Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold,
Than we who wake, and waking say Alas! 

We pray for those who lost their lives. For young and old, for those who watched helpless, for those who died alone.  Pray for all who died.

 

MUSIC – Flowers of the Forest (Royal Scots Dragoon Guards) 2.55

STATION 13 – JESUS IS TAKEN DOWN FROM THE CROSS

As we contemplate a good man named Joseph of Arimathea taking Jesus’ body down from the cross and lay him in his mother’s arms, we think of all those who care for the dead. 

It was the job of the Royal Army Medical Corps to tend the sick and the dead.  To carry them on stretchers to hospital or to grave.
More than 9 million died on both sides in World War 1.
But there were no mothers to hold them at the end.
Far away, across the sea, a knock at the door and a telegram handed over.
‘I deeply regret to inform you… It is my painful duty to inform you…’
The women wept alone, arms empty wrapped around themselves.
Wept for the waste of youth.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmer of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. 

Wilfred Owen

We pray with Mary our Mother, as she holds her son in her arms, for all who were denied that comfort. For women who wept alone, for all women who lose a child.  Pray for all who mourn.

 

STATION 14 – JESUS IS LAID IN THE TOMB

As we contemplate Joseph and Nicodemus taking Jesus’ body, wrapping it in winding-cloths and spices and laying him in the tomb, we think of all who lie buried in a foreign field.

Some were buried where they fell, in the battlefield.
Some in graves close by.  375,000 War Horses too were given a grave of sorts.
Row upon row of white headstones or white crosses, silent witnesses to the horror of war.
They lie in France, Belgium, Italy far from home.
Some named, some ‘known to God alone’.
Some have no grave, just names on a memorial.
54,896 names engraved on the Menin Gate at Ypres of Commonwealth soldiers who died but their bodies were never found.
Tens of thousands more in other cemeteries nearby.

“Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (To the greater glory of God) – Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient, but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death”.

Every evening at 2000 hours a bugler sounds the Last Post.

He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who,
at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them,
endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men
by the path of duty and self-sacrifice,
giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom.
Let those who come after see to it
that his name be not forgotten.

(Rudyard Kipling)

We pray for those who fell, for those deprived of a grave. For those who mourn and grieve, that they may receive the grace and the strength to bear it. Pray for peace.

 

MUSIC – Lacrymosa (Do Not Stand At My Grave) – Howard Goodall, Eternal Light (A Requiem)  3.04

ENDING

Remember, Lord, those whose stories were unspoken and untold…

 Remember, Lord, those whose minds were darkened and disturbed by memories of war…

 Remember, Lord, those who suffered in silence, and those whose bodies were disfigured by injury and pain…

 Father of all, remember your holy promise, and look with love on all your people, living and departed. On this day we especially ask that you would hold for ever all who suffered during the First World War, those who returned scarred by warfare, those who waited anxiously at home, and those who returned wounded, and disillusioned; those who mourned, and those communities that were diminished and suffered loss. Remember too those who acted with kindly compassion, those who bravely risked their own lives for their comrades, and those who in the aftermath of war, worked tirelessly for a more peaceful world. And as you remember them, remember us, O Lord; grant us peace in our time and a longing for the day when people of every language, race, and nation will be brought into the unity of Christ’s kingdom. This we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Our Father…

Lighten our darkness, Lord, we pray;
and in your mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night;
for the love of your only Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Blessing
May God the Holy Trinity
guard and defend you on every side,
strengthen you to face times of difficulty,
and keep you rooted in faith and hope;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
be with you and all whom you love and all whom you have lost,
this night and always.  Amen.

In which Ruth ponders why congregations don’t like new hymns

Two complaints came to my ears this week. The first was that we didn’t know the last hymn. Indeed, when I announced said hymn I did ask Mad Margaret, our deliciously eccentric organist, if it was a new one as I didn’t recognise the first line. Half the congregation shouted NO and the other half shouted YES, so just so be on the safe side MM played it through first. Indeed we did know it, except, it would seem, the person who complained. And her friend.

This is an ongoing problem. New hymns. And I wonder why it is that so many people don’t like them. If I thought it was because they like to sing everything with gusto and not hesitation then I wouldn’t mind. But it is rare that a congregation really lets rip with joy and abundance when singing. (Easter and Christmas being the exception and strangely enough we only sing those hymns once a year.) We like familiarity in Church. We like things to be the same. We like the same liturgy, the same pew, and it would appear, the same hymns. Nothing to disturb us. Nothing to upset us. Tosh!

hildegard-musicI mean, if we never learned any new hymns we’d still be singing some Gregorian Chant with a bit of Hildegard of Bingen for the girls. And I have one person who can’t stand the modern Iona hymns set to well-known tunes. ‘Hymns should never be set to folk tunes,’ they say. Like Vaughan Williams never did it! Ha!

Then there’s the words, the content. Some of the modern hymns (and I don’t mean those banal choruses) are really powerful and far more relevant to some of us. But its like the bible, isn’t it? Some still prefer the King James version to the NRSV – until you ask them to read it aloud, that is. We want to encourage new folk into church but we also want them to sing ‘consubstantial co-eternal’ and understand what its all about. 

Of course not all congregations are like this about new hymns. Actually, that’s not true. They are all like this. But teaching organist with fagthem takes great skill. Now, I don’t sing. Actually, that’s not strictly true – I do sing, perfectly in my head. It just doesn’t always come out the way I’d hoped. So my method for teaching new hymns has always been to get the organist to play it through first and then we all have a bash. It works. Not always well, but in time we all catch on. And often some people do know the hymns anyway. I hate it when organists or choir leaders say ‘Oh we don’t know that one’ as if they speak for everyone. They may never have sung it in that church before but people do visit other churches and places and do pick up different hymns. (I’m starting to get really angry now – teeth clenched etc.)

In Christ Church they only teach new hymns if the choir can sing it first, perhaps a few times, before the congregation is ‘allowed’ to join in. Now the choir sing/lead one hymn and that’s just after communion. And frankly, not all hymns are suitable for the post-communion slot. When I first came here I was told that nobody knew Sweet Sacrament Divine and the choir would have to sing it a few times first. How smug was I when everyone joined in? (Yes, that was considered one of the ‘new’ hymns a few years ago.) A friend was visiting a church in Fife a few weeks ago and told me, in shocked tones, that the Rector had taught them three new hymns in one service. Three! I ask you! How brave is that man?

Anyway, back to the other complaint… that the hymns were too long. This poor person was exhausted by the end of it. Really? For those of you who don’t do liturgy or choose hymns to go with it, let me give you a few hints:

  1. The Introit hymn (entrance) should be jolly and majestic, suitable for a procession, long enough to get the altar party down the aisle and to their places. Sometimes, if there is incense, it needs to be a little longer to allow the Celebrant to cense the altar too and find their seat which make time with all that smoke about. 
  2. The Gradual hymn (just before the Gospel) can be short and snappy and preferably the words should suit the reading of Scripture or fit the theme of the readings. This is not always possible but the Lord knows we try.
  3. The Offertory hymn (when the bread and wine is brought and the collection taken) should be long enough to allow all this to happen. In some churches it involves more incense and there might even be two hymns (eg St Michael & All Saints). Bonus points are given if it also fits the theme of the service.
  4. The Communion hymn(s) are just as people are coming for communion or going back to their seats. The choir may do a beautiful piece as a solo, or in our case the congregation can join in if they have got back to their hymn books. The second one is usually when everyone is back in their place and is slow and reflective and usually sacramental in nature. It may have to be long to allow the priest to also get out to those in wheelchairs and unable to get up for communion. (Unless you have an organist who can ‘twiddle’.)
  5. The Recessional hymn is the one the altar party march out to and might have ‘sending out’ words to encourage us. It should be a bit like the coming in one – fast and uplifting. You Shall Go Out With Joy is a good and bad example of this. Good because of the words, bad because it is only one verse and you’d have to make it a sprint which is never dignified. (Yes, we sometimes play it three times.)

In my defence, the hymns last Sunday had (1) Jesus is Lord! (3 verses with chorus); (2) God of mercy, God of grace (3 verses); (3) All hail the power of Jesus’ name (6 verses with chorus – but the verses had 3 lines); (4) Such love (3 verses) and then O God who at thy Eucharist dids’t pray (4 verses) and still not long enough; (5) O Lord all the world belongs to you (5 verses). Well I managed them and I have COPD and Asthma! 

So there we have it. Rant over. Want to share your love of new hymns? Any suggestions on how to share your enthusiasm?

PS MM is a lovely organist and is extremely obliging and willing to have a go at anything. Anything.

Where has the time gone?

The first LP I bought with my saved-up pocket money was Electric Warrior by T-Rex. It popped up in a window today and I noticed that it is 41 years old. How did that happen? I still have the album in a cupboard somewhere with vomit stains on the cover. (That was some party!) It had all the words on the back and I remember trying to impress my granny with them, but she was having none of it. But it was carted round various parties in those halcyon days along with Bowie’s Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Carole King’s Tapestry. The weird thing is that I still know all the words to every track – as do my boys for they became Bowie fans too.  (38 years since Diamond Dogs came out!)

40 years old and music that I still listen to. I do listen to stuff that’s a bit older too these days from the Classics to Doris Day but the radio always gets turned up for Bowie. They were played and replayed on the old Dansette with a 2p piece taped to the arm to stop it jumping. The words were memorised and lusted after and I was so pleased to learn that some of the lyrics came from a jumble of phrases cut out of paper and mixed up on the floor for Hunky Dory. They had previously made no sense to me at all and I really was beginning to think that taking drugs was the only way I was going to understand them.

So today, as the choir-next-door gathers for a medley of old-time tunes, I shall be cranking up Itunes and going back to the 70s for a glam rock time. Rock on!

Good Friday 3 hours music

A few people have asked what the music was that I used at the 3 hours today. The meditations were on the Sounds of the Passion and the music was:

Water Trickling

Jingle of Coins

Crackle of Charcoal

Cock Crow

Cry of Mockery

Roll of the Dice

(same as 1)

Montezuma : the Opera

So it is the Edinburgh Festival – a time which strikes fear in the heart of every good living Edinburger. There are two ways you can deal with it. You can either stay indoors, read no newspapers or radio or TV, and not travel or you can embrace it with open arms and attend everything that performs. People born and bred in Edinburgh usually do the first and those who have moved to Edinburgh do the latter. Don’t get me wrong. There are some shows I’d love to see but you have to weigh that up with getting public transport (which has probably been diverted from its normal route because so many roads are closed) and walking through crowds of thousands to get to some grotty church hall where the seats are stained with years of playgroup children’s use or dug out of some loft because they were deemed to be too uncomfortable for use.

So, this year like all other years I have been studiously ignoring all things Festival. That is until I received a telephone call yesterday from a certain Provost who writes reviews of Operas. There was one on in Edinburgh at the Kings and would I like his other ticket? Now, dear reader, I should explain that I don’t really do opera. I love the theatre, don’t get me wrong – I was born to act. But I’ve never really got the whole opera thing. In fact, I’ve only been once and that was Wagner. (Yes, perhaps not the best choice for an opera virgin.)  I remember it was long but there were one or two nice tunes in it. But you can buy a CD for the nice tunes, can’t you? Last night’s offering was the little known opera Montezuma by Carl Heinrich Graun and libretto by Frederick II, King of Prussia. You’d be tempted too, huh?

I won’t dwell on the preamble to get the tickets which involved trying to drive to the Hub near the castle and being diverted through milling thousands who couldn’t even fit on the pavements, only to find every street within walking distance was closed to traffic or had no parking cones in place. Round and round and round I went, diversion after diversion, until I finally found a spot and ran – no, that’s not true. I ‘fought’ my way through the Tattoo zillions until I finally reached the Hub only to be told that the tickets would be at the venue by now.

Let’s move swiftly on to the Kings Theatre and a rather nice seat in the stalls being heckled by a large Mexican man trying to sell us t-shirts and Mexican jewellery. (I think he actually appeared in the opera later but I could be mistaken.) Finally, a little later than billed the overture began. It was jolly nice – very Baroque and nice woodwind section. (OK, you’ve guessed I don’t know what I’m talking about but just bear with me.) The curtains went back to reveal a large block of wood on top of which squatted a man and a woman.  She sang and he sang. All very nice. Then she stood up and I realised that she was in fact a he and a rather splendid counter-tenor. In fact, most of the men were counter-tenors (including the dog, but I shall get to that later). By the end I did rather hanker after a beefy bass.

I think the story goes like this: Montezuma is the king of Mexico and is about to get married to someone whose name I couldn’t pronounce. Someone with a ponytail runs to tell him that the Spanish are coming and have killed their neighbours. M says that he will welcome them and make friends with them. The Spanish arrive and are baddies (albeit quite cute) and capture M and put him in chains which were really a poncho and two large sombreros. Everyone cries and is upset. Including the dog, yes the large alsation who comes with the Spanish and sings too. Then it all got a bit confusing for me but I think the bottles of water and coca cola symbolised the rape by the new culture (they were held between the chorus’ legs). Oh and a naked man was born right in front of my eyes but I’m not exactly sure what that was all about. During the second half the orchestra had moved from the pits to the stage and the poor conductor had to fight off Mexicans and Spanish alike. M died, falling off a large pillar where he bore more than a passing resemblance for St Sebastian and they all cried. Including the dog. The End.

Now, you may be forgiven for thinking that I am now more than ever convinced that I should have stayed at home, but in fact it was tremendous. Oh, there weren’t many catchy tunes to hum on the way home but it was pleasant enough in a kind of Monteverdi sort of way. But the whole thing was spectacularly hilarious. We were shaking with laughter at bits of it. The singing was good, the orchestra was great and the setting of it was just incredible. Is setting the right word? The production then. There wasn’t a moment when you could tear your eyes off the stage in case you missed some delight. Who will forget the Queen singing an aria whilst being dragged down a huge flight of stairs and then managing to haul herself back up them again BACKWARDS (feet first) without missing a note? Bravo, I say.

So, my night at the opera was a delight and I fear that any other opera may never quite match it.

Lol Robinson sings

I’ve been listening to a CD this morning entitled Songs from Lucy’s Cottage which is rather nice. The strange thing is that it is sung by a fictional character. Kind of. Readers will know I am a big fan of the Phil Rickman books featuring Merrily Watkins: single parent; Silk-Cut smoking; priest; and diocesan exorcist. Merrily’s lover is a man by the name of Lol Robinson who has developed rather nicely throughout the series of books from angst-ridden, Nick Drake fan to a man who finally has played his music in public without the help of narcotics or alcohol and has modest success.  Throughout the books we hear about songs which Lol has written or performed and here they all are.

I liked Heavy Medication Day which reflects the care which goes on in some psychiatric hospitals. Cure of Souls is haunting and stuck in my head.  The whole CD is kind of done in the style of Nick Drake (of whom I am a big fan) and is really rather nice. I shall keep listening and sure I’ll come back to it too. If you are a lover of the books, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too. (And Gomer’s voice is just how I imagined it!)

Glee and Imagine

Thanks to George who found this one. I’ve just started watching Glee and am already transported back to those halcyon days when I thought I’d be a drama queen.  Pity I can’t sing, as the children at St Mark’s will vouch for as they listen to me through the speakers downstairs on Sunday morning.