Remembrance Sunday at Christ Church Falkirk

remembrancesunday2This is my sermon from today. We each had a small card with the name of one of the WW1 names from our War Memorial on it. The whole congregation read out the names they had, and I did the ones from WW2. At communion they brought the cards up and then took them to the Requiem Altar where the wreath was and laid it down with a candle on top.

On the 11th of November 1918 Private Arthur Wrench of the Seaforth Highlanders wrote in his diary:

I think it is quite hopeless to describe what today means to us. We who will return to tell people what war really is surely hope that 11 am this day will be of great significance to generations to come. Surely this is the last war that will ever be between civilised nations.” If only it had been the last war. Sadly not.

We have come here today to remember all those who have fallen in wars present and past.  Some of you will have a personal memory of losing a member of your own family or friend, but for many of us it will be an inherited memory, passed on from one generation to the next.

It is 95 years since the Armistice was signed at the end of the First World War. Since then there have been many more wars.
In Germany, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and still it goes on.

But let us go back to that First World War for a moment. The war to end all wars. You were each given a name when you came in. The name of someone from Christ Church who died in the WW1 and we’ll come back to them in a moment.

You’ll know that we have been clearing out the St Andrew’s Chapel downstairs and sorting out all the archive material.
One of the things we found were a series of church magazines bound in book form dating back to 1915. In the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed looking through them and noticed that this first volume covered the war years, missing out 1914.

There are short fictional stories about soldiers seeing angels, and women waiting for sons.

There are articles about work parties knitting socks, gloves and mufflers… until the wool ran out. The Mothers’ Meeting sent eggs to Wallside Military Hospital (at Camelon). The collections for prisoners of war in Germany. The volunteers who worked in the War Hospital Supply Depot in South Broomage Road, Larbert, where they rolled bandages and made sphagnum moss dressings.

And then there is the memorial itself. In one issue in 1916 an article said:

It is most natural that in these sad days of bereavement and loss, lit up as they are with daily deeds of splendid courage and heroism, numbers of parents and friends of those who fall in battle should desire some memorial to commemorate the glorious sacrifices made by our men.

Already all over the country war shrines, calvaries, and wayside crosses, mural tablets, and other kinds of memorials have been dedicated in honour of the men who have laid down their lives. 

But the war is not yet at an end, and in many congregations there is a disinclination to do anything in this direction until peace is declared. We imagine this is the view taken by the majority of our congregation at Falkirk, and it is quite a sensible line of action, considering the character of our flock and the needs of the Church in this district.

It requires some hard thinking to determine what would be the best thing to commemorate the share that Christ Church has had in this war.

Our roll of honour compares very favourably indeed with that of other congregations, and a considerable number of our men have now paid the supreme sacrifice.

The Bishop of Lewes recently expressed the hope that war memorials, of which there would be a large number before long, would be united memorials and not single ones.

Rich and poor, he said, had all done well.

They had all given their sons their best; rich and poor had fallen side by side, and as in the Church they knew no difference between rich and poor, let their memorials be united ones. 

Then their churches would have memorials worthy of the great sacrifices that had been made, and would become what they had been in the past – records of our history going back hundreds and hundreds of years.

No sane person would quarrel with sentiments of that kind.

The relatives and friends of several who have already fallen could not possibly afford to spend much money on memorials.

None of us who are left with hearth and home which those men, by their willing sacrifice, have died to preserve, would feel that anything mean or shabby could represent our gratitude for their services to King and country, and moreover we ought to aim at doing something which we think would perpetuate what they themselves, had they lived, would have been most eager to accomplish. From what we know of many of those whose names are now inscribed in the golden roll of honour, we fancy the idea of advancing the Kingdom of God in the world would be the best memorial they could have. ..

In fact, we learned at Doors Open Day that Christ Church had the first War Memorial in Falkirk.  And it had never occurred to me when I’ve seen lists drawn up like this in many churches across the land, in beautiful calligraphy, that they were listed together so that there should be no difference between rich and poor. No glorious marble plaques for the rich. No unmarked graves for the poor.

But what of the people? What of those men of Falkirk and around, these names we read out each year?  I’ve always wondered what their stories were and now because of the magazines I can tell you a little about some of them.

Arthur Kennard is our first. As a Lieutenant Colonel he left for France on 9 September 1915. At the battle of September 25th he was soon rendered hors de combat, having been gassed and wounded in the thigh with shrapnel. He was said to be making satisfactory progress but later he died.

Then Sergeant Alexander Smith, Laurieston, who was home wounded after the battle of September 25th, was reported back again at the front and keeping quite fit. However, he was tragically killed in action not long before the armistice was signed in 1918. His passing away, like that of his brother Thomas the year before, brings home to us the nature and extent of the sacrifice of this war.  Both of them were fine sportsmen, who played the game always. Both were very articulate as to what they would do to forward the Church’s life and work if spared to come through this war. As soldiers they were regarded as splendidly heroic, and it was their Christian manliness that made them so attractive to all who knew them.

Private Archibald McNab, Cameron Highlanders, was also killed in the great rush on September 25th.  He had written some weeks before giving thanks that his four children were baptised (the youngest of whom was born quite recently).

Dr and Mrs Duncan Fraser received official information of the death of their youngest son, Sergeant Donald Fraser, 5th Lochiel Cameron Highlanders, who also was killed on Sept 25th. Sergeant Fraser (popularly known as Reggie) enlisted at the beginning of the war, was wounded on June 30th, and rejoined his regiment six weeks later. He was educated at Blair Lodge, Edinburgh, for the legal profession. An all-round sportsman and genial companion, with a promising career, he will be much missed in this district where he was immensely popular.

Private John Mackinlay is reported as wounded and missing since Sept 25th. His name on the list must mean that he is presumed dead.

Company Sergeant J Dougall, DCM, Canadian Regiment
and Sergeant Thomas Smith are seen on leave in 1915, both looking in the best of health. 
Later it is reported that J Dougall is wounded in France.  In 1916 we hear that he has been missing for some weeks, then months.

In 1916 on 30 September,  Private Jack Bishop, 1st Battallion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, from West Carron, died in the Balkans aged 19 years.

Private George Fargie, 2nd Royal Scots, goes missing in 1916 for some weeks. The following year he is reported killed in action.

Staff Sergeant J F Whincop, ASC, died of malaria in the Balkans in 1917. Mr Whincop. a devout member of the congregation, was in every respect one of those splendid types of men who during this war have paid the great sacrifice for us. To his widow and little daughter we offer our deepest sympathy.

Thomas Smith, Charles Barron and John McCulloch are all killed in action in France.

Private Arthur MacLachlan, Canadian Regiment, and Lance-Corporal Charles Napier, A&S Highlanders, are also reported dead.

William Mills, RNR (an old choir boy), falls in action in 1917.

 Captain  Henry Ison, a man whom all at Christ Church deservedly respect, is reported to be on the high seas  in 1916 bravely facing all dangers. Then the following year the magazine tells us he was torpedoed at sea. Captain Ison was essentially fearless and patriotic as a man, and a very staunch churchman. Throughout this community and beyond he was loved and respected. On the high seas he acquitted himself with great distinction, and it is gratifying to learn that a posthumous honour from the Admiralty is to be conferred upon him.

 And an unnamed young man, one of our Church lads from Polmont Institution – a Lance-Corporal – was killed in action on 21 March. He belonged to Aberdeen which is probably why he was not on our list, was confirmed at Polmont, and left the Institution with a very good character.

In 1918 Private Alex Baird (10 Pleasance), goes missing. Later it is reported that it was only a few months since he was home on leave and looking in the best of health. He was taken prisoner in March, and wrote a cheerful letter to his parents, mentioning that he was wounded in the thigh and that he was being well treated in the German hospital. The War Office intimation of his death states that he passed away a few days after writing that letter, and it is presumed that he died of blood-poisoning. To his father and mother and relatives we offer our deepest sympathy. Death is a necessary end, but “The fittest place when man can die is where he dies for man.”

Sergeant William Laird, 7th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, was killed in action in 1918, the son of Mrs Laird, 1 Silver Row, Falkirk. One of his officers, writing to his mother, expressed the deep regret of all the company in losing such a cheery and gallant soldier who was so much beloved by all the men.

Private Thomas Black, Scots Guards, whose wife resided at Thornbridge, Laurieston, was killed in action in France on 11 October 1918. Aged 29, Private Black, who was a moulder in Laurieston Foundry, enlisted in 1914, and was gassed in France in the early part of 1915. Thereafter he was sent home to work at munitions, and returned to Laurieston Foundry where he continued to work at his trade until in April this year he was called up a second time for service. He proceeded to France on 24 August 1918. He leaves a widow and child.

Mrs Finnie, 33 Kerse Lane, Falkirk, received intimation that her husband, Private David Finnie, A&SH, died from pneumonia at No 50 General hospital, Salonica, on 9 October. Private Finnie, who was 37 years of age, served in the South African War, for which he held two medals with bars for the various engagements in which he took part during the period of two years and nine months when he was in South Africa. When the present war commenced, at which time he was a carter with the late John Gardner, builder, Falkirk, he enlisted in his old regiment on 23 August 1914. In May 1915 he proceeded to France and after eleven months’ service there he was drafted to Salonica where he had since been serving – a period of three years. It was a great joy and relief to him when he heard that his five children had been baptised at Christ Church.

Of the other twelve men I know nothing.  But we can rest assured that they were known to God. Rich and poor, they were known.  They died somewhere in a field, in a trench, in a hospital. They may have died alone.

But they are never forgotten.

Here in Christ Church their names are read aloud each Remembrance Sunday.  Here they are remembered and prayed for.  Here we listen to their stories.

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not wear them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

we will remember them.

We will remember them.

Remembrance Sunday

A couple of weeks ago we had one of our afternoon tea parties for our housebound members. I went round all the folk there and asked them to share their war stories with me. So let me now tell you some of the stories –some of the memories people have of growing up in war time Britain. Today is Remembrance Sunday – a day to remember them. These are the stories that we must not forget. These are your stories.

Joyce told me that she had been evacuated from the Channel Islands at the age of 13 with her mother and brother just weeks before the occupation.

Barbara was 10 and remembered well the sound of the sirens in Aberdeen. Her dog sat shivering until they could get into the cellar. She remembered concerts in the back green in aid of the Red Cross and that there was a real community feel about the war period. Neighbours helped neighbours. Soldiers from the local barracks were invited to have tea in family homes. She said the great thing about the war was that you only had to go to school for half a day, because there weren’t enough teachers as so many were away fighting.

David was just a baby but he remembered the blackouts on the windows and peeping out to see the planes when they went overhead.

Elsie too was young but said she has no memories because her family protected her from the horrors and she was never told about it.

Margaret was six and lived in the country with a dairy farm next door so they were never short of food. But prayers were said every night to bring the boys home safely.

Molly’s father was away for 4 years in the 8th Army with General Montgomery and when he came home her two brothers didn’t even know him. She also remembers saving up for a plate of chips at Moscadini’s Cafe in Manor Street, and then losing her ration book there. It took weeks to get a new one so it was a very lean time but neighbours helped out. And even those who had little still collected money to send food parcels for prisoners of war.

Chrissie remembered her first job at the age of 14 and the girls there invited her to a night at the theatre in the Gorbals. That was the night of the Clydebank Blitz and when she came out she realised she didn’t know anyone or how to get home. She saw a couple she vaguely knew and went and asked if she could walk home with them. They agreed and they spent the next few hours dodging in and out of closes. When she got home she remembers her mum giving her the biggest hug ever!

Gladys’ war memories were of being tired. She worked 14 nights and then 14 days in the De Havilland factory in Lancashire. Because of where they were there were constant bombs and air raids.

Dorothy worked in a factory weaving cloth for parachutes. She tried to join the Navy but didn’t get in.

Eve was in Egypt as a typist in the Navy. She met a handsome pilot on board ship from Durban and he decided that Eve should be his wife. There was a sense of urgency in relationships – live for today because who knew what would happen tomorrow, so they married in Cairo Cathedral with just a few friends in attendance.

Freda became a Wren at the age of 19 and was sent to Portsmouth. She had never travelled on her own before and her father asked someone on the train to look after her. Freda worked in the Signals Office and during air raids she had to go below to take signals from ships in the harbour to give to the officer on duty. She met her husband there and when they married in 1943 she had to leave the Wrens. She also had the vivid memory of walking into a lamppost in the blackout!

And another romance took place when Mary met her husband in 1941 at a local dance in Yorkshire. Word had got round that some new soldiers were in town so all the girls headed off to the local school where the dance was held. She remembers walking home with Jack watching incendiary bombs dropping and the flames reflecting in the water. They were so near the Power Station but somehow never hit it. Living in the country that was about as much of the war that she experienced but they did have lots of evacuees from London. Mary was a Chief Inspector of Arms at a munitions factory, a wages clerk in a factory where the Swordfish plane was built, and for a time worked at Montague Burtons Leeds Tailors booking out khaki trousers to despatch to the troops. She cycled 15 miles each day, paying 5/- a week for her bike which was the cost of the bus fare.

Everyone shared their memories of rationing – of 1 egg a week, 2oz of cheese, 2oz of butter and 2 oz of lard. 4oz of sugar (but extra in the summer to make jam) and 4oz of tea. Of eggs in ISIN glass which preserved them for months – no sell by dates then. Of torches with pinholes from the blackouts and sulphur badges which could be seen in the dark.

Many of the stories shared the same themes of community and support, of neighbours helping neighbours, of sacrifices made. There was fear, yes, but bravery too – of having to get on with life amidst the horror of war, of having to adapt to new places and new jobs. And there was love, hurried love but lasting love. Love and separation, love and loss.

These are your stories. Today we remember them and give thanks. And we remember those whose lives were given in sacrifice for a new and better world.