Remembrance Day sermon at Christ Church Falkirk 2014

Last year you might remember we managed to find out a lot of information about the men from Christ Church who fell in the first World War. The ones whose names we read out at the beginning of the service. I had hoped to do the same with those from the Second World War this year but unfortunately the only church magazines cover 1940 and 1941 and there are only a couple of names mentioned.

There is one person I do know about, however, and he has been keeping me company on my desk for the past few weeks since Gill passed on an envelope to me. Let me introduce you to David Millar, Gill’s brother whose name we read out earlier. He was a Leading Aircraftman in the RAF and died in 1942. More of him later.

So although I didn’t find out much about all the names on our War Memorial, I did find out a little of what life was like here during the war and I’d like to share some of that with you now.

In June 1940 the Rector Ivor Ramsay wrote in his letter:

‘Strangers approaching Falkirk by all different roads can hardly fail to notice a series of indicators, newly set up, directing them to the First Aid Post, and if they follow out in that direction, they will come to Christ Church, for as we know, our Hall is an ARP Depot, and the recently-built, well equipped First Aid Post is on Bell’s Meadow just at the foot of the rectory garden.’

ARP stands for Air Raid Precautions and the ARP Depot would be where the Air Raid Wardens hung out. It was their job to enforce the black-out and help people into the shelters when there was an air-raid. They kept the registers of the area and were often accused of being nosy busybodies because of the enforcement work they had to do. However, if there was an air-raid they had to patrol in pairs putting themselves at risk of falling masonry and shrapnel. They also carried out immediate first aid and put out small fires until the Fire Brigade arrived. And they were not only men – one in six were women. Judging by the amount of activities going on here in Christ Church they were certainly kept busy.

One magazine article at the beginning of Lent made me smile. It began:

Lent will soon be here, presenting the age old problem: “What shall I serve today?”  And the answer?

The answer is PEAS. With a protein equal to meat, peas are a most sustaining food. 1 lb of peas is equal in food value to 1 lb of prime beef. Those of you who may doubt this statement should turn to the Book of Daniel 1:15. Read how the band of young men who ate nothing but lentils (peas and beans) ‘were strong and ruddy withal’ and excelled their meat-eating rivals in bouts of wrestling, running and leaping. Peas, we are told, are the oldest green vegetable known to man. And they are one of the few green veg that children really like. The magazine then went on to provide many recipes for using peas:

A Delightful Vegetable Soup
Salad Polonaise (beetroot, cold tatties, tinned carrots, and PEAS covered in salad cream with horse radish)
Vegetable Salad (with PEAS)
Scrambled eggs (with PEAS)
Poached Eggs (with tomato and PEAS)
Boiled Fish with PEAS

And if Peas don’t suit you, you could always try Ovaltine. If food rations have run out and if you are run down, then Ovaltine is the thing for you. You don’t have to drink it either, you can add it to practically anything and it will give you all the nutrition you need.

Another letter from the Rector spoke about evacuees. He had received a letter from a man who was evacuated from London to Falkirk in 1939 who had joined the Air Force and written to Mr Ramsay:

“Many thanks for the real welcome I received at your Church, to you for the book of prayers that I use morning and evening, and indeed to your whole congregation for the parcel just received. I am thoroughly enjoying life here, and I feel that I am now beginning to pull my weight in this fight against evil… I hope one day to return to Carronvale and renew my membership in your family of exiled Sassenachs!”

During the war time many English people found themselves north of the border and were welcomed into Christ Church, St Mary’s Grangemouth and St Andrew’s Dunmore. Those connections stayed even after they moved away again with parcels being sent, and much knitting done by the ladies of Christ Church which was sent out to the troops.

I also learned that Toc-H met in the Song School, now the St Andrew’s Chapel, on Monday nights. At every meeting they lit their oil lamp and said the words we began our service with today: They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn… Then silence was kept as they remembered the Elder Brethren. I’m not sure if the sister organisation The League of Women remembered the Elder Sisters or not. I did love their motto though –

Service is the rent we pay for our room on earth.

There was also a Fellowship of St Catherine of Siena who met in the Song School on Wednesdays. In fact, there was not a night when something wasn’t going on in that Song School – Guides, Scouts, and umpteen other organisations, including breakfast between services on Sundays. The Fellowship of St Catherine of Siena seemed to mostly knit comforts for the Forces and entertained the Troops by singing and performing plays.

At Christmas every member of Christ Church who was in the Forces received a pair of socks and a postal order from the congregation. I also learned that evening services had to be brought forward to the afternoon because it was going to be too expensive for black-out curtains for church. They did have lots of activities in the hall and in fact one night they were raided by the police at 1am after a Whist Drive and entertainment to raise money for soldiers. But a few months later there was a thank you to the Misses Gray-Buchanan for providing curtain material for church and for the Mother’s Union for sewing them. In fact each magazine had a thank you to what must have been each member of the congregation for donating something to the war effort. Everyone was pulling together, sewing, giving money, knitting, and sharing resources with one another to eke out rationing.

In November 1941 we contributed £25 to the Diocesan Fund which was one of the largest sums donated. That is really impressive for this church – to outdo most of the large churches in the diocese.

Ivor Ramsay finished his letter in 1940 with this:

To the First Aid Post – The final word of that direction should remind us of the present urgency, when everyone must be at the post of duty, wherever that post may be. As the indicators in the streets of Falkirk point towards Christ Church, so the church should inspire us all to regard our post of duty, whether in the Forces or at home, as a sphere of Christian witness. At a post of dangerous duty, before going into action in Flanders in 1915, there was formed the Silent Fellowship, that is now called the Mighty Million, to help people to put their faith into their work. Its members are bidden to hold fast to the faith that in our struggle for the freedom of mankind, we must and will prevail to discourage the spreading of rumours and to refuse to be unduly alarmed by any setbacks; to be thoroughly efficient, whatever our job may be, and to give our whole energy to the cause of freedom without counting the cost; to forego any selfish indulgences which may undermine the morale or waste the goods of the nation; and to make unity of the freedom-loving peoples a reality by being friendly and helpful to everyone.’

Perhaps we can hold to that message still today: especially to give our whole energy to the cause of freedom and peace on earth.

I did say I would come back to Gill’s brother, David Millar. I have here the telegram his father received on 1 February 1942.

Regret to inform you that your son 574130 Leading Aircraftman David Millar lost his life on the 24th January 1942. Cause of death to follow when known. Letter follows. Please accept profound sympathy.

and the letter read:

Dear Sir

It is my painful duty to confirm my telegram of the 26th January 1942 in which you were informed of the death of your son, No 574130 Leading Aircraftman David Millar, who was killed at 1.30pm on the 24th January 1942, and buried at 2pm on the same day at the place of death. The cause of your son’s death is not yet known by me, but the question has been taken up with Headquarters, Royal Air Force, Middle East and the information will be transmitted to you immediately on receipt in this office. The Air Council desire me to express their sympathy and deep regret at your son’s death in his country’s service.

I am,
Dear Sir,
Your obedient service
H W Saunders
for Air Commodore

Let me now finish with a Prayer for the Departed from the book of prayers given to every sailor, soldier and airman:

O God, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive; look favourably on the souls of the faithful departed, and grant them remission of all their sins; that, being loosed from the bands of death, they may attain unto life eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Remembrance Requiem altar2014

Lost and Found

I’ve been going through our old church magazines from 1941 looking for information of those who died in WW2 for our Remembrance Sunday service. I have found all sorts of information, not least the following…

Various things are left in Church from time to time – gas-masks, umbrellas, scarves, gloves, handbags and the like – but  a month ago a worshipper, whether of the Forces Parade or of our own flock, left some false teeth! I have lacked the courage to mention this among the Church Notices, though I have asked various people if they are quite sure that they didn’t leave their teeth in Church.  I shall put them now in a little box, and leave them on the table near the electric switches at the door, and I hope that the rightful owner will come and take them for comfort’s sake.

Normandy D Day Fahrt 2014

Forty four Fahrters set off from Linlithgow on 4 September to travel together to the Chateau du Molay near Caen in Normandy on our D Day Expidition. We are Fahrters who have travelled before to many gorgeous places in Europe for fun, frolics and fahrts. (If you don’t know – Fahrt = German for travel, journey.) It was organised by my dear friend Bruce Jamieson, retired history teacher from L’gow, and a few years ago he said ‘no more Fahrts’. I suspect the organisation of these trips takes it toll on a perfectionist. However, we had heard so much about these wonderful school trips that he did with his pupils that he agreed to do one more for the 70th anniversary of D Day.

We travelled overnight on the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge in Belgium which brought hilarity in narrow bunks and much fun in the Moonlight Bar. Lunch was at the Somme estuary with ducks and the first of many baguettes with jambon and fromage. (Why can’t we get baguettes like that at home?) Our next stop was the Bayeux War Cemetery where we laid a wreath at the memorial and poppy crosses at the graves of three Linlithgow men. Fellow Fahrter John McIntosh had brought his Bose and hid behind the memorial cross and played the Last Post when we laid the wreath. As all the war graves we visited, this cemetery was beautifully kept, immaculate lawns and clean grave stones shining brightly in the hot sun. I have visited WW1 war graves at Tyne Cot and they never fail to move you deeply as the graves stretch out forever, each one telling a story of a life lost.

DDay Baeyux cem headstones  DDay Bayeux cem me put cross  DDay Bayeux cem trees

After getting lost in the hedgerows of the countryside we eventually rolled up to the Chateau du Molay in acres of beautiful countryside. The Chateau is used for school trips so the accommodation was a trifle basic and there were competitions on who would fit into which bunk bed. But we gathered in the bar, ordered local cider, and scoffed our dinner with wine galore. Who cares about a narrow bunk bed after that?

DDay Chateau bunks

On Saturday we drove to Arramanches and visited the Diarama up on top of the hill where we saw incredible footage of the D Day landings. Staggering out into the sunlight looking down on Mulberry Harbour it seemed incredible to actually be standing there on a beautiful September day remembering the deeds of that awful time. A statue of Our Lady looks peacefully down on the beaches where storms brought danger to the thousands of men who risked their lives on that day. Into Arramanche for the museum and more films and lectures on the making of the Mulberry harbour, and then lunch and a wander along Gold Beach. There are still pieces of the harbour remaining, large jagged pieces of metal sticking out of the golden sands.

DDay Arramanches BVM  DDay Arramanches Christ  DDay Mulberry harbour remains  DDay Mulberry harbour wreck

We then drove to La Cambe German Cemetery which had a very different feel to it. The grave markers are flat not upright in dark basalt lava, not white marble. Throughout the cemetery there were groups of dark crosses and a large central memorial where you could climb to the top and look down on the graves. The memorial sits atop a mound six meters high under which lie 207 unknown dead and 89 from a mass grave. No wreaths of poppies there, but wreaths of corn and pine cones, with a harvest feel about them. Originally this area had been for American and German soldiers but after 1945 the Americans were moved to St Laurent-sur-Mer and the fallen German soldiers from there to La Cambe. There are now 21,139 German soldiers laying to rest here.

DDay La Cambe German cem overview  DDay La Cambe crosses  DDay La Cambe headstone  DDay La Cambe Memorial  DDay La Cambe wreaths

Our days were to prove very moving and breathtaking at times. Yes, there were tears at times. At times you just had to wander off on your own and spend a moment with sorrow and memories. Would I be so brave? I think not. Just before I left I had read Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, a children’s book about two brothers in the war. If you don’t know it, I can recommend it and won’t spoil the story here but it kept coming back to me as I looked at all the graves and heard the stories about incredible heroism. Whether you are a pacifist or not, you can’t help but swallow the lump in your throat.

At night, however, we gathered in the bar to reflect on the sights and stories we’d heard and then to singalong to some war songs. The young staff in the Chateau gathered at the door of the lounge marvelling at these old wrinklies enjoying themselves and singing so loudly. Gracie Fields and Vera Lynn have nothing to fear from our singing. Some of us took part in an Allo Allo sketch which Bruce had written. I was Michelle from the Resistance (‘Leezen verry carefully, I shall zay zis only once.’) with a deep and husky voice as I’d picked up a chest infection on the day before we left. More tears, with laughter this time.

After breakfast on Sunday we headed off early back to Bayeux so that some of us could visit the Bayeux Tapestry which was incredible. Not a tapestry, of course, but embroidery. I’d seen the pictures of course, but nothing compares to actually seeing the needlework up close.

We then drove on to Omaha Beach (opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan) and visited the American Cemetery and Memorial which sits on the top of the cliffs. Nothing had prepared me for the sheer size of it. As you walk from the car park you look down on Omaha beach and then walk through the Garden of the Missing where a 22-foot statue ‘The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves’ looks west on headstones. White Lasa marble crosses and Stars of David stretched in straight rows for what seemed like miles (actually 172.5 acres). Among oak trees, topiary shrubs and beds of roses they shone in the sun. There are over 9,000 headstones among whom are 45 sets of brothers, and 1,557 missing in action. Half way down the beautiful manicured paths there is a Peace chapel where Jewish and Christian iconography sit side by side. I tried sitting down there to say a wee prayer but the clicking of cameras and loud exclamations made it difficult. (Yes, I took photos too but the beauty of the Tablet is that there is no click!) At the east end of the cemetery there are two statues of Italian Raveno granite representing the United States and France.

DDay Amer Cem crosses w star  DDay Amer Cem crosses2  DDay Amer Cem Chapel  DDay Amer Cem Memorial  DDay Amer Cem chapel quote  DDay Amer Cem chapel quote2  DDay Amer Cem France statue

From there we went to the Overlord Museum at Colleville then to Pointe du Hoc.

After we stopped at Sainte-Mere-Eglise where the American paratrooper John Steel got stuck on the belltower and had to pretend to be dead, hanging there all day long, in case the Germans shot him down. At night he was able to climb into the belltower but the ringing of the bells all day had made him deaf. There is a dummy of him still hanging from the steeple! The church inside is old and shabby but it dedicated to Peace. There was some beautiful modern stained glass and I lit a rainbow candle there and said some prayers. It was Sunday, after all.

DDay St Mere Eglise  DDay St Mere Eglise belltower  DDay St Mere Eglise candles  DDay St Mere Eglise altar  DDay St Mere Eglise Mary Candles  DDay St Mere Eglise Peace Chapel

Back at the Chateau we had frogs legs and snails for dinner (deliciously like chicken and very garlicky) and then a French sing-song which provided much hilarity and even more young staff members coming to join in. There was much rolling of Rs and my fruity chest infection helped greatly with some of that.

Monday was my birthday and we packed up to move out of the Chateau as 100s of school kids were about to arrive. We drove to Pegasus Bridge and another museum. This one had lots of artefacts in cases, including an interesting one full of medical equipment. Pretty barbaric stuff. Some stayed for the film but I’d had enough and was in desperate need of a coffee so a few of us crossed the bridge to have a quick snack. There we were greeted by the grumpiest french woman I’ve ever met who practically threw the food at us, forbidding us to sit at most tables as they were set for lunch (at 10am!). No decaff (‘We only do proper coffee here.’) Then the bridge opened up to let a boat through and the rest of our party got stuck on the other side for about half an hour until the bridge opened again.

DDay Pegasus bridge new  DDay Pegasus Bridge old  DDay Pegasus Bridge cafe

We eventually went on to Ranville Cemetery which was smaller but contained a lot of Black Watch and Argyll soldiers. We laid another wreath, played the last post, and found the last Linlithgow man. Rest Eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace and rise in glory. That was all I could think of saying when asked to lay the wreath. I found a headstone for an Army Chaplain age 30, Rev R A Cape MA, and I’m going to try and find his story.

DDay Ranville cemetery  DDay Ranville chaplain headstone  DDay Ranville memorial cross2  DDay Ranville poppy wreath

From there we drove to Ouistreham and then Merville Battery where we visited the underground bunker to experience the sound and light show which recreated what happened there on the night of 5 June 1944. The sign said ‘this show is extremely realistic representation of combat and is not recommended for children under 8, persons of a nervous disposition or suffering from heart, or claustrophobia’. I risked it and it wasn’t that scary at all. Loud rumblings certainly and a wee puff of smoke and a lot of shouting but we survived.

DDay Merville bunker  DDay Merville path  DDay Merville Museum figures

Then on to Caen Peace Museum. This was the best museum we’d visited and was modern and enormous. We watched a movie of the D Day landings and then wandered through the museum. I had time to visit the other museum which focussed on the earlier war and it was really harrowing. I got lost in it because I was on my own and got a bit panicky because it was hot and dark and was so relieved to finally find my way out. At that point I knew I’d had enough of war and museums. Best framboise tart ever and coffee to recover.

We stayed overnight at the Kyriad Memorial Hotel in Caen and was thrilled to have a double bed and a shower which didn’t throw more water out of it than in. Dinner was served by the receptionist/barmaid/waitress and it was a bit Fawlty Towers but much wine was consumed for my birthday treat, as well as getting some lovely poppy pottery stuff from my friends. That night I took my swollen ankles to bed with a litre of Evian and woke up just fine.

Tuesday saw us head off back to Belgium stopping at a huge shopping mall where some stocked up on French wine and then back to Zeebrugge for our ferry home. We watched The Longest Day movie on the bus amid exclamations of ‘Oh that’s whatsisname that was in what was it called!’ There was a beautiful sunset which dragged us out of the Duty Free with our cameras. Much perfume was purchased with birthday money and Ruth is happy once more. The cabins were very hot and stuffy and I think I kept my German neighbours awake all night with my coughing which by now sounds like the worst case of consumption ever. I’m sure I will have passed it on to all 44 of my comrades and some small part of Europe.

DDay sunset from ferry  Group photo  DDay coffee in Bayeux

Wednesday was a sad journey home, watching Saving Private Ryan on the bus. Looking back I must confess that I didn’t know very much about the D Day landings before I went but it was an incredible trip. The images spoke for themselves and I know will stay with me forever. Yes, it was sad and harrowing at times. Thankfully the crowd I was with were the sort who looked after one another in the sad times and cheered one another up at other times. My team lost in the D Day quiz on the bus back home but I think we had some of the funniest answers!

A Century of Wisdom

books and coffeeDuring Lent I usually give up reading fiction for something a little more theological. It forces me to read something I might easily put aside for the latest bloodthirsty thriller. If left to my own devices I will willingly buy ‘religious’ books but never seem to get time to read them. My ‘unread’ bookcase attests to this. And I hardly ever read during the day except on my holiday. One day I will diary in some readings days and actually stick to it.

On the subject of bloodthirsty thrillers, one of the joys of the clergy conference is the conversations which happen in the Stag Bar. It was there that I discovered how much I had in common with Canon Malcolm Round, which is not something one might have expected. We both share a love of fictional thrillers, the more gory the better. He introduced me to Tess Gerritsen and I introduced him to Phil Rickman’s Merrily series.

But back to my Lent reading this year. I have just finished the first book I read which although not overtly ‘religious’ was certainly spiritual. It is A Century of Wisdom – Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer (The World’s Oldest *Living Holocaust Survivor) by Caroline Stoessinger. The book was a real surprise and not what I was expecting at all. I imagined it would be about her life in the Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt where she was imprisoned with her son Rafi. In fact there is very little about her time there because Alice never wished to dwell on that, but instead lived life in the moment, always looking forward. Her optimism and strength is an inspiration, especially when you read that she loved people, loved everybody, was so full of joy. How can someone who spent years in hunger and in the worst of conditions be so positive?

*Alice died on 23 February 2014 at the age of 110, after the book was written.

Alice was a concert pianist in Prague before the war and reckons that it was her musical ability which saved her life and her son’s in Theresiendstadt. She was recruited to play in the orchestra there for the Nazis and in propaganda films they made. She lost her parents, and husband in Treblinka and Auschwitz. Before the war she moved in circles of well-known artists and writers: Kafka, Rilke, and Mahler.

After the war she found that she couldn’t continue to live in Prague because of anti-Semitism and moved to Israel and then later in life to London. When she was 99 her beloved son died. She played the piano every day, taught music to make a living, and loved to receive visitors every day.

Some of Alice’s sayings give us a hint of the personality which made her so unique:

A sense of humour keeps us balanced in all circumstances, even death.

Only when we are old do we realize the beauty of life.

Complaining does not help. It only makes everyone feel bad.

Laughter is wonderful. It makes you and everyone else feel happy.

School is only the beginning. We can learn all our lives.

Stay informed. Technology is wonderful.

My world is music. Music is a dream. It takes you to paradise.

I am richer than the world’s richest people, because I am a musician.

I love people. I am interested in the lives of others.

No one can rob your mind. I admire the Jewish people because of their extraordinary commitment to high education. Education of the children is the most important family value.

We do not need things. Friends are precious.

When I die I can have a good feeling. I have done my best – I believe I lived my life the right way.

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.

Diary entry in which one is nearly bombed

I used to ‘diary’ every day. A page a day from when I was about 14. Then it became a ‘journal’ and I kept it going pretty consistently until I started blogging. They all lie in a trunk and occasionally I will rifle through them while looking for something else. I used to have a friend who promised to destroy them all on my death for fear of others reading them. But now I don’t care so much – or perhaps I’ve just forgotten what secrets lie therein.

Of course blogging is nothing like keeping a diary/journal. It is public for a start and therefore probably not one’s inner thoughts. (Well not the libelous ones anyway.) But from time to time, mostly when on retreat or holiday, I do go back to scribbling away in a delicious notebook. One should always have a delicious notebook, don’t you think?

A while ago someone gave me a wonderful book called The Assassin’s Cloak – An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diarists. Each day there are several entries from well known (or not so well know, in my case) diarists from that day. Pepys is in there of course, and is probably the earliest at about 1661.  Today one of the entries really made me smile, so I share it with you.

I noticed a very funny note in the kitchen from old Kate who ‘does’ for my mother.  ‘Madam,’ it said, ‘had one [bomb] at the top of our street. I was shot out of my bed. It was gastley, all night digging. Today I am nearly a cripple, I can hardly walk. I think it must be rumatism. I am breaking up.  The butcher has run out of sausages.’  My mother’s note for today simply said, ‘Dear Kate, so glad you are still alive. I think we will have Welsh Rarebit tonight.’

Joan Wyndham, 1943.


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.

We will remember them


Ten years ago I visited the war graves in Belgium with a group of other theological students. It was a trip that has stayed with me since and which I shall never forget. The organisers were Toc-H and we stayed in a house in Poperinge, the first resting place for soldiers behind the trenches. It was a week of stories.

We heard of Tubby Clayton, the Chaplain, and why the sign above the house (Abandon Rank All Ye Who Enter Here) was so important. We heard of the people of Poperinge and how they kept the story alive during WW2 and looked after the contents of the house.  We sat in the hop loft which had become a chapel with a carpenter’s bench for an altar and banners embroidered by the men.

We visited Hill 69 and walked silently through the trenches. Even the schoolchildren were quiet that day. We looked at sepia photographs of death, giving thanks that red blood doesn’t show in sepia.  I remember horses dying in trees. A horse up a tree? It defied logic.

We visited war graves, row upon row of white crosses, name upon name engraved.  Some with no names – Known to God Alone.  And the German cemetery, solemn in the shade that day, and we wondered at the Jewish names who fought for Germany in WW1 but how things would change.  We stood at the Menin Gate while the last post was played and we wept.

We visited the Pool of Peace, once a bomb crater and now a place of harmony and birdsong. Did we see frogs too or have I imagined that? We went round the most amazing museum with sounds and smells and drama.

And at the end of each day we gathered to pray and to talk and learn from one another. I remember wondering about the women, for our days had been filled with masculine images. What of those women who waited at home, who had to take on difficult jobs because there were no men to do them? The mothers, the wives and girlfriends, and the children. What were their stories? How were their lives affected when their men didn’t come home?

I have no war stories to tell. My grandfathers were too young for WW1 and too old for WW2. I don’t know of any other relatives who fought or died. But although these stories are not part of my history, I now feel that I have dipped my toe in the war narrative and will tell the stories that I have learned to all who will listen.