The Somme

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It’s a hundred years since the Battle of the Somme which for me symbolises all that is wrong with human-nature which sees “right” on its side then sacrifices common-sense to defend it. When I see those grainy pictures on TV of soldiers crouching in trenches with that haunting look of fear on their faces I could cry (and sometimes do). Had I been around when Kitchener made his famous appeal I don’t know what I would have done. I can think of nothing worse than putting on a uniform, taking up a rifle and travelling to a foreign land to kill people I don’t know or have an issue with. Would I have gone? Would you? Yet many did and went cheerfully full of bravado perhaps in the hope of a better life because many who signed up were found to be undernourished. It was one reason the NHS was established in the 1940’s after the Beverage Report revealed the scandalous state of the poor. I’m sure there would have been much banter among those fledgling-troops as they left: “it’ll be all right, my mate Fred is here; so too are my neighbours George and Bert. It’s just an adventure it’ll all be over in a few months.” It was July – the height of the summer. But amid the mayhem I wonder if they noticed birds singing, flowers blooming, blue skies, fluffy-white clouds and glorious sunsets. Why did it have to be like this – the flower of man annihilated in a muddy grave? Before the “big-push: they wrote letters home: “Dear mum and dad and little brother Sid….I love you and hope to see you soon. Take care till we meet again.” But then mum and dad’s sorrow as the postman handed them that dreaded letter from the War Office telling them their precious son, brother (or father) was gone – and with him their future too. The whole thing casts a bitter shadow across the earth that is still with us – as when Jesus was crucified. It’s as if that war (1914-18) saw the crucifixion of Europe in the spilled-blood of good men across the fields of France and Belgium. It was a huge betrayal of trust: 57,470 British casualties on the first day alone. They call the 1914-18 war the “Great War” but there is nothing great about the sacrifice of 8,500,000 soldiers plus 8 million horses, mules and donkeys for a cause not worth defending. It is a horror for which humanity should hang its head in shame and be deeply-repentant of. Those men (and the women who served and supported them) were brave, heroic and loyal both to their country and to one-another. We should remember them of course. But we must learn the lesson too. War should not be the last resort it should have no place in a civilised world because violence, killing and the destruction of the environment offers no solution at all. If the cross hasn’t taught us that (as it surely must) the carnage of the Somme – when an entire generation was wiped-out doing their best should sound the alarm bells ringing. Jesus said: “love one another…..” He also said “father forgive them for they know not what they do.” The Somme was judgement-day on the evil resident in the human-heart. Compassion, forgiveness, love and reconciliation are the only Christ-like responses to the misguidedness of humanity which demonises others in order to pursue the “right” it sees on its side (e.g. the Chilcot Report) – then with tunnel-vision acts in error at great cost to itself and others to pursue it.

Derek Marsh