A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
In nearly every town or village that one visits in the UK, one will find a memorial to the Fallen, those who have lost their lives in War, in the cause of freedom. The memorial may be a simple carved stone tablet like the one in the South aisle here together with its ornate and hop e-inspiring rood which hangs above me; it may be a bronze plaque affixed to a wall inside a church, a beautifully lettered wall board inside a Town Hall, a stained glass window, or a huge town square statue depicting wounded or dying soldiers against a background of cannons and rifles. Again the memorial may be as simple as the one in the centre of our town, or the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Familiar memorials which we may pass day by day, without giving them too much notice, except that is when our attention is drawn to them at this time of year. But if we stop to look and read, we will find inscribed on each of the public memorials in town and city, the names of real people, those from that particular place, who gave their lives so that we might read them in peace. By contrast, in London, in Westminster Abbey, there is another memorial, no names on it, a flat slab of Belgian marble, set into the floor, and enclosed inside a small railing to prevent feet desecrating the memory of the unknown soldier whose remains lie in British and French soil beneath the floor. An unknown soldier, one of four chosen at random to represent the 300,000 men of the First World War who have no known grave. They gave their lives for the freedom of their country, for us, but where their bodies are today, God alone knows.
Just as in the Christian tradition, we honour the memory of countless men and women whom we know as true disciples of Jesus – the Saints to whom we accord a special day in our calendar, so too today we are honouring the memory of innumerable men and women of our time, who have made the greatest sacrifice of love for their fellow men – the sacrifice of laying down their lives for their friends, their wives, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons.
Some of us may be here with special memories and special names written on our hearts; others of us may not have suffered that personal loss. But we are all here to remember everyone who has made the ultimate sacrifice, and, not just to remember but to say Thank you, for showing the greatest love that any man or woman can show – the giving of his or her life in order to give us a better life.
As a child, my gathering at the Island War Memorial in Guernsey on 11th November was to do just that to say thank you – for those who had not survived the two World Wars. In the fifties, we watched Pathe News at the cinema and saw there horrific images of the war to end all wars- but what we saw then, had happened years previously. Nowadays, nearly sixty years later, the visual presentation of the horrors of war and wounding and death enter our sitting rooms with expected regularity, they are regular features of any news programme. And deep down, I think we need to see these images, as horrific and heart rending as they may be, we need to see them to bring home to everyone the terrible risks that brave men and women still face daily. TV makes the horror of what is happening beyond our shores, much more real than it was to our parents and grandparents.
But to what effect? We cannot live in a vacuum, we cannot live with blinkered eyes, pretending that what has been going on in Iraq, in Afghanistan is not the same as what happened in World War I or II – it jolly well is the same – men and women are dying needlessly because of man’s greed, religious hatred, prejudice, and want of power. And it is the innocent who, out of love for their fellow men and women, are making the greatest sacrifice of limb and life.
In Bath Abbey which I visited recently, there is in the South Transept, a simple yet moving statement to war, or rather the futility of war. It is a sculpture of a human head, in green alabaster, lying on a cushion of mud and barbed wire. The head is tilted to its right, eyes closed with a smile on its face. It is by a local Bath sculptor and was inspired by a poem, a poem by that well known war poet Wilfred Owen. The title of the poem is Soldier’s Dream and the green alabaster head reflects the thoughts expressed in that poem –
I dreamed kind Jesus fouled the big-gun gears;
And caused a permanent stoppage in the bolts;
And buckled with a smile Mausers and Colts
And rusted every bayonet with his tears.
And there were no more bombs of ours or theirs,
Not even an old flint lock, nor even a pikel.
The dream of a soldier, the hope still today of many a mother or wife whose son or husband has gone away and whose return is uncertain.
What we have come together to do today is to pray that that soldiers dream may become reality, may become the prayer that inspires all the nations of the world to work for peace so that those who have made the great sacrifice – of life or limb – , will know that the end to war and violence was something which they helped to achieve for future generations.
‘I dreamt that Jesus rusted every bayonet with his tears..
And there were no more bombs of ours or theirs.’
Lord, help us to make that dream reality.