A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
I’m a bit of a hoarder and love to collect things that have special memories for me. My collection comprises all sorts of materials, shapes, and sizes ranging from postcard albums of places I’ve visited, mantel piece trinkets reminding me of people or places who are special to me, and photograph albums full of family and friends. I also treasure a copy book, handwritten by me when at school, containing extracts form books I’d read, poems I’d learned by heart , quotations and even a few hymns that had made an impact upon my spiritual life. One of the poems I’d copied – and still refer to – was one that I am sure is familiar to you all: Rupert Brooke’s World One, ‘The Soldier’. ‘If I should die think lonely this of me, That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.’
How those words burst through my store of memories during my recent holiday in Picardy and the Somme. I hadn’t gone on a War Graves pilgrimage, but on every excursion from Amiens where we were staying, one could guarantee that one would pass a well tended cemetery where row upon row of white, identical memorial stones stood proudly as visible memorials to those invisible victims of man’s inhumanity to man. There, I remembered, in those foreign fields there is a corner that is forever England . The Peace Seekers’ Souvenirs.
Perhaps equally poignant was the sight in so many large churches and cathedrals, of huge, colourful, armorial monuments to ‘The Glory of God and to the Memory of the one Million Dead of the British Empire who fell in the great war 1914-1918 and of whom the greater part rest in France.’ The Peace Seekers’ Souvenirs.
These gravestones, these wall monuments are the nation’s souvenirs, reminders of past battles, past conflicts, past struggles , past sorrows and past victories, keeping alive memories of those gallant servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope – and for some in the belief – that what they were doing would bring about peace between the nations of the world.
The memorials I speak of are replicated in our own land , in parish churches, Cathedrals and in the war memorials respected and held dear in countless cities, towns and villages, where today, they will become the focus of those who will remember those words I quoted earlier , That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England. This may all sound nationalistic, and for that I do not apologise because not being an Englishman, I can say that with genuine feeling, but the significance of what I have just said was magnified for me in Boulogne Castle on the Feast of the Assumption this year. There in the courtyard, a large wall mounted plaque reminded me that the wars were our wars – not French wars, not Commonwealth wars, not Polish wars, not British wars, but our wars, our struggle against evil and oppression, our attempt to bring peace and goodwill amongst the nations of the world, that we as Christians believe Christ came to establish. That Boulogne Plaque – On this spot, 9th – 10th November 1920, The Body of the British Unknown Warrior who gave his life for the cause of Liberty, Rested for His last hours on French soil- the body lying today in Westminster Abbey. What a tangible reminder it was to me of the link between the battle fields of Europe and the green, green fields of home. What a tribute to the boys, men and women, of our nation a memorial that didn’t have to be.
The souvenirs I began talking about are to a great extent less significant examples of those national memorials I have just spoken about – they remind us of, keep us in touch with, those whom we hold dear and whom it is our privilege never to forget. Sadly we have to admit that the end of man’s inhumanity to man shows little sign of abating, as is seen in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflict bear witness to.
So what are we doing here today. Just carrying on a tradition handed down to us by past generations? More than that surely . We are here because we must be, to pray, to give thanks and to make a commitment that we will do whatever lies in our power to prevent the atrocities of the past world Wars ever happening again. To quote the current ‘in phrase – we’re all in this together, each of us has a role to play in the drama of securing peace not only in our time, but for our children and children’s children.
I’m so emotionally affected by the young people of today and see far more that is good in the younger generation than many others do. As well as looking to the past we must look to the future, a future that we have helped to shape but which they will live with. And what will that future be like ? I don’t know nor do you, but my belief and hope is taken from the words of a hymn that many School boys of my generation were taught to sing with gusto:
‘What can we do to work God’s work, to prosper and increase
The brotherhood of all man kind, the reign of the Prince of Peace.
What can we do to hasten the time, the time that shall surely be
When the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.’
To finish now – One young victim of the Afghan war who lost one of his legs cried in disbelief How the hell am I going to turn my life over? How am I going to walk again?
I wanted to say to him, I can tell you Mark. You’ll walk again and when you do, it will be with your head held high, your face beaming with pride, proud that you played your part in bringing us nearer to the time when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. May that time be not too far off, and for you and all in whose footsteps you have followed, God’s name be praised.