Not that I knew it at the time but Frank and I shared the same bedroom. I only discovered this a few years back when I googled the address of where I grew up. The result came up as a complete surprise. Corporal Frank Tomlinson, of the King’s (Liverpool Regiment), only son of Frank and Elizabeth Tomlinson. He was killed in Flanders 16 May 1915. Frank was just 20 when he fell but unlike me he did not grow up in Waterloo. What I was able to find out about him was that he attended Bedford Road Council school in Bootle. Otherwise that's about it. But here was someone who knew my bedroom, its shape and view, and looking up from my bed - the coving and cornice. Above all the sounds of the sea, just 150m away at high tide - the crashing of the waves, the ringing of the buoys and regular blasts of the foghorns. These I missed so much when at the age of 18 I left home for college. Frank would have missed them too as he passed with his Regiment through Le Havre in the early months of the war for the trenches of Flanders. It must have come as terrible shock when the telegram arrived at Portland Avenue. An only son. This year Remembrance Sunday has a very special resonance as it marks the centenary of the Armistice which ended the fighting of the Great War, those four years of unrelenting battle which were to change the world forever. It now grips the public consciousness maybe more than any other event in our history. Over the years our perceptions of this terrible conflict has changed - why and how it was fought. But what makes the First World War stand out was the way it affected everyone, whoever they were and wherever they lived. It was a People's war and it scarred an entire generation. It was also the first war which was fought on an industrial scale with industrial-scale casualties. On that same day in spring 1915 no less than 1907 other British and Empire combatants were killed. No less than 1907 other families receiving the same terrible telegram. “It has been said, 'time heals all wounds,'” reflected Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, the mother of the murdered president. “I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” At this point my Apple iMac unexpectedly and inexplicably crashed – and away far from home there was nothing I could do to revive it. But now home, I have connected it into my desktop and remarkably managed to re-activate it and retrieve my blog.
But where was I? Where was my blog going? Certainly for the first few years after the war, both World Wars in fact, most people tried hard to forget, especially those directly involved in combat. Such was their suffering. Even so, nothing is ever gained by denying reality and certainly today, all those years later, we have a duty to remember. Hence this year the many forms of commemoration “lest we forget.” I was particularly moved yesterday by the Weeping Window at the Imperial War Museum in London. Certainly Remembrance was at the heart of the Jewish identity as the people of Israel sought to remember key events in their past, those times when they found God to be faithful in testing situations. The remarkable deliverance from slavery in Egypt is re-enacted each year in the Passover. But other festivals too recall times of great hardship and considerable pain, of existential threat. Hanukkah recalls how the Jewish people seized back their temple from the Syrian Greeks who had humiliated them by erecting an altar to Zeus where pigs were sacrificed. Some seven battles were fought over seven years. Purim celebrates the deliberate plan to exterminate all the Jews in the land, as recounted in the book of Esther. Such commemorations were communal, for everyone. Their aim was to engage the imagination as if you were really there and not simply recalling an event in the distant past. Pharaoh’s chariots were actually pursuing you into the Red Sea, a terrifying experience. Except you found God faithful. Bringing God in our national acts of remembrance is both necessary and a challenge. Necessary because God is at the very heart of our suffering – the cross of Jesus shows that. Where tears are wept, so there is God. And a challenge. We make mistakes and more, we do wrong. Often we may try to forget that we tried to forget God or worse, tried to conscript him into our cause. Nevertheless, as the apostle Paul rejoiced: “If we are faithless, (God) remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself.’ (2 Timothy 2:12f) And so at the heart of the saddest book in the Bible we read “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22f)