For the fallen

When I woke up this morning I saw a beautiful and moving service in Westminster Abbey on television, commemorating the centenary of Britain’s entry into World War on August 4, 1914.

My husband, who is not a Christian, commented that he thought the service should have been “non denominational.” Instead, it was beautifully poignant and Christ-honouring, with readings from the Bible giving dignity and hope to the occasion. As the service progressed, candles in the congregation were extinguished, reminding people of the great spiritual darkness that spread across the globe as war began.

My great uncle Charles MacKinnon (Charlie) died in the Battle of the Somme in France in 1918. His portrait hung in the hallway of my childhood home for years as a sad memorial. Curious, I did a search for his name on Google and was surprised to come across a site mentioning him (http://assevillers.80.free.fr/index_en.php?menu=centenaire&p=cemetery/mooney). Charlie was a Lance-Corporal in the 19th Battalion who was close friends with a man killed by German artillery, Corporal John Mooney. The 19th Battalion, as part of 5th Brigade and 2nd Division, was involved in all the major campaigns and battles fought by the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in France and Flanders throughout 1916, 1917 and 1918. In general terms, combat conditions were appalling – far more appalling than those encountered on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The AIF suffered severe casualties because of the superiority of the German army artillery and machine-gun sections in their front line units. John Mooney was killed during the night of 29-30 August, 1918. With several other soldiers, Charlie volunteered to retrieve his body. As the small group carrying the body approached the battalion’s outpost line, the Germans shelled them again. Charlie was killed in the shelling and later buried with his friends in a cemetery west of Peronne in France.

He was in his late twenties.

Today’s London service brought to mind a beautiful poem that I wanted to share with readers. It’s always resonated with me, maybe it will with you too:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam

The “Ode of Remembrance”, given above, is an ode taken from Laurence Binyon’s poem, “For the Fallen”, which was first published in The Times in September 1914.

Lest we forget.

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