Taking the Somme personally

May 17th, 2006 | By | Category: Ireland

On 1st July 1916 three young men from our church went “over the top” and died at the Somme, two of them, Michael and David Goodwin, have graves at Thiepval, the third, Percy Horner, has no known grave, his name is carved on a memorial arch.

At 7.30 a.m. on Saturday,1st July this year, we will remember them, not to be political, but to be personal, because war is a deeply personal thing.

I remember being in France ten years ago, sitting in the middle of a little French village on a fine August evening. The village wasn’t very big, two streets and a square, but it was a beautiful place; the buildings were very old and built from soft yellow sandstone. I was a perfect place. The bench on which we sat faced the war memorial: a large granite rock, it was surrounded by white stone chippings and a black post and chain fence; everything looked as fresh as if it had been placed there the day before. There were nine names inscribed on the stone, ‘Mort pour la France’. It was hard to imagine nine men taken away from this little village, there can’t have been many young men left.

The next couple of days, I noticed a lot of memorials. As weal ked down the street of a nearby town, there was a plaque in memory of a resistance fighter who had been killed by the Nazis; further down the street, on the wall of another house, there was a plaque announcing that a man who had lived there had been deported by the Nazis and had died in Dachau concentration camp.

There was a feeling in France that remembrance was a deeply personal thing. This feeling came home most strongly when driving down a country road. At the roadside there was a small, plain stone; it stated baldly that on this spot two young men had been shot dead by Nazi soldiers. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to have been the father of one of those men, passing up and down that road, thinking of all the hopes there had been for the future, the man’s heart must have been broken. Remembrance is a very personal thing.

1st July is not about debates about being Unionist or Nationalist, or British or Irish; it’s about remembering people because people are of infinite worth. In our church it will be about remembering Percy and Michael and David, remembrance is a personal thing.

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