At Mill Road Cemetery on the Somme, at 2pm we gathered at the grave of David Goodwin; the last resting place of his brother, Michael, was a few yards away. There were four Dublin Catholics and an equal number of Protestants. A member of the Knights of Columbanus, standing alongside a Church of Ireland cleric. The ceremony was brief: the Twenty-Third Psalm, Binyon’s ‘Ode to the Fallen, the Two Minute Silence and the Lord’s Prayer.
On 1st July 1916 three young men from our church went “over the top” and had died in this place; Michael and David Goodwin, have graves, the third, Percy Horner, has no known grave, his name is carved on a memorial arch.
We walked up to the cemetery to remember them, not to be political, but to be personal, because war is a deeply personal thing.
I remember being in France in 1996, 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. It 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, ‘Morts 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 we walked 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.
Standing in Mill Road Cemetery this afternoon was not about being Protestant or Catholic, not about debates about being Unionist or Nationalist, or British or Irish; it was about remembering people because people are of infinite worth. For us, it was about Michael and David, and Percy who were amongst the 72,000 in that battlefield who had no known grave; remembrance is a personal thing.