Being a fan of detective stories, I enjoy Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mystery “The Pale Horse” was opens with Jane Marple receiving a letter postmarked London W2, from Father Gorman, a parish priest in Paddington. When asked about her friendship with Father Gorman, Miss Marple remembers times when she had been an army nurse during the Great War and Father Gorman had been chaplain with the South Irish Horse.
The South Irish Horse was a real army regiment. One of their members was Second Lieutenant Martin Jestin, later of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who died at the Battle of Messines on 7th June 1917. Martin Jestin had enlisted in the South Irish Horse in 1914 and had risen through the ranks, being commissioned as an officer in the Royal Irish Fusiliers in February 1917. Martin Jestin was the uncle of our own Martin Jestin; the centenary of his death is this month.
Agatha Christie was meticulous in her research, particular in her eye for detail. Her use of the name of a real regiment would have found resonance with thousands of her readers; that she did not feel a need to use a fictional name is perhaps an indication of people’s preparedness to recall the reality of the history through which they had lived. Miss Marple’s memories of Father Gorman seem to prompt a deep reflection, perhaps the young priest had been the great love in her life. How many of Christie’s readers would have shared that sense of pain, that grief at the loss of the one person they loved?
Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, in which the Great War claims those dearest to her, describes a world peopled by countless Jane Marples, yet it is not the stuff of dusty history books. The romances of the years leading to 1914, the brief loves of the war era, left hundreds of thousands of young women who would never marry. The men who died, the men whose lives were irretrievably changed by physical and sociological wounds, became a lost generation. Twenty years later, in 1939, it would all begin again, and another generation of Jane Marples would be left to ponder what might have been.
Our Europe of 2017 is a Europe that is still recovering from the Great Wars of the Twentieth Century, the shadows of those times still shape the politics of Europe as the shadows of 1916 still shape the politics of Ireland. The deaths of Martin Jestin, and all who fell in the Great War, are as relevant in 2017 as they were in 1917.
The Bible is the story of God’s people remembering their history, as they learned from the telling and re-telling of that history, so may we learn from the telling and re-telling of the stories of our past.