The Revd.

Matthew J Hughes

01689 856931

Associate Rector

The Revd.
Stephen Broadie
 01689 852843

Assistant Priest

The Revd.

Bill Mullenger

020 8462 9624


November Leader

This month in Farnborough we will join with countless communities around the world in commemorating the end of the First World War, a war that has become synonymous with waste and slaughter.

Over 37 million people lost their lives either directly or as a consequence of the conflict and over 10 million military personnel perished, with Britain losing 886,000 soldiers. No community was left untouched.

It is hard for us to imagine loss on this scale, let alone the horrendous experience of the combatants. One way in which we can gain some sense of what this generation went through is to delve into the writing and poetry that emerged from the experience. Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Richard Aldington, Ivor Gurney and Robert Graves, to name a few, write with power and vividness. From the German point of view nothing comes close to Ernst Junger’s devastating ‘Storm of Steel’.

Some time ago Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for reading Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Futility’ at a War Remembrance occasion. The implication was that by selecting this poem Corbyn was acting in an unpatriotic and disrespectful way. This criticism seemed totally unwarranted to me, for what better person is there to teach us about the horrors of war than someone who was actually there and was eventually killed in action one week before Armistice Day. If we feel the need to revel in the victory of the war to re-state our national pride then Owen, Sassoon and many other writers are not going to help us.

Owen’s poems are a relentless criticism of the bitterness, futility, cynicism and waste of war. For Owen, war was nothing short of murder in ‘Mental Cases’ he wrote;

‘These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished. Memory fingers in their hair of murders, Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.’

Sassoon likewise felt the same. He described the much honoured Menin Gate as a ‘sepulchre of crime.’ For example, in his poem ‘Decorated’ he wrote in response to a crowd’s enthusiastic greeting of a war hero;

I asked a grinning news- boy, “What’s the fun?” “The beggar did for five of ‘em!” said he. “But if he killed them why’s he let off free?” I queried – “Most chaps swing for murdering one.” He screamed with joy; and told me, when he’d done - “It’s Corporal Stubbs, the Birmingham VC!”

Indeed Sassoon went further than all his contemporaries when he made a lone protest against the continuation of the war resulting in his statement of protest being read out in Parliament. This got him admitted to the Craig Lockhart Psychiatric hospital!

Of course, some would prefer not to focus too much on what they would think were the ‘dismal’ sentiments of such poets, but strike a more patriotic and uplifting sound with poems such as Julian Grenfell’s ‘Into Battle.’ Grenfell went out of his way to kill the enemy and his biographer Nicholas Mosley wrote, ‘he accepted the war and even enjoyed it. He killed and was soon killed.’

The war was lived and experienced by millions of ordinary men and women whose experiences were never recorded like the famous poets I have mentioned. They were our fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles and great uncles and great aunts. It is their sacrifices, losses, hardships and deaths that we acknowledge this month and we must use their experiences to inform successive generations of the brutal realties of war and the dangers of hatred and Nationalism.

This month is a marking of the end of the Great War, perhaps not a celebration. I will leave you with a quote from another famous participant in the war, Vera Brittan, who lost all that was dear to her, including her brother and fiancé, ‘All that a pacifist can undertake – but it is a very great deal – is to refuse to kill, injure or otherwise cause suffering to another human creature and untiringly to order his/her life by the rule of love, though others may be captured by hate.’

We do need to keep in mind as we approach this month’s commemoration, that it is probably not a coincidence that many of those who experience violence, including Christ himself, are the strongest advocates of pacifism and non violence.




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