As I have moved around various churches during my ministry appointments, there has always been the traditional wooden honour board with the names of those who died in service and those who served. Those who died would have an asterisk next to their names, and those who returned often lived out their lives with severe injuries both mental and physical . My great uncles served in WW1 and my father and uncle served in WW2, and I remember being shown letters from the battlefields of WW1 written in pencil, and with a surprising high command of English expression in contrast to later generations of working class men.
Australia lost 46,000 (killed) and 134,000 were wounded or captured in WW1, and when we consider the population of the land was about 3 million it was an enormous unbearable loss of the flower of Australian manhood, so many families mourned their losses for the remainder of their lives and also destined many young women to suffer the loss of never having their own family, never to marry, becoming the ‘maiden aunts’ of that generation, so changing the structures of our society.
The effect of war caused stress with the many families of the returning men who never regained their full health. My uncle became a hopeless alcoholic and never worked full time again, spending bouts of being dried out at the Veterans hospital in Heidelberg. Before the war, he was an outstanding footballer and was being nurtured to play in the AFL (then the VFL). My father also carried mental scars during our growing up years. Many families post war suffered similar difficulties, however there was in those days the larger family circles and with that support we managed.
I have long looked at the horrific losses and suffering caused by war and thought about the futility and wastage. In the township of Bacchus Marsh where I live, there is the Avenue of Honour and on each elm tree, planted 100 years ago, there is a single name, on each tree, of each soldier who never came back and died on a battlefield at an average age of 18 years. Each time I drive out or into town through this avenue, I think of those young men whose lives were cut short and became only memory.
At the end of WW1 the nations said “never again”, however, it did start again as WW2 and within 20 years of the close and signing of the armistice of the so called Great War. Will war ever leave us? Can nations ever truly live together in peace? At this moment in time, there is an emerging threat from Nth Korea and an American promise to prevent their nuclear development. So we live in difficult uncertain times. Hopefully a peaceful sensible solution will be arrived at and we can all sleep well at night.
For myself, I believe in the defence of our country, I am not a pacifist and I think we need a sufficient defence force supported by our allies if threats ever come. But one thing is clear, if wars ever come then no one wins, and on this Anzac weekend we do remember with grateful thanks for our men and women who have given their lives and service for the defence of Australia, and at the same time pray for peace.
The final word comes from Jesus who speaks of the Kingdom of God which is present now, and will one day come in all its fullness, where the sword will become a plough and the lamb will lay down with the lion. A world where there will be no wars and no illness, where everlasting life will be our inheritance. Let us work now to be that kingdom present but not yet fulfilled. Let the light of our love, compassion, and forgiveness so shine before people, that we glorify our Father in heaven.