The village and its church lay at the bottom of the hill, which was steep, and so the parade must go slowly or else the elderly could not keep up. Everything was wet from the rain of the night before, the grass was soggy and the stone damp and mist hung in the air which made our sheet music in the band go soggy and limp. It was far warmer than people had expected from early November. The normal uniform of heavy coasts and two scarves, gloves and four layers proved impractical for the day. You could see the warmth from the marchers faces when the parade had finished, the British Legion looked pale and faint and wheezing, the various cadets had sweat on their brow and the kiddies in the St. Johns Ambulance were red faced and panting with wide open mouths like tired little dogs.
The vicar was a woman and was short and stocky. She wore a dark hooded cloak over her shoulders, but this was removed when the service moved into the church and she wore her usual white robe. The church was small and so the many people who had attended the service were crammed onto the pews, including my weak and frail grandparents and many had to stand. We in the band had to sit to the side usually appointed for children to read books and play with quiet toys and puzzles during services and for the twenty-two of us it was far too cramped and our playing showed our dislike of the position.
The vicar, ten minutes into the service, took to the pulpit and began her sermon for Remembrance Sunday. She fiddled with the microphone, somewhat confused with the instrument, and cleared her throat:
“We are gathered here today to mourn the tragedy of war. Our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers and grandparents have all suffered from war, as have many among us here today. They sacrificed their youth and often their lives for their nation, out of courage, out of loyalty and patriotism, and, most importantly, out of love of God.”
Half of the band sighed and I smirked, only to be scowled at by the conductor. It amused me how many of the band were like me and saw no link between respect for the dead of war and the Church. The assumption that the vicar had made was ridiculous, even my grandparents were wide eyed with shaking heads.
“As many of the sins we fall for come from materialism, consumption and greed, so does war. Possibly the greatest of sins, war is a beast. It takes what does belong to it and gives nothing back but more sin, more greed and death, misery and grief. War is exactly what our Lord God stands against; the mistakes that we, as mortal beings, make must atoned for before the Lord so as he can forgive us. For, without His forgiveness, what else can we take from war?”
Ten minutes of similar drivel was spoken, condemning humanity for brutality and acting wrongly before she left us to mull the whole philosophy over. When I left the church I saw two of the British Legion members talking to current serving soldiers. They smiled and laughed, shook hands and patted each others shoulders, the old and the new. I overheard a bit of the conversation –
“Sometimes I worry about my soul. But in Helmand you don’t really have enough time to think about it too deeply, you just get over it and deal with it later.”
“Yes, indeed, when I was in France during The War I killed a man, a German obviously. But I didn’t worry about my soul and still don’t now because I didn’t actually kill a man, I killed the enemy and that was my job and that was that.”