Letter: Strive for peace while remembering our war deaths

Canon George Burgon writes to say it is important to keep striving for peace while remembering those who died for freedom.

Friday, 9th November 2018, 11:40 am
Updated Monday, 12th November 2018, 1:52 pm
Her Majesty the Queen steps back to pay her respects after laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, during the Remembrance Sunday service. The Queen led the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in London, as commemorations were held across the UK in honour of those who died in wars and conflicts. Thousands of current and former military personnel joined the Queen, together with the main party leaders, who also laid wreaths. 2010 marked the 90th anniversary of both the Cenotaph and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, who was interred in Westminster Abbey. The Queen was the first to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph, followed by other members of the Royal Family, Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, and opposition leader Ed Miliband. About 4,500 ex-servicemen and women took part in a march past the Cenotaph.

The Cenotaph in London, designed by the well-known and respected architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1920, is a very emotive symbol of the recognition of those who gave their lives in wars.

It is the focus for occasions of Remembrance for the fallen as well as a recognition of the basic human desire for peace.

At the end of the First World War in 1918 there were innumerable casualties involved and time was needed as well as sensitivity to create appropriate cemeteries and memorials.

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The first Cenotaph in London was a temporary edifice erected as a focal point for a peace parade in 1919 before the building of the present structure in Whitehall. The word Cenotaph comes from the Greek, meaning “an empty tomb”.

It is a symbol not just for the known fallen but also for those whose mortal remains were never found, such as those lost at sea, blown to smithereens on battlefields or bomb sites, the prisoners of war and the victims of genocide, those evaporated in nuclear attacks or those who simply never returned home.
In conflicts today, not every casualty can be found. There are many, many of our brothers and sisters and little ones whose resting places are known to God alone.

The empty space in the cenotaph is a symbol of those who have been lost to us but not eternally abandoned.

It is also a symbol in the Christian faith of the empty tomb of Jesus who was the crucified victim of warring factions and oppression some 2,000 years ago.

One of our Easter prayers refers to it as a “bed of hope” which all of us has in ourselves because there is room in every one of us to accommodate what Jesus said and did and died for, so that we can become more like him.

The empty tomb of the Cenotaph and the empty space in ourselves keeps alive for all time the “rumour of God” and His visions for our world; “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).

Do we not dishonour the fallen if we do not strive for peace?

A lot will be said this month about remembrance, and rightly so, but we must also think, speak and work for peace in our time, in our world and in our hearts.

The symbol of the Cenotaph encourages us to explore this yearning and to find how it can be fulfilled in our time and in the future.

It could be that this year there will be official representatives from those nations we once fought against.

If so, this would add to the dignity and symbolism of the Cenotaph as we commemorate this and every act of Remembrance in the life of our nation.

Canon George Burgon, by email