It was 1917 and the horrors of the First World War were truly etched in people’s minds. Initial optimism that the war might be over by Christmas had been well and truly blown away in the dark clouds of 1914. Things if anything were getting worse. The bravery of so many young men who fought for ‘King and Country’ was not in question, but the dreadful stalemate of events on the Western Front had come at a terrible cost. In fact, danger was not so far away for on June 13th 1917, London suffered its highest loss of civilian casualties as German airplanes bombed the city. The Americans had just entered the war and the British were desperately trying to make headway in the muddy fields of Ypres (more commonly known as Passchendaele) but were being repeatedly pushed back by German artillery. In September the British revised their strategy but made slow progress (a mere 1000 yards), but edged ever closer to Passchendaele. What the country needed most of all was hope – and some good news. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, General Edmund Allenby began an attack on Turkish defences which stretched from Gaza to Beersheba in Southern Palestine. The Turks began to retreat towards Jerusalem with the Allies in pursuit. They were aided by a group of Arab fighters led by T.E. Lawrence, an Arab speaking English archaeologist later known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Lawrence and his guerrilla fighting force had already captured Aquaba on July 6th. So, aided by the photographer Lowell Thomas, Lawrence’s fame began to spread as he was depicted as a hero in gleaming white robes who rode to victory on a camel, a warrior-prince of the desert.
Lawrence’s courage and resourcefulness were not in doubt but his depiction as a British hero was a real morale boost to all those who had suffered so much back at home. Finally, General Allenby was able to march on foot into Jerusalem thus ending the four century reign of that city by the Turks. The Prime Minister David Lloyd George described the capture as a ‘Christmas present for the British people’. Finally, Passchendaele also fell towards the end of the year.
This Remembrance Sunday we will be remembering all those ‘heroes’ who have served their country in times of war and of great need. We will remember those with great stories of their own alongside those whose stories are largely unknown but who suffered much – with many paying the ultimate price. In truth, no act of war can ever be called a ‘good news story’, but we can remember with pride and gratitude all those ordinary men and women, who didn’t think of themselves as remotely heroic, but still gave so much, so that we might be free – whose exploits we gratefully remember and commemorate on Remembrance Sunday.
The Christian will be familiar with another quiet hero who rode into Jerusalem so many years before (not on a camel, but a donkey), who also suffered much and eventually paid the ultimate price by his death upon the cross. At first glance his death seemed to be the epitome of innocent suffering and vanquished hope – but, in reality, his death was the means by which the greatest victory of all was achieved, offering the greatest prize of all, to all those who put their faith and trust in him – life in all its fulness and the forgiveness of sins.
So, please join us this Remembrance Sunday as we commemorate all those who gave up so much for others in the context of the one whose life, death and resurrection brings the greatest hope of all.
“On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us” 2 Corinthians 1.10b