The Armistice between Germany and the Allies, at 11.00am on 11 November — the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — 1918, is remembered every year.
The war began when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, on 28 July 1914. Britain entered the conflict just over 100 years ago, on 4 August.
Attitudes towards the war in 1914 were mixed. The poet Jessie Pope wrote a poem entitled ‘Who’s for the game?’ persuading young men to enlist. She depicted the Great War as a kind of game.
One radically opposed to this viewpoint was Wilfred Owen. Owen was a soldier and poet, who wrote ‘Dulce et decorum est’ in response. He pulled no punches, describing the horrific events of the battlefield.
Over 9 million soldiers died, with another 21 million wounded. The Great War was known as ‘the war to end all wars’. Yet sadly, within 21 years, it was followed by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
The Poppy Appeal began in 1921, to commemorate those who died in World War 1. Now the poppy symbol is used for the remembrance of those who died serving Britain in other wars. 40 million remembrance poppies are made each year.
While the two wars are fully covered in the history books, how are they actually perceived by young and old in our churches today?
Eddie Orchard, 87, from Dewsbury Evangelical Church experienced life during WWII. He said, ‘My school was evacuated from Woolwich to Canterbury to avoid the bombing. However, it still wasn’t safe so we moved again to Wales. I could see the planes flying over to attack Swansea’. Around 800,000 children were evacuated from UK cities.
One lasting effect of WWII was food rationing. This began in 1940 and did not fully end until 1954. The first foods rationed were bacon, sugar, tea, butter and meat. Eddie said, ‘My stepmother used to give me part of her rations because there wasn’t much food’.
Abigail Knight, 16, attends Dunmow Baptist Church. ‘I think it’s important to remember how many people suffered, so we don’t let the same thing happen again’, she said.
This echoes the philosopher, George Santayana: ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. ‘Remembering the wars also acts as a reminder that people can die young, suddenly, or both, and that we need to share the gospel before it’s too late’, Abigail continued.
Eddie said, Personally, I don’t want to always remember the war. It’s true that we can learn from the past, but I think the frequency of war programmes broadcast nowadays risks creating a blasé attitude to it’.
Megan Swailes, 19, from Staincliffe Baptist Church, said, ‘As long as sin is in the world, there’s always going to be some sort of power struggle that leads to war. Though I wish there wasn’t any need, I think sometimes it’s a necessity in order to prevent greater bloodshed’.
Eddie agreed: ‘Looking back on WWII, I think it had to happen. Hitler was attacking European countries and I don’t think Britain could have stayed out of the conflict’.
The Bible has a lot to say about war. More than 90 battles are recorded in the Old Testament alone and in the whole Bible there are over 130 references to war, as well as many to soldiers.
For example, in Luke 3:14, John the Baptist tells Roman soldiers not to extort money or accuse people falsely, but be content with their pay. On this matter, John Jefferson Davis, author of Evangelical ethics: issues facing the church today has written: ‘The soldiers were not to abuse their authority, but John made no suggestion that entering the kingdom requires leaving the army, or that the profession of soldier is inherently incompatible with true repentance and faith in God’.
He continued: ‘Anyone who enters the field of battle cannot reckon on leaving alive. Anyone who is called to military combat should consider well the state of his soul; in an uncertain world, God does not guarantee anyone unlimited time to repent’.
War raises profound issues that should lead every Christian to examine their conscience and act accordingly. And, as Megan said, ‘I think that it’s good to remember that whatever horrors war brings, or has already brought, God is ultimately in control at all times’.