Moderator encourages reflection on WW1 ahead of outbreak anniversary

On the 4th August 2014 the nation will commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of what became known as “The Great War”. Over 35 million soldiers and civilians became casualties of that war; 15 million died and 20 million were wounded. On any measure it is almost impossible to comprehend the suffering and sacrifice that lies behind the four year conflict which followed the declaration of war.

George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it", and I wonder if today we are just too blasé about our remembering, because in too many places in the world we are seeing a repetition of the same behaviour patterns that lead us deep into confrontation and conflict instead of understanding and compromise. For me, this is what makes the commemoration of the outbreak of the Great War so important – indeed it is an opportunity, over a period of four years, to embed the practice of remembrance in such a way that it leads to the kind of political and practical action which breaks the seemingly endless cycle of conflict.

On the 4th August at 10am Glasgow Cathedral will host the Commonwealth World War I Centenary service. This will be followed by a wreath laying ceremony at the cenotaph in George Square. These are ticketed events but will be broadcast live on BBC television.

War was declared at 11pm on the evening of the 4th August 1914 and drawing upon Sir Edward Grey’s famous remark that “the lights are going out all over Europe”, Westminster Abbey will hold a candlelit vigil at 10.00pm, which will be broadcast live on BBC TWO. The Abbey will move from light into darkness until one candle remains at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, which will be extinguished at 11.00pm marking the exact moment of the declaration of war. The Vigil will feature music, readings, poetry, and contemporary reflection.

Vigils to mark this solemn anniversary will also take place at 10pm on the 4th August in the High Kirk of Edinburgh and in Dunfermline Abbey. These are designed to provide an opportunity for people to reflect on events from a hundred years ago, assisted by prayer, the reading of Scripture, poetry and music, and to ponder the lessons to be learned for our time. People from all walks of life will be most welcome to attend these services. Look out for notice of other local events in your area.

On Sunday 10th August more than 8,000 people from across Scotland are expected to attend a Drumhead Service at Edinburgh Castle to mark the outbreak of World War One. This service will mark the start of the Scottish commemorations programme covering eight significant points in the conflict. The Drumhead Service will replicate those held on the frontline 100 years ago where neatly piled drums were used in place of an altar. Following the service the congregation will be invited to follow in a procession down the High Street to a replica Commonwealth graveyard which is being created in Holyrood Park where more than 100 headstones will represent the names recorded in the Rolls of Honour at the Scottish National War Memorial. Those gathered in the park will be invited to lay wreaths or markers to reflect the sacrifice made by so many.

Finally, you may be interested in holding a vigil or making special reference to this anniversary in services on either side of the 4th August. If you are looking for resources to use in relation to this poignant anniversary, the following links may be of help:

Church of Scotland Starters for Sundays WW1 Centenary material

Church of England World War One Liturgy

Westminster Abbey First World War Vigil Liturgy

“When you go Home, tell them of us and say,
For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today”

John Maxwell Edmunds