Moderator addresses national service on 'deeply personal nature of war'

A faded photograph and a wartime telegraph were used by the Moderator to illustrate his address on the deeply personal nature of conflict at the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh.

National War Memorial
The Moderator and his chaplain Rev David Denniston at the Scottish National War Memorial.

Rt Rev Dr Russell Barr produced the image of his wife’s great uncle, 21 year old David Wyllie in his Black Watch uniform along with the original telegraph sent to his family in East Lothian informing them of his death in France in 1917. He was speaking as guest preacher at the Memorial’s annual service of commemoration, which was also attended by HRH the Princess Royal, Princess Anne.

Dr Barr’s address was delivered at approximately the same time the Chilcot Inquiry into the British government’s decision to go to war in Iraq was reporting its findings on Wednesday morning. Dr Barr said

“The photograph of David Wyllie and the telegraph are poignant reminders that although the 1st World War has often been described as carnage on an industrial scale, there was nothing industrial about the terrible news brought by this telegraph to the Heugh farm on the outskirts of North Berwick.

The telegraph also helps me remember that although politicians and commentators will all have their say about the Chilcot report, its publication is very personal for the families of the 179 British service men and women who were killed and the many who were wounded, some with life changing injuries.

Telegraph and letter
The telegraph and letter Black Watch soldier David Wyllie's family received in 1917.

David Wyllie

It is also very personal for mothers like Rose Gentle whose son Gordon was killed by a road side bomb and who has campaigned with such determination and dignity for the truth of why the war was conducted.

Speaking to people after the service who are used to listening politely to such sermons, they told me the telegraph had caught their attention and made them listen harder. I find comfort in my faith that the God who knows and loves each one of us always keeps it personal. I hope others touched by conflict regardless of time or context will find that hope and comfort too.”

Last week Rev Neil Gardner addressed the Scottish National War Memorial on the eve of and overnight vigil marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, and also the following morning.