Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th August 1914. A day later that famous Kitchener poster first appeared with the pointing finger. Men of all ages joined up. One million men volunteered in the first 4 months.
In January 1916, when volunteers were running short, conscription came in for single men between the ages of 18 and 40. By June 1916 that was extended to married men of the same age. Later it was extended again, to those up to the age of 51.
Hasten, O God
St John & St Mark’s in Bury is just one building now. But there were 2 distinct churches at the time of the 1st World War. In total 123 men across the 2 churches lost their lives during the conflict. 123! 123 brothers, sons, uncles, husbands, fathers, lovers. 123 gaps in the pews.
I wonder how many of those church-going lads had Psalm 70, or words like it on their minds? Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me. May those who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.
Men aged 18-51, volunteered or called up for war. Sobering that it’s also that age group missing from our pews now – but now it’s through choice or inclination. Through not seeing sufficiently good reason to be here.
Fred and Robert
The oldest of the 123 was Fred Calderbank, aged 45. Fred was a machine fitter. He worked in the mills in Bolton and Bury. He lived with wife Lilly and their children on Raven Street in Bury. I have a photo of Fred, looking very smart in his civvies.
The youngest was Robert Austin and he was 18 years old. Robert lived with his auntie Salome and uncle Thomas in Freetown, Bury. I have no photo of Robert.
Fred and Robert both served in the 1st/5th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. They were both Privates and they were both killed in action in Gallipoli in 1915. The 1st/5th landed at Gallipoli on 5th May. Fred died on the 7th May and Robert 6th June. They weren’t conscripted, they both volunteered. One older, one younger. Both answering the call.
Because of people like Fred and Robert we’re here today. They volunteered not knowing what would happen next, not knowing the consequences. And we should remember them – and all the names on your plaques and memorials too.
But if 123 died at St John’s and St Mark’s, then how many more were wounded? Twice that many perhaps? How many hundreds served? There’s no plaque to them – or to their families. No memorial to the people who had to get on with life and living when the war was over.
And from 1918 to 1920 the world had to cope with the Spanish flu pandemic. It’s said to have infected 500 million people, about a third of the world’s population at the time. Estimates range from anything between 17 million to 100 million people dying.
I’m drawn back to Psalm 70 again, verse 5: But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay.
Heroes and heroines today
But also of course this should remind us of what’s happening now. The heroes and heroines of today. Some are wearing military uniforms, but many aren’t. Some may be on this Zoom or you may have family members or neighbours who every day are showing courage and bravery and self-lessness.
And, so, I wanted to share something rather special with you. It’s called Beatitudes for a Global Pandemic. The words were written by Jayne Manfredi, based on Matthew chapter 5. You can see the original on Jayne’s blog. I posted this on our church website a few months back and it’s the most viewed post this year.
Beatitudes for a global pandemic
Blessed are those who stay indoors for they have protected others.
Blessed are the unemployed and the self-employed, for their need of God is great.
Blessed are the corner shopkeepers, for they are the purveyors of scarce things.
Blessed are the delivery drivers and the postal workers, for they are the bringers of essential things.
Blessed are the hospital workers; the ambulance crews, the doctors, the nurses, the care assistants, and the cleaners, for they stand between us and the grave, and the Kingdom of Heaven is surely theirs.
Blessed are the checkout workers, for they have patience and fortitude in the face of overwork and frustration.
Blessed are the refuse collectors, for they will see God despite the mountains of waste.
Blessed are the teachers, for they remain steadfast and constant in disturbing times.
Blessed are the church workers; the deacons, priests and bishops, for they are a comforting presence in a hurting world as they continue to signpost towards God.
Blessed are the single parents, for they are coping alone with their responsibilities and there is no respite.
Blessed are those who are alone, for they are children of God and with Him they will never be lonely.
Blessed are the bereaved, for whom the worst has already happened. They shall be comforted.
Blessed are those who are isolated with their abusers, for one day – we pray – they will know safety.
Blessed are all during this time who have pure hearts; all who still hunger and thirst for justice; all who work for peace and who model mercy. May you know comfort. May you know calm. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all. Amen.
Jayne’s Beatitudes also comes with this great cartoon by Dave Walker:
“Blessed are those” was delivered by Ian Banks to St Zoom’s on Sunday 8th November 2020, as part of the Remembrance Service. St Zoom’s is made up from congregations in Bury, Heywood and Rochdale. Thanks again to Dave Walker for the Cartoon, which first appeared in the Church Times.