(The Sunday nearest Armistice Day and St Martin’s Day, 11 November)
St Martin, soldier and bishop, is patron saint of soldiers and pacifists. The quotation at the end of these prayers comes from Martin Luther King. These prayers were prayed at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 12 November 2000.
A LITANY OF REMEMBRANCE FOR A CENTURY OF WAR
1 August 1914, Lieutenant Henri Desagneaux.
‘At last in the afternoon I catch the first train which comes along. The compartments are bursting at the seams with people from all classes of society. At level crossings, in the towns, crowds singing ‘La Marseillaise’ gather to greet the troops. The general impression is the following: it’s Kaiser Bill who wanted war, it had to happen and we shall never have such a fine opportunity again.’ Father forgive us,for we know not what we do.
11 November 1918, David Lloyd George, prime minister.
‘At eleven o’clock this morning came to an end the cruellest and most terrible war that has ever scourged mankind. I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came to an end all wars.’
30 September 1938, Neville Chamberlain, prime minister.
‘This is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.’ Father forgive us, for we know not what we do.
20 January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, Wannsee.
‘It is the Reichsführer’s will that the Jewish question is settled … in one clean sweep. The total Jews concerned – 11 million.’
4 September 1942, Chaim Rumkowski, addressing the Jewish ghetto in Lodz.
‘I must tell you a secret: they requested 24,000 victims, 3,000 a day for 8 days. I succeeded in reducing the number to 20,000; but only on condition that these would be children below the age of ten.’ Father forgive us, for we know not what we do.
16 July 1945, in the New Mexico desert, physicist Robert Oppenheimer.
‘I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’
3 October 1957, at the Labour Party conference, Aneurin Bevan.
‘You call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm … I do seriously believe in the rejection of the bomb. But if resolution 24 is read with its implications, it means that as decent folk you must immediately repudiate all the protection and all the alliances and all the entanglements you have with anybody who uses or possesses or manufactures hydrogen bombs. I find it a very, very serious dilemma.’ Father forgive us, for we know not what we do.
30 January 1972, in Derry, a 19 year old member of the ambulance corps.
‘There was one man what wanted to try and get across. He stepped out and a soldier came round the corner of the Rossville Street flats. The man raised his hand in the air – right out – and shouted ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot’. Seconds later he was just shot in the head.’
26 July 1982, Archbishop Robert Runcie.
‘In our prayers we shall quite rightly remember those who are bereaved in our own country and the relations of the young Argentinian soldiers who were killed … A shared anguish can be a bridge of reconciliation. Our neighbours are indeed like us.’
11 July 1995, in Srebrenica, General Radislav Krstic.
‘Here we are on the eve of yet another great Serb holiday. Finally it has come, to take revenge on the Turks.’ Father forgive us, for we know not what we do.
Heavenly Father, you gave us a Martin for our century. He said:
‘One day youngsters will learn words they will not understand.
Children from India will ask: what is hunger?
Children from Alabama will ask: what is racial segregation?
Children from Hiroshima will ask: what is the atomic bomb?
Children at school will ask: what is war?
‘You will answer them. You will tell them:
These words are not used any more.
Like stage-coaches, galleys or slavery: words no longer meaningful.
That is why they have been removed from dictionaries.’
Heavenly Father, in giving us this Martin’s hope, give us also his courage;
the same hope and courage as of unnumbered slaughtered millions whom we now remember,
and bring us with them home at last.
In Jesus’ name we ask.