Last Sunday was of course Remembrance Sunday which comes round every November. This year it was very special, as the day fell on the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the day when fighting in World War I ended at 11.00 a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, marking the effective end, in most parts of the world, of the Great War. It is therefore not surprising that this particular Remembrance Sunday has been the focus of particular attention.
As usual the Cooper School and Glory Farm Primary School held a remembrance service in St Edburg’s last Friday evening and there was the traditional civic service, beginning at the War Memorial with the two minutes silence at 11.00 on Sunday. Both were very well-attended, with over 600 in church on Sunday and others in the churchyard to whom the service was relayed on loudspeakers.
Also from Friday evening to Wednesday, the church hosted an exhibition to remember the 131 men from Bicester who died in the armed forces during the war, about 1 in 25 of the town’s population of around 3,000 people then. There was also an exhibit about the Red Cross Hospital in Bicester House and a display of paper doves made by pupils of St Edburgs School focusing on peace, hope and love. Silhouettes in the churchyard, and four in the church representing four of the Bicester dead were a powerful and evocative reminder of the tragedy and grief of war, as was the placing in the churchyard by the Scouts of a cross for each of those from Bicester who died.
The exhibition was prepared by the Bicester Local History Society who carried out painstaking research on each of the fallen from the town, and by St Edburg’s own Heritage Group. Apart from upwards of 900 people who saw the exhibition before, during and after church services, our open day on Saturday had 400 visitors through the day who were also able to enjoy refreshments produced by the church volunteer catering team.
In 1918 there was a service in St Edburg’s to mark the Armistice. According to the local press of the day, the tone of the service was very patriotic as was the decoration of the church with Union Jacks. This was hardly surprising given the unprecedented death and destruction brought by the War along with extensive change and disruption to society.
100 years later the tone and approach are very different, both in the services and in the exhibition. The people of Bicester were joined at the service on Sunday by representatives from our twin towns in France, Germany and Poland and we remembered all war dead everywhere. As well as remembering with gratitude those who fought and gave their lives we remembered also the cruelty and violence of war, and the needless loss of life. We did this in a spirit of reconciliation and hope that such an event may never happen again.
One of our readings on Sunday was from the Book of Jonah. He was sent by God to prophesy death and destruction to the people of Nineveh who were enemies and oppressors of the Israelites. However, when they repented, God forgave them. God loves us all – we are after all created by him – and wants us to love one another and live in peace. He has no exceptions to this rule. We should always look for opportunities for reconciliation and living right with everybody, including strangers and those we do not like.