Reflection from Ypre

In 2023, Darcy Moore from the Collingwood Football Club spoke to the 100,000 people gathered.  Part of what he said is this: “We… commemorate the sacrifice of not just the Anzacs, but all servicemen and women who served Australia all around the world…  who are serving our country’s interests, both at home and abroad, in war and in peacekeeping operations. To the veterans … for your sacrifice … doing what we do today, somehow honours your legacy and what you’ve done for our country.  And … to the families of those serving and those veterans: Too often, your stories go untold …we just want to acknowledge the pain of war that runs through so many families across this country. It’s a real honour for us … to honour you and your service.”

Some years ago I visited war graves in Belgium. I sat above the graves at the memorial monument.

A woman from our group sang Pie Jesu. I could feel her voice echo in the trees, vibrating through the graves below. I sensed it resonating with the men who gave their lives so others had freedom in theirs, “Pie Jesu, Pie Jesu… Dona eis requiem (Merciful Jesus, grant them rest).” The violence inflicted upon them set beside the peacefulness of the place they now reside.

Ridiculous as it may sound I spoke to some of the men, “G’day!” I said to them. I felt at one with them in their presence. Though they are contemporaries of my grandfathers, both passed away as old men, these men died young and will forever remain so. They are brash and reflective. I sensed them speaking to me. A dialogue with people so other, so beyond me, but I learnt that though harmony is important, being able to “live” a life matters more. Eric Bogle once wrote a song that the Fureys’ took up. It was called No Man’s Land. It was written about a soldier called Willie McBride and its tone is to highlight the pointlessness of war. Later, Stephen Suffet added a couple of verses spoken from Willie McBride’s point of view in answer to Bogle. He says, “If my life was wasted, I died in vain!” Willie goes on to say that he will resist  the oppressor, whatever his name.

Later that day in Ypre we were witnesses to the daily commemoration in the town. At 8.00 pm each day for over 100 years the town stops to pay respects to those who enabled the freedom and life they now enjoy. Let’s just say that Willie McBride would be well pleased.

The prayer the town prays is as follows:

Our God, our light, our defence. Breathe your spirit over the wastes of our world. Protect our memories from the infection of hate that we may live free from fear and resentment. May the light of Christ lead us out of the valley of death onto paths of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace for the sake of the world your son came to save. Amen.