Three years ago I contacted one of the elite of worshippers at the church of St John the divine in Brooklands Road. It was about about a gross omission in the celebration of Remembrance Sunday. Nothing happened until this year when he confided to me that I was controversial.
I felt like saying "surely not as controversial as Jesus Christ was", but I said nothing.
There are so many families in the UK that harbour favourite memories of loved ones who were killed or damaged by war. In our family my favourite was uncle Jimmy, a great big six foot plus professional rugby player. He came back alive but he was a wreck mentally and physically.
Like many, many families in Britain we, too, have our war heroes and we remember them. There's nothing wrong with Christians remembering their war dead, but there is something twisted about solidly excluding the great majority of war dead, especially other Christians.
Little is known for certain about his service. He never talked to anyone about it, so much is inference and gossip. It seems certain that he was a commando, and was missing behind enemy lines for a month. He lived off the land. A constant reminder was that Jimmy, a staff sergeant, had been personally decorated by General de Gaule with the Croix de Guerre. We all honoured his memory like others do for their loved ones.
In discussing it with other volunteers not associated with the church it emerged that no one had noticed how tribal it was in Britain. We suggested that perhaps it applied to the rest of the world by implication, but there was nothing implicit about it. There was not the tiniest mention. Then we wondered if there were similar days in other countries. Even then it was not the Christian way to exclude 99% of the war dead. Jesus went off into some place which was the land of the gentiles and this is to symbolise that Christianity knew no borders; but we do.
We honour the war dead from WWII but only those within this sceptered isle.
In one sense it would be understandable if Russia, having lost 20M, gave us a cold shoulder for only losing 300,000.
Back to that Sunday three years ago, I had been told by a lovely dotty old lady that Remembrence Sunday was to celebrate that Britain won the war. "Aren't you proud to be British" she asked me?
She was very sincere about it. No one, certainly not the parish clergy, had ever told her the truth about the dead from WWII. She believed in the Britain of the Napoleonic wars. Who could blame her; she was very old and the revered clergy led her and all the others out of the church to the outside war memorial? As they paraded they sang the British National Anthem.
It was no less tribal than the Mau-Mau, or the congolese, or the Serbs in Bosnia. Far from Britain winning the war all on her own, less than 1% of the war dead were British. But there was never any mention that others were involved. The dotty old lady had no grounds for thinking that we were were bit players in the war. The 99% that had been air brushed out of the Remembrance were from such countries as America, Australia, Belgium, Brasil, Canada, China, Germany, Holland, India, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and even more bit players.
The attitude of the parishioners is all the more baffling because many of them have an astonishingly strong faith.
All the suffering of these nations counts for nothing in our eyes, not even a cursory mention. This is an uncomfortable truth for our Church. But true it really is, and it is far too serious to be swept under the carpet. The distilled essence of the matter is that we honour the dead who were born with British birth certificates and never those without the requisite certificate. I find it difficult to understand how a Christian faith like ours can honour our dead to the total exclusion of any other Christians. There were Christians who died in Poland, Russia, Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Norway, America, Canada, and Greece. We give them a cold shoulder on Remembrance Day.
I have tried to remind members of the congregation that we owe a Cristian debt to those Christians, but it only resulted in a sudden surge of indifference. Nothing changed. There is no mechanism for correcting deviations.
It is an outrageous scandal for those who sacrificed their lives to win the war and who were from overseas.
To the right of this article I have placed an extract from November's parish magazine. Nowhere does it mention the 20M Russian dead, or anybody else. I have snipped out the names involved to prevent embarassment. For the most part they are people that I know well and I would not want to upset them. Even so, this issue is too serious to be glossed over. For a Christian Church to behave like this is difficult to swallow.
There is no excuse for ignorance, most of the ones who "keep up appearances" are well aware of the issue but they don't care a great deal.
Click here to return to the front page.