Remembrance 100: A letter to our grandchildren

news banner David and MartinEach remembering a grandfather­ who fought in, and survived, the 1916 battle of the Somme on opposing sides, friends the Revd David Pickering, Moderator of the United Reformed Church National Synod of Scotland and Pfarrer Martin Henninger, Minister of the Lutherkirche in Frankenthal, travelled to the Somme together and then wrote jointly to a future generation:

‘To our grandchildren in Britain and Germany, and wherever they may live:

‘Five years ago, we discovered that both our grandfathers fought in the battle of the Somme. David’s grandfather had left him a box with name-tag, horseshoe and German war biscuits. Martin’s had left an account of his time as a soldier and a box of letters to his wife. Interestingly, these men had the same Christian names: Frederick and Friedrich.

‘As grandsons who had become friends, we decided to visit the area where, 102 years ago, our grandfathers were fighting as enemies.

‘We know little about their movements during the Battle of the Somme, but we stood at the grave of David’s grandmother’s cousin and in the valley where David’s grandfather’s regiment moved forward to Mametz Wood, which was defended by German soldiers.

‘We saw the craters caused by massive explosions. We tried to imagine what it must have been like to see “the enemy” a few hundred metres away across no-man’s land and then marching towards you; to listen to the constant noise of the bombardment; to wait to go ‘over the top’; angst turning into aggression.

The Battle of the Somme film credit wikipedia‘From many parts of the battlefield, one can see the statue of Mary atop the steeple of the Basilica Notre Dame at Albert, holding out the infant Christ to the world. Significantly, in 1916, the steeple was hit by a shell, but the statue held on. Christ was not absent from the terrible things that were going on during the battle, but he was suffering, too. The real God is to be found in brokenness. This was the experience Martin’s grandfather brought home from a terrible night of shelling at Misery, a village not far away, and it formed his life as minister.

‘Our redeemer died that even the evil of this most terrible slaughter might be forgiven. Can a Europe built on the debris of so much suffering and guilt take on this message and become a lasting sign for reconciliation and peace? What will the world be like when you, our grandchildren, are in charge of political and economic affairs and take a leading role in our churches?

‘Peace, we know, does not just come. "Blessed are the peacemakers," Jesus says, and for this, our commitment, our prayer and our action will be needed.’

This is an edited version of a letter written jointly by the Revd David Pickering and Pfarrer Martin Henninger. The full version is available in an easily downloadable pdf booklet, One hundred years after the First World War: Looking back, looking forward. Together with the Accompanying worship material on the theme, the booklets offer a rich resource of reflections, stories, poems and hymns designed to help churches, small groups and individuals mark the approaching centenary of the end of the First World War. Hard copies can be bought from the URC Online Store.

Picture 1: From left, the Revd David Pickering and Pfarrer Martin Henninger: David Pickering
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icture 2: First World War soldiers at the Battle of the Somme: Wikipedia Commons