Soon it will be Remembrance Day again, and wherever we are the Remembrance Day services will be very different from those we remember from the past. In all churches the social distancing related to Covid 19 will mean that many of the large gatherings, sometimes including young people, cannot take place. It will be the same for us in Stretton.
In my ministry I was always involved in churches where Remembrance Day was a very significant event and many of the area would turn out to be part of it. But that didn’t mean it was universally accepted. As a Minister I was very often challenged about it by people who had varying views on what they saw as the glorification of war. I understood that, and to some extent shared some of their concerns. During my time white poppies emerged in our church services, and later purple ones, but always with some degree of contention.
I was always on the look-out for stories and events that could maintain our acts of memorial and yet at the same time take into account the very differing views people had about it. Recently, on a television news programme, I heard of a soldier from the first world war who would have served that purpose admirably. He was the most decorated soldier of the First World War and yet never held a gun.
His name was William Harold Coltman, and was from Burton on Trent. He received the Victoria Cross, 2 Distinguished Service Medals and 2 Military Medals. To be accurate the last two denominations are not 2 of each but Medals each with a Bar.
His story is a story of absolute courage. At the heart of it is a never-ending concern for his fellow man. William Coltman never lifted a gun because he was a stretcher bearer. On so many occasions he put his own safety and well-being to one side to aid the wounded, sometimes just in front of enemy lines. The citation for one of his first Distinguished Service Medal sums it up which included the following,
“Conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in evacuating wounded from the front line at great personal risk ….. which undoubtedly saved many lives…. His absolute indifference to personal danger had a most inspiring effect upon the rest of the men.”
William Coltman was not a person who you would expect to have received these awards. He was one of the many ordinary people who volunteered. He was a Private when he received his first medal and never rose above the rank of Lance Corporal in that war. Yet here was a very ordinary man, but with extra-ordinary qualities of compassion, the essence of the First World War, I guess.
Ordinary people with extra-ordinary gifts came to the fore at that time, from those whose only concern was for others, not self. As the Coronavirus surges once again amongst us, it is that same spirit which will see us through, but have we become such a self-centred society that now this same giving to others, and same concern for others, will evade us?
Can we be ordinary people with extra-ordinary concern for our fellow man, or will our own personal wants and needs over-run us? That is for history to decide, but for us to influence in the very significant challenge that will face our country and the world in the coming months. May each one of us, our village, our society and our world rise to meet that new challenge.
Rev David Shaw
In view of the reduced form of our Remembrance Day services this year, Michelle Morris, from the Oak and Black Dog, has suggested that it could be added to by commemorating Armistice Day. She suggests a short time of remembrance by people holding a 2 minute silence outside their own homes at 11am on the 11th of November (Armistice Day from World War 1) similar in many ways as was done for the NHS during the Covid lockdown.