It has been one hundred years. A hundred years since the end of the “War to End All Wars.” A hundred years since the guns fell silent over Europe, and the world began to take stock in what just happened. In those hundred years, there have been other wars, including the greatest conflict the world has ever seen. In those one hundred years, as those who have had living memory of it have died, we have had to come up with new ways to try to understand, connect, and internalize what Remembrance Day means for us as we move into the second century of this day.
When I have the privilege of conducting worship services in nursing homes or extended care facilities, the truth is what I say is seldom remembered. I often keep my remarks short, because what really connect with people is the music. So maybe that’s another way that we can try to make that connection. I have to give credit where credit is due, as Antonina suggested it, by connecting with and singing three songs that not only originated with the First World War, but also they show us how the attitudes around war shifted over the course of those four years. It was a seismic shift in societal attitudes, and we explore it in song.
We may shake our heads at this, but when the First World War was declared in August of 1914, there was a tremendous outpouring of enthusiasm for it. It was seen as an outing, an expedition, a chance to see the world. Community leaders, including clergy, beat the drum for recruits to sign up for God, King, and Country. They’d go out, have a grand old time marching around, see glorious battle, and be home for Christmas. Early on, the British forces, and by extension, Canadian Troops, adopted a music hall song that many of you may either know, or at least heard of. It became a marching song as soldiers strode proudly in formation, unaware of the horror that lay ahead of them.
So let’s sing the chorus of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”.
[sing It’s a Long Way to Tipperary]
The horrible reality of mechanized and industrial warfare soon became apparent to soldiers in the trenches. It truly was a long way to Tipperary… and not in a good way.The generals were far off from the battlefields, and had no understanding of what they were sending their troops into. As the war dragged past Christmas, the hope, optimism, and desire for glory faded and faded fast in the mud, as both sides literally entrenched themselves in the fields of Northern France and Belgium. Boosting morale became central to the war effort. It was done through treats, food, letters from home, and songs. One of these, written in 1915, after it was clear the war would not be over soon, did work to boost morale, but it didn’t have the same kind of optimistic bounce that Tipperary did. Instead it at least did give a nod to what the soldiers were facing, but encouraged them to plow through it. Asking them to “Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag.”
[sing Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag]
This song would be sung across England throughout 1916, and yet the war dragged on, lament would rise up. In this time, Canadians emerged as their own identity, and not just an extension of the British Empire. It would be in this time that John McCrae would compose his famous poem, that the symbol of the poppy would become more and more prevalent, and the horrid realities of war would really sink in… not just for those who served, but for everyone.
In the midst this, a new song arose and became popular among Canadians who served. No one knew who wrote it, it had the character of a maritime folk ballad. It was especially poignant for those in the Navy, but it had a deep resonance with anyone who heard it. In it, the theme of lament that had continued to grow, and this song is now so engrained in the Canadian identity that it connects us with those who lived through that conflict of one hundred years ago.
Farewell to Nova Scotia. May we sing it in such a way to connect with the lonely sailor who has lost brothers in the war, and who faced an uncertain future of his own.
Sing Farewell to Nova Scotia
O God of peace, we pray for the day that dimly shines,
when war is but a distant memory,
and conflict among the nations may cease.
Help us to connect with and learn from our past
so that we may become living beacons of your love.
Help us to see the potential of plowshares instead of swords,
of pruning hooks instead of spears.
May the instruments of war, be turned into instruments of peace.