Sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2021

Isaiah 2:2-5, Ephesians 6: 10-17, John 15:9-17

We will remember them

We give thanks today for the soldiers who served and died and for those who served and survived in the First and Second World Wars and subsequent actions. From this Parish of St Michael and All Angels 83 died in the First World War and their names are recorded on the brass Remembrance Board over there and in the Remembrance book.

Seven years ago there was a wonderful display of 888,246 of these poppies at the Tower of London, called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. Each poppy represented one of the servicemen from Britain and across the Empire who died the First World War. 83 of the ceramic poppies in that wonderful display represented the soldiers from thisParish. I have found out about those brave men, so their names become ‘real people’. I have discovered their addresses and found out about their families. 5 of them were in the Royal Navy and 78 were in the Army. This research is now on the Church website and in Parish Magazine Articles in October and November this year.

Arthur Thomas Batchelor Edwards died on 1st November 1918, aged only 19 years. His great-nephew Neil Edwards comes each year to hear his name and remember him. Last year in Lockdown Neil joined in the ‘lovely Service’ via YouTube on his phone standing outside the Church in the ‘glorious sunshine’ and he sent me this message: ‘I walked back past Arthurs old house, and just reflected on the fact that he walked out of that door, never to ever return. I’ll never know if he had enjoyed a pint of beer, or held a girl’s hand, things we take for granted in life.’ 

In the roll-call of names we hear two soldiers’ initials rather than full names. I will tell you more about them. W.G. Smith is William George Smith who was a Corporal in the Gloucester regiment, serving in the Army for ten years. He was wounded five times in the War and died of wounds on 30th June 1918 aged 27. His wife lived near Maidstone and must have come to this Church.

J.M. Youngman is John Marshall Youngman who lived at Bower Hill House, 104 Tonbridge Road, Maidstone opposite St Michael & All Angels’ Church, where the Osteopathy building is now. John was the eldest son of John Henry and Adelaide Edith Youngman. John had a sister called Nancy, known as Nan and a brother Harold who was later a Doctor in Cambridge and had two children, Jilly and Julian. John, Harold and Nancy’s father Henry was a corn and cake merchant and had premises in Westborough. John was a Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment.

John Marshall Youngman was awarded the Military Cross on 28th December 1914. The Military Cross (M.C.) is the third level military decoration awarded to Officers. This decoration was awarded to John Marshall Youngman for an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy. John was later killed in action on 23rd June 1916 aged 20.  The St Michael’s Parish Magazine of September 1916 has a photograph of Lt Youngman from the South Eastern Gazette.

This tells us about: ‘the late Lieut Youngman, who, it will be remembered, a few months ago gallantly laid down his life in the act of saving a number of his comrades. One of the Chaplains, who knew him well, has since written as follows: ‘His death has left a great blank in the lives of many of us out here – I know it has in mine. I am thankful to have known him. Quite unconsciously he taught us all a lot. His life and passing bid us lift up our hearts for a life so brave, so lovable and unaffected.’ The Vicar, Fr John Best wrote: ‘Surely such a commendation as that should act as an inspiration, an uplifting power, to all our other brave young fellows, who have gone from this parish, prepared, if need be, to surrender everything for the great and righteous cause.’ John’s mother gave a silver Altar breadbox and two silver mounted glass cruets to St Michael’s Church in memory of her son. John is buried near Ypres at the Dranoutre Military Cemetery.

I have done lots of research about those who served King and Country from this Parish of St Michael & All Angels, Maidstone and also those from All Saints Maidenhead, our previous Parish. I was so pleased in April this year to visit the Church in Lincolnshire where my Great Uncle John is remembered on their Remembrance Board. My Great Uncle John Gates was a groom at Irnham House and enlisted for the Army on 10thAugust 1916 aged 36 years. This was after the terrible Battle of the Somme when so many British soldiers died. Conscription was introduced at that stage and being a groom was not a reserved occupation. When he left his son Charles was ten and his daughter Mildred only 4 years old. 

How terrible for my Great Aunt Sarah to see John leave to go so far away to fight in the War. John was a Driver in the Royal Engineers, and his Battalion was 131st Field Company. He was part of the British Salonika Army on the Macedonian front. He was killed in the Battle of Tumbitza Farm on 27th November 1917. His Grave in Lembet Road Military Cemetery has John Gates’ name, his regimental badge and a cross. The Commonwealth War Graves has information about his grave. The family choose a personal inscription to be on the lower part of the grave-stone. The Gates family chose to have the moving words: HE DIED THAT WE MIGHT LIVE.  

All those who served and died for King and Country whom we remember today ‘DIED THAT WE MIGHT LIVE’. 

In our Gospel Bible reading Jesus says ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ (John 15: 12-13) Today we give thanks for the Soldiers who laid down their lives for their friends, so that we can live in peace. We give thanks for those who served, ready to lay down their lives, and survived. We are not all called to lay down our lives, but we are called by Jesus to ‘love one another’ and to give love, help and care to those in need. 

There are some members of our Church family who remember the Second World War.

Pamela Waite, who is joining in this Mass via YouTube from Abbeyrose House next door, was 9 years old in 1939. Pamela remembers helping to dig the back garden at home for the Anderson Shelter which had wood to hold up the side. She lived at 16 Upper Fant Road and they had to share an Anderson Shelter with the next door neighbours at 18 Upper Fant Road. They often had to sleep in the Anderson Shelter. At St Michael’s School they had to march to the Shelter on the Playground in a raid or climb under their desks if it was too late to walk outside. Ann Rust lived in Douglas Road and when a bomb fell at Tovil it blew the French Windows of their home. 

Ann Rust lived in Douglas Road and when a bomb fell at Tovil it blew the French Windows of their home. 

Valerie Stickland remembers Battle of Britain Day. They had an air raid shelter at her home in North Croydon with sandbags outside, where they spent lots of time. There was a noisy ack-ack gun in the woods behind their house and Valerie collected shrapnel, which she still has in a box. Here is some shrapnel that Valerie has kept in a tin.

She says: ‘They were such uncertain times lived from day to day’. Valerie and her sister were evacuated to Northampton in November 1940 when they lived on the first floor of a Manor House at a small boarding school. They came home in the Summer of 1941. 

Peggy Thresh joined the WAAFs as a flight mechanic, servicing all kinds of aero-engines. Today we honour Peggy as a Second World War Veteran in our Church family. 

We pray for peace and long for that time when ‘Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.’ (Isaiah 2: 4) The Epistle reminds us that although we do not fight in physical battles; as Christians we need to be clothed with God’s armour to be spiritually protected and close to Jesus each day; ‘ready to proclaim the gospel of peace’. (Ephesians 6:15) We all need to be ready to explain and talk about our faith; invite people to Church and welcome new people so we share the love and peace of Jesus with people we meet.

Jesus calls us his friends if we follow his commandment to love. (v.14) Let us all grow in friendship with Jesus by turning to Him in troubles and joys; knowing His care and strength and sharing love and kindness with other people. Whatever troubles we face now and in the coming weeks; God wants us to know His love and help, to share His love with others and remember that God is: ‘our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.’ Amen