By Rev Campbell Dixon MBE
A few years ago I had the great privilege to accompany, as chaplain, a group of 17 year old lads from schools in this borough on a journey of remembrance to the Somme and Flanders Fields, led by a former mayor, alderman Fraser Agnew.
The lads, or should I say young men, represented schools from both Protestant and Catholic tradition. The trip was the culmination of a programme aimed at, amongst other things, gaining an understanding of how so many men from both the north and south of Ireland marching off to Europe, both Catholic and Protestant - Protestant and Catholic with differing ideologies - who were to stand together to fight a common foe, and indeed, to die together.
The well kept cemeteries and memorials left me with an indelible impression of the tremendous sacrifice made by the many who left these shores.
This year we commemorated the start of World War 1 and on Remembrance Day many stood in silence to mark the supreme sacrifice of all those who gave their today for our tomorrows. And it is fitting and right that we do so with humble gratitude.
What struck me in the Somme and other areas we visited, amongst other things, was the number of crosses - crosses standing alone in the cemeteries and crosses engraved in the thousands of white Portland gravestones. Indeed in the Ulster Tower at Thiepval you will find examples of where soldiers had carved out the shape of a cross on lumps of chalk from the battlefields. The cross - that symbol of hope - that reminder of the supreme sacrifice of the sinless Son of God who gave his life that all who turn in faith to him might live.
You see at the end of it all the cross offers hope to everyone when there is nothing else to hope for. When death is real. And this is because Jesus died on a cross all those years ago to give us hope - the assurance of life eternal.
For those who fought in those battlefields death was a reality, it was all around them and yet the cross was the sign of hope. Hope for those who put their faith in Christ, put their faith in the one who loved them and died for them and who assured them and indeed us today that there is much more in and beyond this life. You see if we too look to the cross of Christ, we are reminded of the one who invites us to trust Him (no matter who we are), and to know that peace which the world cannot give, that peace the world can never take away.
‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them’.