Reflection for Remembrance Sunday

Based on Ruth 3:1-5; 4; 13-17 and Mark 12: 38-42

Offered by the Rev. Liz Bowyer

Ironically, this morning as we think about the topic of war and remembrance, we might be inclined to think of men and all things military.

Not so, our two stories from scripture shining a spotlight on just a few of the aspects of the everyday lives of three very vulnerable women.

In the continuing saga of the story of Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, we meet them where they are at.

Where they are at in our text for this morning is at the threshold of the threshing room floor.

Here, Ruth’s bold actions, as encouraged by Naomi, will eventually lead to new life and a new identity for all involved as forebears of our brother Jesus.

For us, bringing only what we know of our own cultural norms, it can feel a provocative story for us to wrap our heads around, this story from the Book of Ruth.

However, in keeping with this morning being Remembrance Sunday, instead, let’s just marvel at Ruth and Naomi’s capacity to effectively model for us the very important skills of compassion, commitment, tenacity and resilience in a very harsh context.

Our second reading from the 12th chapter of Mark’s gospel is also a reading about a vulnerable widow.

Indeed, the poor widow’s presence and actions provide a jarring contrast to the religious leaders’ arrogance and preening in the context of the marketplace, the Temple, and at the banquet table.

The poor widow’s faithful action of giving abundantly out of her poverty is not lost on Jesus as later in the text, he upholds her behavior as exemplary for all who have eyes to see and ears to listen.

In a nutshell, then our stories from scripture this morning provide us but a glimpse of the lives of some of the most vulnerable of women in our scripture canon, each in their own very specific cultural context.

Though these stories deserve a much larger unpacking, in our own context of remembrance this morning, their function is simply to set the scene for another more contemporary voice this morning.

This is the voice of our own Patricia Hesketh who has volunteered to bear witness to the courage, commitment, and resilience of her own family members, friends, and neighbours growing up as she did in the context of wartime Britain.

May all this and more continue to inform our faithful living this Remembrance Sunday and in all the days to come.  Amen.

Offered by Patricia Hesketh

World War II Through the Eyes of a Child in England

I feel the need to state very clearly that the real heroes of war were the men on the front lines and the brave people who supported them.  I am so grateful for their sacrifice – it changed our lives and brought peace.  I realized recently that very few veterans are able to share their story and the same goes for children like me of World War II, so I volunteered to share my memories.

I grew up as a child in England in a town called Wallasey, which was located across the River Mersey from Liverpool. I was 7 when World War II broke out and I remember being fitted for gas masks at school.  It was traumatic hearing two kindergarten children screaming – they had mickey mouse gas masks but that didn’t seem to help at all.  A year later I was lined up and ready to be evacuated and I remember my mother pulling me out of the line at the last minute.  I was an only child and on the scrawny side so I must have looked pathetic with my backpack on my back. I sadly discovered later many evacuees were either physically or sexually abused.

The bombing was severe in Liverpool and we received a lot of the bombs that were meant for the big shipping docks.  The bombers could not judge the English winds!!!  I attended the Wallasey High School for Girls and one night it received 3 bombs – one was right in the middle of the school and shattered most of the windows.   We had to cross the crater on wooden planks to get from one side of the school to the other.  As an imaginative 9 year old, I found this to be very exciting.

I have to give a lot of credit to the Governments of the day. All school children were given milk every day and you had to drink it unless you had a letter from your Doctor.  We also had school dinners at noon. They were very good meals and you HAD to eat what was in front of you.  If there was a shortage of potatoes, they substituted with a quarter of a slice of dry bread.  They improvised and we learned not to be fussy eaters.  Rationing was well organized and I remember when we were lucky to have an egg, I had the job of spreading it thinly on the pan and cutting it in 3 pieces for my parents and myself.   I was interested to read at a later date that during the war years, we were all on the thin side; the incident of heart disease and other conditions almost disappeared.  I remember standing in line early in the morning at the bakeshop and my Mother standing in line at the butchers.   It took half an hour and this scared me as they ran out of things so fast that I had to be ready to make an instant decision when it was my turn.  Yikes!

My Father was an Air Raid Warden then he was in the Home Guard (affectionally known as Dad’s army).   He always bemoaned the fact that he wasn’t on the Front but I found out much later that he was too old and heavily involved as an agent in essential shipping in Liverpool.  Our Church became a first aid station and my parents worked there in shifts.

The worst night for us was when two houses down the street received a direct hit and we lost our front windows.  We had put a bed on blocks so it was high enough to have a thin mattress under it.  That night my Mother shielded me with her body and I can still feel her rapid heart beat on my back when I think about it   Thanks to blackout curtains and tape on the windows we were not hurt by flying glass.  My parents told me that the occupants of the demolished homes were all away on holiday and were so lucky.  I believed them until I researched it later and discovered they were all killed.

My hobby if you can believe it was collecting shrapnel.  Shrapnel was a small piece of a bomb. There was just one rule – my parents had to okay it before I picked it up.  Sometimes it was very hot and sometimes there were bombs disguised as bottles of milk.  So it was a pretty dangerous hobby.

I remember the day our prized wrought iron gates were collected to make bombs.  My father prized his front garden though the back was a mess.  It was all about show.  He was devastated but in typical get on with it determination, the neighbours shared whatever wood they had and made very ugly gates but they did the job and kept the dogs out   I am not trying to glamorize war but it did bring out the best in the people I knew.  We never wasted anything and for our sewing lessons at school we used bleached flour sacks.   Of course this mentality has become a problem in my life as I have a hard time putting things in the garbage.  I am sure many from the Depression years have the same problem.

After discovering that being under the stairs and under beds did not save lives, the era of the bomb shelters started.   The first was the Anderson shelter, which was in the back garden and underground.  This was a disaster.  Due to the rain they were flooded most of the time.  We had huge ones at the school and we had to go underground and walk on benches to avoid getting wet.  The poor teachers were trying to keep us dry and they either read to us or they put paper on the walls for us to draw on.

The second shelter was the Morrison shelter and this was a huge metal structure, which took up our whole dining room.  It was designed to withstand a house falling on it.  Thank goodness we never had to test that theory.  My Mother made going to the shelter fun and we could make tea and eat cookies in it though we could only sit and not stand.  One day my Aunt joined us for tea and we had such a good time laughing that we missed the all clear.  I adored my Aunt – she was shy but she had a wonderful sense of humour and sense of fun.  My Dad came home from work and wondered what was going on.  Lots more laughs.

After all this devastation, my Mother and I and my favorite Aunt and her son were evacuated to the safety of the Potteries.  We rented a lovely bungalow and were welcomed by our neighbours.  I will never forget coming home from Church on Sundays and discovering that someone had cut our grass or done some other cleanup duties for us.  The funny thing is that no one owned up to being the Angel but we discovered much later that they had a roster and got to work as soon as we predictably left the house.  It was such a good feeling to be looked after as my Uncle was overseas and my Father was not allowed leave.

Education was a disaster as most of the teachers went off to war or were working the land and they were so desperate they brought in retirees.  I remember getting the cane for talking.  The top 5 students sat in an elevated position and I was at the other end of the class.  For years I thought I was dumb until I discovered that there were 3 years in the class and I was the youngest.  Once I understood that, I started to do well at school but it took a long time.

Our neighbour was German and was regarded with suspicion and was quite lonely but I admired my Mother who often shared a cup of tea with her.  Also our Church sponsored visits from Germans after the war.   My parents took part in this and were hosts.   I learned forgiveness through them.

One last short story.  My Mother and Aunt were guests on a TV station sharing funny stories from the war years.  My Aunt recalled her 7 year old son who hadn’t seen his father for 5 years and the war had just ended saying “Mummy let’s have a baby and surprise Daddy”.

In closing. Thanks to two Uppity women in my life (my Mother and my Aunt) kindness, love, creativity, humor and sharing prevailed in spite of the ongoing fear in our world.   I was so lucky to have them in my life.  I always felt loved.

Rev. Elizabeth Bowyer and Patricia Hesketh reserve all rights © 2018.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this reflection with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.