Last Sunday I attended the Berkshire service of commemoration for the start of the Great War in 1914.
It was a time for sombre reflection. A whole generation of young men were put at grave risk of death, and lived in atrocious conditions in the trenches, as the combined powers of the West and Russia sought to defeat the militarism of Germany and her allies. It led many to say this must be the war to end all wars. Instead a badly drafted Peace Treaty and political convulsions in Germany led to another world war 21 years later.
The good news we can celebrate is there has been no major European or world war since 1945. The construction of NATO, the commitment of the USA to preserving the peace and protecting the borders of post 1945 Europe, and the move of the major western countries to democratic government have succeeded in creating a new peace loving climate in much of Europe that is our precious inheritance. Doubtless all those who lost their lives in the brutal slaughter of 1914-18 would be pleased that belatedly Europe has come to its senses and sees the futility and danger of fighting over borders and government control of territory.
Today we see too many civil wars in the Middle East. We see continuing instability about borders and governing areas in the east of our own continent. The EU has been needlessly provocative to Russia, and Russia has replied with the annexation of the Crimea. We need to make sure wiser counsels prevail. The EU should not be seen as a threatening force by its neighbours, and the neighbours need to respect the rule of law and the wish for peace by most European peoples.
I thank all those who read, sang and spoke at the service. The words and hymns chosen were deeply moving. We both commemorated the dead, and gave thanks that we live in an age which has not sent European young men to their death in wars of industrial proportions.