Once more it is good to be able to send greetings alongside distributing the Newsletter and Readings for Holy Mass this weekend. A technical blip last week meant that not everyone received the e-mail containing the Newsletter. If this happens again please do go to our Parish websites where the Newsletter is also displayed and from where it can be downloaded.
This weekend will be different for us all as we have entered a new phase of Lockdown. For those who have returned to church, sadly, we too have closed our doors for a second time this year despite some impassioned calls from the Bishops for the Government to make an exception for Places of Worship. Whilst it is a loss, it also reminds us of the centrality of sacrifice to ourselves as Christians. It is often easy to forget that Holy Mass is celebrated on the altar of sacrifice and connects us directly to the events of Calvary. At the core of our individual and collective identity is sacrifice for a greater cause. On Good Friday the sacrifice of the Son was for the redemption of the entirety of humankind. In our own country during Penal times the sacrifice was the inability to worship publically, and the price paid by those who were caught doing so was martyrdom. Our sacrifice now is for the health of the society of which we are a part, not least for the protection of the vulnerable and weak and to maintain the NHS’s ability to cope with unprecedented demands on its wonderful human resources.
After sacrifice comes hope. More correctly, sacrifice is made because of hope. After the burial of Christ the faith-filled women went to the tomb, initially to offer veneration to the physical remains of Jesus of Nazareth, but ultimately they came away with news that Christ had risen. That which the Son of God had come to destroy and which appeared to have claimed Him was itself vanquished forever: death. On the eve of the closure of our church doors Max George received the Sacrament of Baptism. For the first time since our churches opened in early July I had to put out the sign saying that church had reached its maximum seating capacity ! And before any subconscious link is made between the baptism and a surge in numbers, I have to say that the personal guests sharing Max George’s special day were well within our Covid-secure guidance at just four which included his parents. On a bright, sunny morning, parishioners gathered to be spiritually fed before a time of fasting began. Despite many entering church with heavy hearts and a sense of foreboding, they departed cheered and with the gift of hope in what they had just witnessed and participated in: spiritual birth, and a small child whose happy face and sense of presence, gave us all a hopeful optimism about an unknown future.
Sacrifice is very much at the fore of our thoughts this weekend as we mark Remembrance Sunday, giving the nation an opportunity to reflect on the human price paid for the purchase of a fragile peace achieved after world-wide conflict. Not only do we recall the fallen of the Great War (1914 – 1918) and the Second World War (1939 – 1945) but, appropriately, all subsequent wars and conflicts. Any life lost, is the ultimate sacrifice paid. Whilst some of the dignity and pageantry of Acts of Remembrance may well be absent this year, it remains important to take time to reflect, pause, and recall.
To assist with this there is now a list of the Fallen on our websites, together with some images. This has been the fruit of several years of personal research, and has continued to grow. In reality the number of Catholic casualties with direct links to our two churches is smaller than the published list. The expanded list names other family members of ‘our men.’ In my eyes to have omitted these family connections and failed to acknowledge some remarkable life-stories would have simply been wrong. As I wrote last weekend, I have truly befriended these men and the harsh reality of some of their lives not only makes them worthy of remembrance for the manner in which they died, but also for the incredible stamina with which they faced they own particular journey through life. Having hoped that by this juncture I may have been able to produce a publication rightfully acknowledging the sacrifice of our war dead such aspirations remain on hold due to the necessary limitations of not being able to conduct primary research at this time. Perhaps by another Remembrance Sunday their stories may have been brought to light for the benefit of a wider audience.
Aware that customary Remembrance Sunday activities will be different this year the town centres of both Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton have beautiful War Memorials. If when out, perhaps for exercise or the necessity of a food shop, you have the opportunity to pause in the memorial gardens and scan the large numbers of names on them, you may have the opportunity to befriend some in prayer. As I heard quoted recently; Even small pebbles make large ripples, so the lives of single casualties of war contributed to the wave of peace which was borne through sacrifice.
Of the twenty-eight casualties of the Great War so far listed on our websites, here are some facts about the men, hopefully ensuring that they are more to us, over a century on from their sacrifice, than is suggested in Eric Bogle’s lyrics for Willie McBride (or The Green Fields of France) when he writes: “or are you a stranger without even a name enshrined forever behind a glass pane in an ould photograph torn, tattered and stained?”
18 hailed from Yorkshire, 5 from Derbyshire, 2 from Liverpool, and 1 from Lincolnshire, Cheshire and Ireland.
5 were born on a Monday, 6 on a Tuesday, 6 on a Wednesday, 4 on a Thursday, 1 on a Friday, 4 on a Saturday and 2 on a Sunday.
4 died on a Monday, 2 on a Tuesday, 5 on a Wednesday, 3 on a Thursday, 3 on a Friday, 8 on a Saturday and 3 on a Sunday.
8 Received the Sacrament of Confirmation in the same ceremony at St. Patrick’s School-Chapel, Heckmondwike, in 1904.
2 of the men shared the same birthday, although were born in different years.
Prior to the outbreak of War 9 worked in the Textile industry, 8 as Miners, 4 as Labourers in various fields of work, 2 worked at the Heckmondwike Boot Company, 2 on the Railways, 1 was a Gardener, 1 for a local Gas Company, and 1 had served as a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary.
2 men were captured and died as Prisoners of War.
9 left a Widow. 18 Children lost their Father-figure; 1 child was born posthumously. 22 left one or both parents to survive them.
The eldest man to lose his life was 45: the youngest 18. The average age of the men was a little over twenty-five and a half years.
Of the 28 men, 12 had a blood or marital connection with another man whose name appears on the list; this includes 3 sets of brothers.
3 of the men spent some of their formative years “in care” away from their families. 1 of these was awarded the Military Medal.
2 Military Medals were awarded to our men for Acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire.
17 men have graves: 10 men have no known graves and are commemorated on collective Memorials: 1 man has a commemorative headstone in the Commonwealth War Cemetery where he is known to be buried.
In prayer we commend those associated with our churches who paid the ultimate sacrifice to the eternal care of Almighty God in the words of a couple of verses of the Hymn “O Valiant Hearts”:
“These were His servants, in His steps they trod,
Following through death the martyr’d Son of God.
Victor He rose; victorious too shall rise
They who have drunk His cup of Sacrifice.
O risen Lord, O Shepherd of our Dead,
Whose Cross has bought them and whose Staff has led –
In glorious hope their proud and sorrowing land
Commits her children to Thy gracious hand.”
(O Valiant Hearts J.S. Arkwright 1872 – 1954)
May we continue to be united in prayer, kindest thought and affection.
As ever, Fr. Nicholas