Monday, 18 December 2017

Fallen but not forgotten- Remembering WW-I Martyrs

Armed Forces have a credo- 'Our soldiers/sailors/airmen may have fallen but they are not forgotten'. We honour our fallen heroes and pay them tributes year after year. 
World War-I was no different. Tens of thousands of soldiers lost their lives. When the War ended in 1919, it was decided to observe a Remembrance Day on 11th November every year. It is also known as the Armistice Day
This is an exclusive guest story on Remembrance Day-2017 for Ghumakkad's blog. Credits for this story are as follows:
Story: Trixie Asirvatham
Story facts courtesy Irene Swasbrook, London, and pictures courtesy Reginald Solomon, Bangalore.   Used with permission.
Photo credits:   Vijay Alphonse, Bangalore.  Used with permission
Photo and video credits:  Sam Elisha, Bangalore.  Used with 
Trixie's words:
On November 19th 2017, we observed Remembrance Day at our church, St. John’s Church Bangalore, in remembrance of Armistice Day.  At a solemn and colorful ceremony, led by our Presbyters, Rev G Wilson and Rev V Prabhakar, we honoured all the brave people from the armed forces who laid down their lives in World War 1 - both British and Indian forces.  

St. John's Church, consecrated in 1858, is named after St. John the Evangelist.  It is the fourth oldest Protestant Church in Bangalore.  It is a CSI church but was once a garrison church built by the British army for the use of the troops stationed in Bangalore.  

As Armistice Day marked the end of hostilities of World War-1, the Armed Forces traditionally play an important role in the Remembrance Day  service. The army band from the neighbouring Pioneer Corps Training Centre played at the ceremony, officers laid wreaths, officers read out the Bible passages, officers including my husband Rajan took the offertory bags around, and so on.

Two veterans from the Indian Navy and Indian Army and a serving lady doctor from the Indian Air Force laid wreaths at our church altar.  There were candles in three colors  (red, white, purple) to symbolise sacrifice, peace (comes from protection)  and  nobility/valour+spirituality) which were then lighted by the three officers.

It was good for sleepy St. John's to wake to the rousing sound of the military band from the PCTC playing percussion, wind and brass instruments, with old favourite battle hymns like Onward Christian Soldiers, Rock of Ages, The Battle Hymn of the Republic -  a  patriotic marching song,  Eternal Father, Strong to Save – a song about God’s protection on the waters, His peace and calm in the midst of raging storm and tempest, Lead Kindly Light - Gandhiji’s favourite hymn,  and others.

We listened to a gripping sermon by a fiery visiting  pastor, Rev. Emmanuel Nehemiah, who spoke about a borderless peaceful world and a borderless church and visualised the ideal world as portrayed in the last book of the Bible in Revelation when the lion would lie down with the lamb and a little child would lead them. 

At the end of the service, a lone bagpiper played Amazing Grace and led the slow march of the pastors, the wreath-bearing officers, the band, the choir and the rest of the congregation in a solemn procession to the Cenotaph (war memorial) outside the church where there was a short, touching service in memory of those who laid down their lives in the World War.   Some of their names are engraved on the Cenotaph

St. John's Church is the only Indian Church with a war memorial within the  church premises.  The Cenotaph is a simple structure with a cross, outside the church building but within its walls. 

Remembering the Fallen-but-not-forgotten

Remembrance Day Wreath Bearers
From left to right Flt Lt Radhika H. Umale from the Indian Air Force, Cmde P.R. Franklin veteran of the Indian Navy and Col B.G. Cariappa, veteran of the Indian Army at St. John's Church, Bangalore.

Each of the three officers bearing wreaths solemnly slow-marched around the Cenotaph, saluted and laid their wreaths one by one. There were two retired officers (one was Cmde Franklin, our neighbour) and one serving lady doctor in Air Force uniform whom many girls from our church were interested in meeting later! 

The band played “Abide with me”, with the congregation joining in.  It was a short, moving service and then the band   played the Last Post.  I remember this tune so well, resounding in the hills, from my childhood Dehra Dun days living in an Army cantonment.

After we observed two minutes of respectful silence, the  band played the Rouse. Then the National Anthem, with everyone standing to attention.  Then the band marched out and we all dispersed. 

A personal quest linked to the Cenotaph
Irene Swasbrook from UK was happy to hear that people who died in war, like her grandfather whose name is on the cenotaph, were being regularly honoured every year in a ceremony on Remembrance Day even  to this day.  In June this year she had made a trip from London to Bangalore in a quest to find the graves of her loved ones in St. John’s Cemetery, Kalpalli.  Here Irene (3rd from left) is seen with her husband Richard (extreme right), her hostess in Bangalore Mary (2nd from left) and Reginald Solomon (1st from left) of St. John’s Church who helped her in her search and also to find the etched name of her grandfather on the Cenotaph in St. John’s church. It is heartwarming to note the emotional connection that the memorial has for people like Irene whose forbears are mentioned there.

Irene says: Harry Darwin Thorpe is my grandfather –  whose name is on the cenotaph in St. John’s Church -  my mother’s father and also the father of Ewart Fitzgerald Thorpe whose  ashes are scattered in the same grave where David, my brother’s ashes were scattered in July of this year.   My grandmother Lucy Thorpe also attended St. John’s Church for many many years, right up to the time she passed away. “

While at Kalpalli Cemetery, Irene also located the graves of her paternal great-grandfather Major General Robert Griffith Lewis of the Madras Staff Corps and of his wife Lucy.  Irene estimates that Lewis had come to India in 1854 from Dorking in the county of Surrey, England and probable date of death was 30th Dec,1888.
Postscript: In fact St John's Church Cemetery at Kalpally Bangalore has been visited by many descendants who come hunting for their ancestors. Readers may browse the story 'Blow a Lament' published in the Business Standard.

Hope you enjoyed browsing the story. If it brought you goose bumps, the fallen heroes would have blessed you.

Thanks Trixie for all the inputs and for your superb story.

War Memorials exist in major military formations and stations where wreaths are laid by visiting dignitaries. Wreaths are also laid on the Raising Day of a Unit. India Gate in Delhi is one such memorial where wreaths are laid by the Prime Minister of India on Republic Day (26th January) and by the three Service Chiefs on Army Day (15th January), Navy Day (4th December),  Air Force Day (8th October) and Vijay Diwas (15th December) every year. Ghumakkad had visited Belgaum recently which has a Hall of Valour honouring its brave soldiers.

We end with a quote from one of the young fallen officers Capt Vikram Batra who was awarded  Param Vir Chakra posthumously, the highest gallantry award during war time in India.

Thanks for browsing. Your feedback is welcome, as always.

      -   Harsh-the-Ghumakkad/ 19th Dec 2017

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