Much has been said and written recently, much more so in Western Europe than in Australia, about the 100th anniversary of Armistice after 'the Great War'. What however about the 'ordinary' people who lived through and beyond it and what they might have to say to us today? Surely , their realities call us, above all, to work for a much better world, not simply to hold military-flavoured commemorations? A striking poster (see left), of the brilliant German artist Kathe Kollwitz, was certainly created for that purpose. This, one of Kollwitz' most famous works, was born of her own powerful and maternal pain and love for peace and justice. Indeed she created it in 1924 for the Never Again War movement which, for a brief period on the 10th anniversary of the First World War, brought together socialist, republican and pacifist organisations in Germany in vital commitment to avoid another war. This message however comes to me most directly from my own flesh and blood...
The two people in this photograph (to the right) are my paternal grandparents. Their lives were profoundly shaped by the sheer hideousness of first world war and its aftermath. Indeed my grandfather was fortunate to live on at all, having been serIously wounded and left for dead on the battlefields of Flanders. I therefore think of them, as 'Armistice People' today, both as survivors .and inspirations to live new lives of hope. For, whilst literally bearing the scars of 'the Great War', they did what Billy Bragg spoke of so movingly in his song 'Between the Wars. They 'raised a family in times of austerity between the wars''. seeking 'not the iron fist but the helping hand', not 'a land with a wall around it but faith in their fellow humans', valuing not so much 'a land of hope and glory but the green field and the factory floor'. Out of their own hurts and rural poverty, they nurtured life and hope in their own children, and, through them and their own struggles in war, myself and other offspring, and those we now nurture ourselves. It was not their desire ever to return to the horrors of their formative years.
It is so depressing to see similar features which made for world war circulating about us once more: authoritarianism and nationalism; political and diplomatic selfishness and intransigence; erosion of international and human bonds; despising of the weak and gross economic injustice. We most certainly do not live in a repetition of the past but there are still 'lessons from history' to be learned, and they do not include the building of walls and rearmament. Rather they urge upon us the human solidarity which Kathe Kollwitz and, in their more humble way, my grandparents and others modeled and espoused. For, though there was a profound hope and desire for alternatives, the end of the first world war proved indeed to be only an armistice, not a peace settlement. Nothing was resolved, though powerful wounds were inflicted. So those 'Armistice People', who lived on in the years which followed 11 November 1918, challenge us to take up their own work.
We too, as Billy Bragg wrote and sings, are also so often 'between the wars', which is one important reason why proper recognition of days like today, in their full context, and history as a whole, matters. In a deep sense, we are Armistice People also. In the words of Billy Bragg, made slightly more inclusive, our best commemoration today and in the future is therefore to 'call up the craftsfolk, bring us the artists, build us a path from cradle to grave' and to 'go find the young folk never to fight again, bring up the banners from the days gone by. Sweet moderation, heart of all nations, desert us not, we are between the wars.'
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.