On the streets of London, Glasgow, Manchester, and so many other places across the UK they suddenly appeared
They moved amidst the shoppers who continued bustling in & out of the air-conditioned shops with their ubiquitous smart-phones pinned to their ear.
They marched beside the rushing traffic or else just stood around, seemingly oblivious to all of the frantic busyness of the 21st Century High Street around them.
Ghostly images of the past. Figures from another age.
Periodically they would break into a rendition of a sardonic song coined in muddy trenches long ago to the tune of Auld Lang Syne
“We are because we are here, because we are here, because we are here...”
A ridiculous lyric created by men who had found themselves in a ridiculous situation: a song designed to sum up the meaninglessness of their plight.
They were the “ghost-soldiers.”
In reality, actors from the National Theatre who marched through the streets in full 1916 battle array, successfully creating what was without question the most poignant & striking of the commemorations for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme
A remarkable tribute that communicated far more than any cenotaph ceremony could ever have done.
Our view of that generation is usually filtered to us through grainy, flickering black & white images which only serve to re-enforce the sense of distance between their world & ours.
To see them walking the streets of our land once more in the flesh and in full colour was a striking reminder that they had indeed been flesh & blood human beings just like us.
One cannot help but be struck by the haunting incongruity of scenes like that above, these ghostly images of yesteryear moving amidst the scenes of modern Britain.
Yet we do well to recall that whilst these spectral figures are out of time they are most certainly not out of place.
A hundred years ago these same streets belonged to them and not to us.
Once they might have shopped here with their loved ones. We were reminded yesterday that this is still their land as much as it is ours.
In a technologically-fixated culture, we easily lose sight of the past and yet we have an inescapable continuity with it. As a nation, as a people, we are interconnected not only with one another in our own generation but with all those who have gone before us.
One of our pastors, Jonathan Black tweeted the following on Friday,
“A century ago today my great grandfather was killed at the Somme. A few days later his only child, my grandmother, was born.”
The implication is obvious. If the timings had worked out differently by only a few months Jonathan would not be here.
And that might be true of so many of us!
How many millions in our country today are here -or are not here – solely based upon the survival or otherwise of countless men caught in a bloody killing zone on a single day of a single battle?
Indeed those men are here. In more sense than one.