There is less than a week to go to Remembrance Day. Poppies are being worn with pride in memory of those British men and women who have died for their country in all the conflicts that have raged around the world since the First World War started 100 years ago.
Wearing a poppy is not a glorification or justification of war; it is an acknowledgement of the ultimate sacrifice of ordinary men and women.
They didn’t want to die but gave their lives for what was perceived to be greater cause, by machine gun in the mud of Flanders or an Improvised Explosive Device on a dusty road in Afghanistan.
These men and women would invariably have been afraid but did their duty anyway: there is no bravery without fear.
Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was one of the unlikely heroes of the Great War. He was born in Leeds and became an Anglican priest and a poet, who volunteered when war broke out.
He became known as Woodbine Willie because he dispensed cigarettes to the men he helped and offered spiritual guidance. He survived the war and his experiences turned him into a campaigning Christian socialist and pacifist.
He was awarded the Military Cross at Messines Ridge. His citation read: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He showed the greatest courage and disregard for his own safety in attending to the wounded under heavy fire.
“He searched shell holes for our own and enemy wounded, assisting them to the dressing station, and his cheerfulness and endurance had a splendid effect upon all ranks in the front line trenches, which he constantly visited.”
Studdert Kennedy had no illusions. He said: “War is only glorious when you buy it in the Daily Mail and enjoy it at the breakfast table. It goes splendidly with bacon and eggs. Real war is the final limit of damnable brutality, and that’s all there is in it.”
He summed it up in his poem Waste:
Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God. War!