Just before the battle of Mametz Wood in 1916, where nearly 4,000 men of the Royal Welch Fusiliers were killed or wounded, the memoirs of Llewellyn Wyn Griffith record an outdoor concert taking place. He writes that a piano was pushed into an orchard and 150 men lying about on the trodden grass “sang a chorus or two and then Corporal Jackson walked to the centre of the stage. It was a third-rate song, sung by a fourth-rate singer, followed by a second-rate clog dance, but in the remoteness of that green orchard in Flanders…..it claimed approval”. Another Corporal and the Sergeant Major sang, Private Walton played the mouth organ and Signaller Downs sang “Nevah mind”.
Never mind!!! In the midst of terrible uncertainty and imminent battle which they might not survive, those men were making the best of their awful situation and, together, helping each other through it. There are many parodies of it, not least about the sergeant nicking rum rations, but the original verse of the song is:
“Though your heart may ache a while, never mind
Though your face may lose its smile, nevah mind
For there’s sunshine after rain, and then gladness follows pain
You’ll be happy once again, never mind.”
Those words from 1916 come ringing down the years and seem, to me, to be still appropriate for the uncertain times in which we’re living today. We have much to learn from the lessons of the past and, at the height of the isolation and terrible anxiety caused by the Covid pandemic, the late Queen Elizabeth used similar sentiments. In a televised address, her words resonated with Vera Lynn’s songs in WW2, assuring those wanting to listen to her that We will meet again – one day, even though no-one at the time knew where or when.
All these years later, and as the fortieth anniversary of the Falklands War is commemorated, battle is still being waged as the war continues between Russia and Ukraine and as the conflict generated in our world today seeks its resolution. Still the struggle for peace with justice goes on, whether in living with painful memories, sending armaments and aid or offering homes and refuge to those fleeing. For we’re all affected by the ongoing consequences of war as the cost of living rises, supply chains are disrupted and possible power cuts may result this winter.
In the face of this and the continuing consequences of bombshells from Brexit, Covid and the economic mess we’re in, we’ll also have opportunities to play our part and to help one another through, like those soldiers so many years ago. Today we honour all those men and women who, through following the orders they were given, have enabled the freedom we now share and shaped our democracy whether or not we agree with the outcome of decisions made nationally. And a battle still lies ahead for each one of us as we engage once more in the ongoing struggle for justice, peace and freedom. For, as we heard in the Bible reading (John 15:22,13) we too are under orders, commanded by Jesus to love our neighbour, not snipe at those around us when we disagree. Other faiths proclaim similar actions although at times war is unavoidable and, if that’s a daunting prospect in the light of strong emotions, take heart from Signaller Downs who, over a century ago, faced terrifying circumstances and yet sang “Nevah mind!”
There are, of course, many things that we should mind about. But there are also some things that we can do nothing about other than grin and bear it. So, today, what do we mind about and to what can – or should – we say nevah mind? Never mind that the world’s a mess or unfair – it always has been, as well as being wonderful. Never mind that other people aren’t what we want them to be – they may well think the same of us! And never mind that we have to live with so much uncertainty – many previous generations have had to do the same. If we want it to be otherwise, then the sacrifice of those men and women, in the services as well as civilians, may inspire us while we still have the gift of time.
That applies here, too, as we remember the sacrifice of three brothers born in Llangynog and their family. William Lewis was killed at the battle of Beersheba and buried there so far from home, Thomas died of flu on the day the Armistice was signed in 1918 and Richard seemed to have survived the war as he came home. Sadly, he died in 1919 after a landfall at the quarry here caused him head injuries and paralysis accelerated by tuberculosis after being gassed during the war. How poignant is that and what effect did such loss have on their families and loved ones, on all sides. As a German family wrote in the chapel at the Thiepval memorial in Flanders, “The living close the eyes of the dead and the dead open the eyes of the living”. After the trials of recent events with so much death and suffering from the battle waged against Covid, perhaps our eyes have been opened to the realisation that there’s still a job to be done and it needs to be done well as we play our part in shaping what will be handed on to the generations to come. But where to begin?
The voice of war poet Robert Vernade, killed in 1917, gives some advice on hearing birdsong after a battle:
The sun’s a red ball in the oak And all the grass is grey with dew,
A while ago a blackbird spoke – He didn’t know the world’s askew…….
Strange that this bird sits there and sings While we must only sit and plan……
But maybe God will cause to be – Who brought forth sweetness from the strong –
Out of our discords harmony Sweeter than that blackbird’s song.
So, keep listening for the birdsong above the strife – may its wordless beauty and the hope it represents be balm for aching souls and all who yearn for a better world.
And, if you think that’s a tall order: nevah mind!
With my prayers; pob bendith,