In commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War 100 years ago, Bill Turnbull travels to Belgium with classical chart toppers Libera.
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On this day, exactly 100 years ago - 3rd August, 1914 -
Britain stood on the brink of conflict.
Germany had already declared war on France and its troops
were at the Belgian border. That evening, in London,
the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey,
summed up the mood of crisis...
"The lamps are going out all over Europe," he said.
"And we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."
This week on Songs of Praise,
we mark the centenary of World War I, through the eyes
of the young singers of Libera, as they tour the battlefields
of the Somme and Flanders Fields. And we meet a father and son
who have devoted their working lives to tending the graves of war dead.
In his famous war poem, The Soldier, Rupert Brooke wrote,
"There's some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England".
He was, of course,
contemplating the possibility of his own death far from home,
but those words could also be used to describe
St George's Memorial Church, here in the centre of Ypres in Belgium.
It is an Anglican church built by the British as a meeting place
for the steady stream of visiting relatives, old soldiers and pilgrims
who have come here over the past century.
It is where our congregation of French, Belgian and British choirs
have gathered to sing some of the popular hymns of the period.
The distinctive sound of Libera has endeared them to fans
all over the world and they regularly top the classical charts.
They are about to cross the Channel, on a tour of the battlefields
and cemeteries of The Great War.
'I'm really excited to go and see my great-great-uncle's grave,'
as he was 21 when he died in the war. I think I am the first person
in my family to go and visit his grave.
# One, two three, four five, six seven, eight. #
'My great-great-uncle, George, fought in the war'
and he was only 19 years old, so he must have been absolutely terrified
before he went. But what I'm hoping to see is where he died.
I'm hoping to find my great-great-uncle, to see where
he is remembered, on a big, big wall on a monument, and I am going to see
if I can try and find his name.
The boys are travelling in the footsteps of thousands of young men
who left the mills, factories and farms of Britain to fight.
# You are there
# Whichever way I go
# Keep me safely
# Night and day
# Always there
# Whenever I'm alone
# Hear me calling
# Show the way
# You are shelter from the storm
# The shadows fade away
# All cares pass away
# Hosanna, day by day
# Your love lightens up the sky
# As it shines across the night
# Ave, regina caelorum decora
# Virgo gloriosa, ave
# And when the end of day is come
# Stay with me through the dark
# And bring me home
# Stay with me through the dark
# And bring me home. #
It's Libera's first stop on their visit to the battlefields
of Belgium and France, the Thiepval Memorial,
commemorating 72,000 men who fought on the Somme and whose bodies
were never found.
-Have a look at the flags at the top.
-They're guided by battlefield expert
Behind the memorial would have been the German front line,
so we are in no man's land. Do you know what no man's land is? Yep?
The British line would have been behind the cross, beyond the trees.
Sam and Isaac are looking for the names of their great-great-uncles -
George Michie, a Gordon Highlander, and Private Michael Kinane,
of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Cabinets in the memorial walls
contain an index of all the names and where to find them.
You have got a number of books. You have to find the right letter.
-Your letter is?
-J, K, L... So, this is probably it.
-"Private Michael Kinane,
"the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Dublin Fusiliers..."
'We are going to have a look.'
Somewhere on these panels. He could be anywhere
and it's a huge building.
"George Michie, Wallfield Crescent, Aberdeen.
"Face 15b and 15c."
-Come on... Oh, yeah.
I don't think I'll be able to put my finger on his name!
-Oh, here he is.
-Here we are, yep. George Michie.
'It is sad to hear one of your family members died,'
but you, kind of, feel as if they are a hero
for fighting for their country.
'When I saw, you know,'
I can't feel deep emotions for him. I can't feel upset,
because I didn't know him, which does make me upset,
because I would like to know my relatives, especially the relatives
who have gone and fought for things that they thought were right,
like Michael Kinane.
You could have so many different emotions running through your head
when you are being fired at by a German machine gun.
You could be thinking, "Will God help me now?
"Will He stop this? Will He make me safe?"
But then, you have to think about it, He does. When you die,
-you go to Heaven.
-You definitely need God in that situation,
to give you the courage to go to war and to help your country.
And, like, if you, like, you know, George Michie probably really
didn't want to kill anyone, but he would have to.
Our battlefield guide Alan Reed has done more research
into what happened to Sam's great-great-uncle George.
Right, we are near the site where your great-great-uncle George
-went into action.
Now, that's High Wood and on the 23rd of July, at about 1:00...
SOUND EFFECTS OF GUNSHOTS
..the area was swept by machine-gun fire.
There were about 328 casualties altogether.
And his body was never recovered or identified.
-But at least he's remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.
Well, it makes me feel quite sad to see like cos you're in the site
of where one of your relatives has died but I'm happy he's remembered.
But the land has returned to agriculture,
you can hear the birdsong, so we hope he's at peace somewhere.
# We are the lost who lived and loved
# We felt the dawn saw sunset glow
# For now we lie
# In row on row
# In Flanders Fields
# O lux beata
# The larks fly high where guns destroyed
# Now poppies grow and crosses show
# Where now we lie
# In Flanders Fields
# In row on row
# Time like an ever-rolling stream
# Bears all its sons away
# They fly forgotten
# As a dream
# In row on row
# Dies at the break of day
# O lux beata
# We are the lost. #
The idea that everyone who died in the Great War should have a
memorial came from a Bristol-born industrialist Sir Fabian Ware.
As a result of his vision,
the Commonwealth War Graves Commission today
cares for cemeteries and memorials of both
World Wars at 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries.
Walter Sutherland was one of the many ex-soldiers employed
after the war by the newly-formed Imperial War Graves Commission.
His son George and his grandson Alex followed in his footsteps.
When Walter started working here then just after the war,
this looked very different. What was it like?
Oh, yeah, well, all wooden crosses.
No headstones, it was all wooden crosses.
And they were still burying people when my father was here.
Oh, and my father took a dead soldier into the mortuary
and as he entered, he heard a groan
and that chap was to be buried that morning and he was still alive.
So, they took him out the mortuary, took him back into hospital
and it saved him.
-Gosh, he had a lucky escape.
Over the years, you must both have seen some pretty moving sights.
It's distressing sometimes too.
Well, yes, certainly, you meet visitors.
A typical example now is if you see these school buses
and the children are 12-13 years old, or you see a pensioner
and they walk around the cemetery,
you will see people crying in actual fact
and being so emotional about it.
But then you feel it most when the family come along
and you see them crying by the grave, then you feel it yourself.
How important to you both has it been to work here through the years?
Through the decades, in fact.
I can remember when I was about six years old
and listening a lot to all these visitors who were
coming around and then I decided, well,
this is going to be my career in the future, even at that age.
I felt proud...
to follow the steps of my father.
I wanted nothing else, you know.
It wasn't just working and be paid, it was in my heart. Yeah.
Liam is one of the older members of Libera.
Today, he's travelled to the Belgian city of Mons
on a very personal journey.
Being in a religious church setting when you're singing,
there are times in Mass often where they give the congregation
a chance to pray and during those moments, sometimes I do think
about my great-grandfather Harry Connery
and what he did in the war.
He didn't die on the front
but he suffered heavily afterwards from mustard gas poisoning
and he died relatively young at the age of 40 in 1932,
the year that my grandfather was born,
so my grandfather never knew his father.
Today, I've been looking around at Mons
and it's weird to think that 100 years ago, my great-grandfather
Harry could've been walking the same streets with other soldiers
preparing to fight.
I found out today that there's this statue of a monkey in the town
square and people rub its head with their left hand for good luck.
So, maybe my great-grandfather might have done that
as he was going into battle.
The fact that he was 17 when he joined the army and he was
younger than me when he did that, it's quite incredible, really.
My parents would tell you that sometimes
I'm very difficult in the mornings and hard to get up and get out of bed
and stuff and to think that people my age were doing way more than
that 100 years ago, having to get up on the front in a muddy trench,
risking their lives,
I don't know if I would ever be able to do what they did.
-I wouldn't last...
-Wouldn't last a day.
It'd just be so traumatic.
This is kind of crazy almost.
At Sanctuary Wood, the original trenches have been preserved.
A Canadian, trying to catch up with his sleep, opened up his eyes
and what did he see?
A huge rat trying to eat him.
-Em, are there rats here now?
You are safe, they are well-fed.
I've got pictures of my great-uncles cos all four of them
went into the war and all four of them came back.
I don't want to see what's in here. I'm just going to close my eyes.
Ben, just hold on to me...
This is my great-uncle Neil's diary.
There was a gas attack but he was very lucky to survive.
That's actually only a mile from here.
And he was lucky because the wind blew the gas the other way.
It was really horrible, he had to bury five men in that night,
all suffering from gas.
Yeah, there would have been a ledge or something,
something you could stand on so...
No, the sandbags would be up to...
People would just rely on God almost to help them
and sometimes their prayers wouldn't be answered
and sometimes they would, like my great-uncles'.
-And my great-uncle.
-And your great-uncle.
# For all who needs comfort
# For all those who mourn
# All those whom we cherished will be reborn
# All those whom we love but see no more
# They are not perished, but gone before
# And lie in the tender arms of He
# Who died for us all to set us free
# From hatred and anger and cruel tyranny
# May they rest in peace
# And rise in glory
# Lord give me wisdom to comprehend
# Why I survive and not my friend
# And teach me compassion so I may live
# All my enemies to forgive
# All suffering and sorrow will be no more
# They'll vanish like shadows at heaven's door
# All anguish and grieving will one day be healed
# When all of God's purpose will be revealed
# Though now for a season lost from sight
# The innocent slain in the blindness of right
# Are now in the warmth of God's glorious light
# Where they rest in peace
# And rise in glory. #
Ciaran's great-great-uncle was in the Royal Flying Corps.
He died six days after the Armistice
and Ciaran is the first of his family to come here.
Died of pneumonia, 17th of November, 1918.
'When I walked into this cemetery, the rows,
'they're all so tightly squashed together.'
As I walked along, I was looking at all the names and you think,
"That person fought in the war and died.
"And then so did that person."
He was my great-great-uncle.
I couldn't describe him, I couldn't say what he looked like
but I still know he's Stanley Bradbury
and Bradbury is my name.
And that still means he's part of my family
and he's connected to me.
I was praying that he didn't die painfully and apart from in
the war that he had a good life
and that he...was a good person.
# Good night, my angel
# Time to close your eyes
# And save these questions for another day
# I think I know what you've been asking me
# I think you know what I've been trying to say
# I promised I would never leave you
# And you should always know
# Wherever you may go
# No matter where you are
# I never will be far away
# Good night, my angel
# Now it's time to sleep
# And still so many things I want to say
# Remember all the songs you sang for me
# When we went sailing on an emerald bay
# And like a boat out on the ocean
# I'm rocking you to sleep
# The water's dark and deep
# Inside an ancient heart
# You'll always be a part of me
# Good night, my angel
# Now it's time to dream
# And dream how wonderful your life will be
# Some day your child may cry
# And if you sing this lullaby
# Then in your heart
# There will always be a part of me
# Ahhh-ahhh ahhh ahhhhh ahh-ahhh
# Ahhh ahhhhhh ahhh
# Some day we'll all be gone
# But lullabies go on and on
# They never die
# That's how you and I
# Will be. #
God grant to the living, grace,
to the departed, rest,
to the Church and all humankind
peace, concord and life everlasting.
The blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be with you and all those whom you love
-this day and for ever more. Amen. CONGREGATION:
Tomorrow marks the start of four years of centenary commemorations
of World War I.
No-one who took part in that conflict is alive today,
but that's not to say that we should just forget and move on.
These are our grandparents and great-grandparents,
great-uncles and great-great-uncles.
They're part of us.
And they lie here as a silent but powerful witness
to the misery and desolation that follows
when we learn to hate rather than love.
Next week, Claire and I go in search of sacred gardens.
While I head to Kew to explore their new faith trail,
Claire finds out about Westminster Abbey's secret gardens.
Plus music and hymns inspired by Creation.
In commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War 100 years ago, Bill Turnbull travels to Belgium with classical chart toppers Libera. St George's Memorial Church in the centre of Ypres is the setting for favourite hymns of the period.