100 Years In Which To Learn

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Fear, grief, pain and sadness. What cause is just enough to inflict these? To tolerate these?

For what would you sacrifice your life, your child’s, your parent’s, your friends?

For most of us, thankfully, the true horror that was the grim reality of WW1 is quite unimaginable. The vast majority of people in the UK live buffeted from immediate and present danger; we are warm, clean and safe. It takes a huge leap of imagination to imagine trench life- not feisty propaganda trenches, nor jolly Tommy and good old British spirit trenches- real trenches; stinking, terrifying, tragic ones where you would be forced daily to witness and inflict horrors. Horrors so wounding to the soul many who returned could not, and would not, ever speak of them.

1245 men and boys are listed in the Book of Remembrance in Stockton Parish Church. To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the declaration of war at 11pm on 4 August. The Great War. The War To End All Wars. Residents from across the borough of Stockton grew Sunflowers, each in honour of an individual lost life. The Sunflowers were then cut down in their prime and brought to a garden of remembrance at Parish Church over the weekend marking the start of a vigil 1245 minutes long.

Grief and loss is agonising. We all still suffer this of course, we all have felt it, the one thing we know for sure in our lives is that one day we too shall die. The sheer volume of the scale of the losses not just across Stockton, but Europe, and Earth, between 1914 and 1918 is what makes it so mind-blowing. And this was no accident, no succor could be found in that for those left behind, this was a man-made atrocity.

Life is precious. Every day is a gift. We cannot reverse history and stop the loss of these men’s lives, wiping out the shockwaves of pain that these would have left behind in our town. We can honour them however by marking them, connecting to them and taking responsibility for what we now have today. That which was stolen from them- we are still here, we can live for ourselves and for them too. We can build spaces and communities of peace and love. We can create a legacy filled with pledges and promises to share kindness, compassion, knowledge and fun.

You can start that tonight by coming along to an event in Parish Gardens- designed to bring the community of Stockton together to mark the end of the vigil. To start as we mean to go on building that legacy: 7.00pm-8.30pm in music, reflection, art and readings.

It has been an absolute pleasure and privilege to be involved in the Sunflowers project. We facilitated a number of sessions with the volunteers creating imagery; they have been insightful, interesting and creative, greatly adding to the process. We must extend huge thanks to Stockton Council for their support and may I say too, Stephen Hodgson and Peter Savage particularly on the Events Team for so patiently tolerating our last minute requests.  John Beeley, Heritage Officer at Preston Park for his time, interest and stunning exhibition pieces. The Tees Wheelyboat people were amazing, so much knowledge and enthusiasm. Finally of course enormous and heartfelt thanks to Mike and Kevin McGrother for creating something so beautiful and allowing us to come along for the ride so we could say our own personal thanks to those who walked the town before us.

That’s Real Stockton- This is Real Stockton.