Today we remember the men behind the numbers at Somme: top cleric

Dean John Mann

Dean John Mann

The Dean of Belfast’s Anglican cathedral, the Very Rev John Mann, has spoken of the importance of remembering the “catastrophe” of the Somme.

He was delivering a sermon at a commemorative service at St Anne’s, to the northern end of Belfast city centre, on Sunday afternoon.

The service began at 3.30pm.

During it, he said: “I recall reading of an officer who was contemplating not just how they would be thought of by those who were at home, but how they would be judged in years to come.

“We now are in the years that – to them – were ‘to come’, and fixed in a time-capsule of our own. How do we remember? What do we commemorate?

“How do we look upon the men and officers and strategic planners of the Somme and other battles that, for example in the case of the Somme alone, produced 1,250,000 dead and wounded British, Irish, French and German soldiers?

“That number is too great to contemplate, too high to imagine; it is just a very, very large figure.

“Today we remember not a statistic but a human tragedy, a catastrophe.”

He added that today, “a hundred years on, we remember the human cost from a perspective of relative safety and security”.

He continued: “Our judgement must surely be that in our day we will strive for the peace that is costly in the energy needed to reach it by indefatigable negotiation based on the common good of our shared humanity, with conflict as the final resort - as Northern Ireland has sought to achieve within itself, and must continue to seek and achieve - with much help from outside; and learn from the immense, incalculable sacrifice of the Somme and other battles of the First World War.

“If such a lesson saves lives in our day, then at least we pay more than lip-service to the deaths of many others.

“May God in his mercy grant us and all humanity the path to peace.”