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Looking Back: The Summons

In November 1939 Britain was beginning to see young men called into service for the war against Germany. The previous month, young men aged 20 to 23 were required to register – the start of the process of conscription. By the end of 1939, more than 1.5 million men had been conscripted into the British Armed Forces.

In this week’s Looking Back, the Very Rev Lauchlan Maclean Watt writes movingly about seeing some of the young local lads off to war.

The Summons



The world was between waking and sleeping when I went down to say good-bye to the lads who were going to the war. The lingering stars drowsily waited for the dawn.

Like the voice of a far-blown trumpet, the summons had come to us in the West, over the mountain wall. It suddenly changed the contour of our world. The cloud which had hung over Europe for so long that we had become accustomed to it, had  at last obscured the sun.

Behind me, as I waited at the loch side, the Cross of Remembrance of the Great War glimmered on its rock, speaking of that pride of race, love of country, and thought of God which have been the notable marks of our people, involving the passion of Liberty.

Late and early, from limits of the farthest isles, where the broken walls of the skerries look towards America, the men had been going. Nowhere is complaint – a noble silence rather. In deepest trial we make a conspiracy of curtained grief. We do not display our scars and bruises, like beggars, for pity’s sake.

Gradually the lads gathered, in kilts and helmets. A handful of villagers came along, some of whom had learned the meaning of life and death in the bitter years overseas.

I spoke a word, reminding the men that the God who had watched them at their firesides would go with them wherever they might go. I committed them to His care, as I had done with others, in the Land of War.

At the station, some miles away, a little crowd waited to say good-bye, as the train came in with men from elsewhere. And in a few minutes they went from us, through the pass, out to the world of Duty.

We came back to find the great hills touched with perfect glory of the morning, and the loch like a dream of beauty at their feet.

Life, of course, has to be lived. The slow horses will, in due time, plough the lea. The harvests will ripen and be reaped and gathered in by old folk and by girls and boys. The fishers will go out upon the waters. There will be many a lingering gaze across the moor and sea, for wonder of the return of the faithful. There will be wounds in loving hearts for every wound the battle gives. The song will be silent in the ceilidh, and the pipe on the hill. Feet will be weary going to the door in the gloaming, for a last look down the glen. And alas! There will be the chair, forever empty, of the unreturning.

But we must be brave, trusting that eternal Justice does not sleep, and cannot let the Right go down. Living or dead, Love will come home again.

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