The third floor of my family home suffered from a barn-style roof.
You could walk upright down a corridor directly under the peak of the housetop.
Open a door to the left of it and you almost immediately had to stoop over. A step or two further into these and you were on your knees.
Our home’s first owners had built shelves into the partitioned storage rooms. On one of these shelves an old box held relics of the Second World War that my parents had, for some reason, held on to.
I remember with childhood curiosity rummaging through these heirlooms.
My father told me that a small, browning booklet I found with its indecipherable oriental characters was a prayer book.
Maybe it had been left behind in his cramped Stinson L-5 two-seater spotter plane.
I had heard tell of him flying captured Japanese soldiers back from the frontlines of the jungle war in Burma to POW camps. How he knew it was a prayer book I will never know.
The box also contained my mother’s wartime memorabilia. Among the eclectic assortment of items, she had kept ration books and a war-bond booklet with a few unredeemed stamps pasted into it.
She also held my father’s wartime letters, but they were in another box closer to her in her bedroom closet. I wouldn’t see until I reached adulthood.
Those fragments of two lives lived during a war told of sacrifice, longing and hope.
The story of a newly married couple separated by the global conflagration was not unique, most of humanity had been touched directly or indirectly by it.
More than 60 million people died, 2.5 per cent of the world‘s population then. We can count tens of millions more as casualties, suffering physical or psychological wounds from the war.
Now I can recognize that those scraps also communicated another story.
They provided a silent witness to the willingness of a generation to confront privation and danger in order to overcome what for them was a mortal challenge.
They testify to a singularity of purpose and a vision for a future freed from the scourge of war.
Last June, the World Health Organization in Geneva release a report titled Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environments — Towards An Estimate Of The Environmental Burden Of Disease.
This UN document estimates “that more than 13 million deaths annually are due to preventable environmental causes.
“Over 40 per cent of deaths from malaria and an estimated 94 per cent of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases, two of the world’s biggest childhood killers could be prevented through better environmental management.”
In just five years more people die from these causes than died during the whole six years of the Second World War.
Why can’t we marshal the same resources, the same sense of urgency and the same sense of purpose now towards this and a host of other global life threatening challenges from green house gas emissions to destruction of ocean fisheries to the arms trade as our Second World War veterans and their families did in the face of the challenges they confronted?
How do we rekindle the spirit of self-sacrifice of that generation in an attempt to assure, as they did, a future for unborn generations?
This past week a young woman told me that she was reluctant to bring a child into the world that she sees coming.
We can offer her hope. However this will only be hollow gesture unless we are willing to back it up with the kind of purposeful action inspired by the wartime spirit of the veterans whom we will honour this Remembrance Day.
A monthly ecumenical vigil for global peace will be held from 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart Cathedral, 4th and Steele on November 15th. All are welcome.