The Posthumous Theme
We leave behind our legacy and example of goodness posthumously to inspire those who follow us. May they grasp the baton and run with it.
1. First Thoughts:
I think of the posthumous child born after the father’s death in war or accidentally. I also consider the posthumous award for gallantry award to the officer or soldier killed in action. I also remember the post death reputation of a Saint recognised for his sanctity by the Roman Catholic Church. Finally every deceased person has a post death aura emanating from his lifetime achievement and his eternal soul in Heaven Herself. I do not include the derogatory approach to the dead as condemnation is for God the Father not man.
2. Psychology of the posthumous theme:
Do these posthumous events and their connected deaths give rise to a psychology of glory – La Gloire – as the French more Catholic than England and Wales call it. Leaving the Forty Martyrs aside upon which I have written is it immoral to crave a gallant death in battle? Is such thinking to gain posthumous medals acquisitive and arrogant? What good are those honours to the retired officer or soldiers in peacetime if he loses his soul? They are like the barns full of grain who do not save the barn owner in the parable from damnation when the demand is made on his soul. We are judged on the totality of our lives not on one particular phase of the last stage.
3. Christianity and those who were killed in action
There were Roman Catholic German Officers and Chaplains and rank and file in both World Wars. Moreover the Austrian Hapsburg Empire Soldiery and Officers in the Great War would have been largely Roman Catholic with Army Chaplains of that Church embedded. The British Army had a minority Roman Catholic element like Imperial Germany’s Army in the First World War. What was the psychology of these Prussian Soldiers and Officers and others who were largely Protestant and the backbone of the Kaiser’s Army? The highest medal for gallantry for a German Officer in that War was named “Pour le Merité” in French and dated back to the 18th Century and Frederick the Great of Prussia who annexed Silesia. That province had been rightly ruled by the Austrian Empire of the Hapsburgs. We have few clues on the German side. On our side we have the Great War British poets and the large volumes of letters from the Western Front to “Blighty” (home). The message loud and clear is German and British: no one wished to die in that First World War let alone serve in it. The same may be said of the 1939-45 War soldiery and Officers – German and French and British – such is the yearning to live and for peace. The Waffen SS are a special case as they were fixated upon the Fuhrer for whom they would do anything including sacrificing their lives suicidally. The average British and German Officer and Soldier in the two World Wars embraced life and they did not welcome death – however hard they fought. The same will be said for the Russians in the two World Wars and the U.S. Army personnel who fought in those Wars. East and West. The French speak of “La Gloire” in the late 19th Century and their African Empire. The ancient Romans believed it is honourable to die for your country. Agreed but we rue the lives cut short on all sides. We cannot bring them back and those fighting knew that. They are an example in their military service and dying but we and they would much rather they had been an example to us in post War peacetime. The black humour of “better dead than alive” can never be correct. “Famous last words” sums it up – you will be remembered but you cannot dictate to death. The Germans desired life even in defeat. The Japanese psychology is harder to penetrate. I will only say men all over the World and throughout history may be misguided. Some men are more honourable than others.
4. The Job of the Army Chaplain:
Principally this is to bury the dead, administer confession, offer Mass near the Front but behind the lines for all Christian Servicemen facing battle. The Anglican Army Chaplains or Padrés followed their own Book of Common Prayer in the two World Wars. The Chaplain is right up there with the troops e.g. Dom Rudesind Brooks MC - Chaplain to Irish Guards: World War II British Army and Downside Monk. Also Rev. Ronald Lunt MC: British Army Anglican Chaplain World War II. These Chaplains consoled the dying of both sides and gave out the Last Rites. I argue those who have died in battle having been ministered to by these Chaplains had the rare distinction of going straight to Heaven without any shadow of doubt. The Roman Empire principle still holds good. But Christ bettered it with: “No greater love hath any man than to lay down his life for his friends”. That is the ultimate and binding truth of my argument and spoken by Christ Himself in contemplation of His own death. Let us all jealously guard our lives and those of our friends until our dying day. That is our bounden Christian duty.
5. The deserters death in the Great War.
I do not enter in to the legalities but I support the view these soldiers were in effect executed in the course of their active duty but clearly not in action. They also would enjoy eternal life immediately upon death and the Army Chaplains would be there to assist them. I do not criticise the British High Command for these firing squads in the 1914-1918 War. The French General Staff sanctioned the same executions for their deserters. As anyone will tell you who has served in the military order has to be maintained and enforced. In the 1914-1918 War the accepted British Military practice and procedure for desertion was trial by Court Martial and death by firing squad if convicted. The sentence was subject to review and reprieve by high ranking officers up to the Commander in Chief himself: Sir Douglas Haig Field Marshall from 1915 to 1918 in France. Essentially you could not have considerable numbers of young men (including numerous volunteers) being killed in action and these so called “deserters” going unpunished. The contrast and inequity would not have been acceptable to Haig and his staff. Like Petain in the French Army in 1917 who had to suppress that Army Mutiny they had to “run the show”. What Haig and his Staff decided and thought counted first and foremost and properly so: The British Army did not mutiny. Haig kept order and did not lose his collectedness. He made the right choices as Petain kept his composure in 1917 and quelled the mutiny.
We all leave our legacies: spiritual or literary or financial. In “truth” a spiritual legacy is left by every soul. Writers, Priests, politicians, musicians, actors, journalists and lawyers leave “a message” posthumously worked on by their biographers. The subject individual is in the unseen world but their “voice” sounds in the hearts of us who revere them. Their “message” will be penetrated and “read” posthumously. The supreme exponent is Christ Himself who had bequeathed His Church in all her magnificence and charitable mission. Life is to be enjoyed to the full. Prayers for the dead have their place. They do not greatly inspire me unlike the spiritual legacies of my forbears and certain famous individuals I have read and heard about. I am inspired by deeds and honourable conduct including gallantry rather than musings over the faithful departed. God will look after them. We live for life not for the dead. Let us live out every ounce of our life and when we die go to our maker with the help of Holy Mother Church in our Requiem Mass if we are Catholics. Each one of us must make that journey to the Judgement seat one day when we will stand alone before the Father. Christ mediates at the Father’s right hand and by His intercession the Father will admit us to Heaven Herself. God the first person of the Trinity is the final judge in His all consuming love. I condemn no one and commend all my family and friends to our Father who art in Heaven. May I not be disappointed.