Minister’s Letter November 2013

Dear friends,

A stranger to our church recently asked me about the War history of our congregation. At the back of the Church there is a brass plaque that dedicates the building as a memorial to the many Presbyterians who gave their lives on the Belgian Western Front in WW1. What does that fact mean for us as a living Christian community, with all the different events planned for 2014 to mark the centenary of the beginning the War?

During WWII the building was occupied by the Nazis and used as a storage facility. The story goes that when Belgium was liberated in the autumn of 1944 that the St Andrew’s flag, which had been hidden during the war, was raised above the church. For a short while afterwards the building was used as a Garrison Church (1).

Remembrance seems to have developed in significance in recent years, perhaps connected to the fact that there are ever fewer surviving veterans from the First World War. Maybe we are more aware than ever that humanity is inclined to conflict at every level. When we engage in an act of ‘remembrance’, then we are reminded of the fragile nature of human relationships and we are challenged to reflect on how we might better serve our Lord Jesus Christ as positive peacemakers in our communities (see Matt 5:9).

Remembrance means different things to different people. For my wife and her family, they might remember great aunt Eva and how her fiancée was killed during WW1. She was drafted in to look after her nieces and nephews, whose mother died at the end of the Great War. One of these nieces, looked after by aunt Eva was Julie’s late maternal grandmother, Ida. There are those in my own family who served in the RAF and lost comrades and friends in Afghanistan. For many people remembrance reawakens the dull ache of pain and loss in their lives.

There are many memorials in Belgium commemorating both World Wars. There is the impressive Menin Gate in Yprès, with the names of British and Commonwealth soldiers whose graves are unknown.  The most moving features of the gate are the number of names (almost 59,000) listed and the fact that they came from all over the world to sacrifice their lives in such a miserable and cruel conflict.  Not far from Ypres is The Scots Memorial Cross at Ferzenberg, commemorating Scottish units that fought in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front during WW1.

In Brussels itself there are number of memorials within easy reach of the Manse. There is the striking Aviators monument on ave Franklin Roosevelt which honours the heroes of the Air of WWI. At 453 ave Louise there is a monument to Baron de Sélys Longchamps, a Belgian born RAF pilot who bombed the Gestapo headquarters in January 1943. Not far from the Church there is the abstract Phoenix 44 monument, which was erected to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Brussels to following year. Across from 72 Boulevard Souverain there is a modest memorial that stands between the tramlines, in memory of U.S. Airmen who lost their lives in Belgium, in June 1944.

Other Brussels War memorials that must be mentioned include the Anglo-Belgian memorial found on Place Poelaert, directly across from the Infantry Memorial designed by the Belgian sculptor Edouard Vereycken. In Park Cinquantenaire there is the Belgian Airforce War Memorial commemorating those who died in both World Wars

But of equal importance are living memorials of those men and women who endured the horrors of WWII first hand. One such person is Simon Gronowski who survived the holocaust. As a boy he escaped deportation to Auschwitz in Convoy No 20, when Belgian Resistance intercepted the train. We will hear more of his story on Remembrance Sunday and I hope that he might take the opportunity to join us some Sunday at St Andrew’s and make his book ‘Simon le Petit Évadé: L’Enfant du 20E Convoi’ available for sale after morning worship.

Your minister and friend


(1) 75 Years of St Andrew’s by Sarah van Hove


It is the Soldier, not the reporter

Who has given us the freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet

Who has given us the freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the peace camp organiser

Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

It is the Soldier, who serves beneath the Flag

whose coffin is draped by the Flag

who allows the protester to burn the Flag

It is the Soldier, not the politician

Who has given his blood, his body, his life

The Soldier, who has given these freedoms.

(taken from the Padres Handbook)