On Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, at 11:04 a.m., two rivers ran silently though London, one a ghostly army of the unborn. As quiet as the night-time River Thames it flowed through the capital’s streets to the Palace of Westminster to the site where its death warrant had been signed some fifty years earlier. For it was then that the British Parliament passed the legislation that has resulted in nearly 9 million abortions.
Throughout 2017, the United Kingdom is marking, like so much of the world, the continuing centenary of the First World War. Estimates vary, but during that four-year conflict from 1914 to 1918, over 9 million combatants were killed, with many others wounded. Predictably, this left Europe traumatized. The sacrifice of lives did not, as promised, bring an end to all wars – neither those seen nor those unseen.
Throughout the length and breath of Great Britain today there are war memorials to these war dead. Whether one is in a city, a town or an out-of-the-way country graveyard, there is almost always a memorial of some kind to the dead of the Great War. The industrial carnage that took place in France and Flanders was felt on remote Scottish islands, by close-knit Welsh mining communities, in English public schools, and throughout Irish hamlets. No corner of the British Isles was spared; no section of society was exempt from the dreaded official telegram telling of yet another casualty.
Each year, at 11 a.m. on 11 November, to mark the end of that conflict, a nation falls silent. The immediacy of the memory of the Great War may have faded but today other, more recent, wars are also recalled on this occasion: the Second World War, the Korean War, the Gulf War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name but a few. The Great War, the war to end all wars, has been followed by more recent conflicts; they too have left behind an army of the bereaved and the maimed, and a never-ending salvo of tears.
The Sunday following Nov. 11 is traditionally known in the U.K. as Remembrance Sunday. The Sovereign, the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, Ministers of State and politicians of all shades gather at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall to lay wreaths to commemorate the Fallen of these different conflicts. All will dress in black, save for blood-red poppies – a symbol that refers back to the desolate fields of Flanders where poppies bloomed in the mud. A suitably sombre air hangs over the day’s proceedings. Unusually for London, on that morning, an eerie silence descends throughout the city.
Not far away, directly opposite the Houses of Parliament, is Westminster Abbey. There can be found the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Erected in 1920, it is the final resting place of a soldier whose name is unknown. It is also a monument to the many thousands of his dead comrades whose bodies were never found, or who lie in unmarked graves, known only to God. Beneath the Tomb a number of Scriptural texts are inscribed. One of these reads: The Lord knoweth them that are his. (2 Tim 2:19).
This remembrance of the dead is right and proper, especially, in November, the month when Catholics traditionally remember the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Remembrance Sunday is an apt moment for all to reflect on the fact that death shall draw near one day, whether in the brutality of a battlefield or the hush of a hospital ward, surrounded by a loving family or the indifference of an abortuary.
It is also apt to remember that, almost fifty years after the hostilities of the Great War ceased, another, war was declared, on an unseen and defenseless ‘enemy’.
Today, the almost 9 million killed in the U.K. in that particular ‘conflict’ are remembered nowhere. The date of Oct. 27 is of no significance to the majority of people living in the U.K. This year, however, was different, to some extent at least and, and as it transpired for all the wrong reasons. The British media’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of the legalization of abortion was neither somber nor sad but determinedly celebratory.
In the United Kingdom, then, there are no signs that the latest industrial carnage – 488 abortions each day, 20 per hour – will be commemorated anywhere soon. There shall be no memorial in either town or village, no stilled gathering of the great and the good standing to remember lives tragically cut short. No wreaths will be laid; no poppies worn.
Nevertheless, on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, at 11:04 a.m., there are two rivers running though London. An invisible army, vast numbers of the unborn, who surge down alleys and through lanes, across bridges and along passageways; disfigured and mutilated they move, stumbling and limping ever onwards. Yet no bells ring for this homecoming; no drumbeat is heard; no flags fly at half-mast; but still they advance. They have come to witness to the fact they existed.
If you could but see, at every jolt, the bloodied limbs, or, obscene, vile, incurable wounds on these innocents, my friend, you would not dismiss with such ease those who speak of a life ended, or repeat the old lie: ‘safe, legal, rare’.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.