Archdeacon of West Ham Elwin Cockett wants hope during uncertain times

PUBLISHED: 10:11 18 January 2017 | UPDATED: 10:11 18 January 2017


These are interesting times, someone said to me recently grimly, perhaps echoing the old Chinese curse. “But there’s always hope!” was my reply. And I meant it, because there is.

One hundred years ago, many in Newham were reeling. The Silvertown explosion had killed and injured many, but thousands more had suffered damage to their homes. Over the Channel, more than 400,000 British soldiers had been lost at the Battle of the Somme, which had ended just two months earlier. If things seemed desperate they were going to get worse.

By the end of summer 1917, our forces would be at Passchendaele, engaged in a battle so costly that it is still remembered in Ypres every evening when the Last Post is played. And still, by the end of the year, the war rolled on.

It was during the battle of Passchendaele that “Woodbine Willie” became famous. He was an army chaplain, nicknamed for giving Woodbine cigarettes to injured and dying soldiers as he talked to them and prayed with them.

A man of courage and action, he was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 after running into no-man’s land at Messines Ridge to help the wounded.

Woodbine Willie made an impact on soldiers because he had decided to bring hope amidst the hopeless carnage of war. He put his words of hope into action, going where others would not in the service of the men in his care.

He was really just living out the Ten Commandments, which can be summed up as “love God and love your neighbour”.

The world is changing around us and these are certainly interesting times.

What we can ALL do is to decide to be people of hope.

We can make a conscious decision to “love God and love our neighbour” and, by that, make sure that we are making the world a better, more hopeful place for the people around us, however interesting the times. More from Elwin

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