BY MAJOR TOM HAMILTON
The attack began at 0425 on Aug. 15, 1917. The early morning silence was shattered when 200 Canadian heavy guns attacked at once. Behind this barrage more than 5,000 Canadians in 10 battalions advanced. The Battle of Hill 70 had begun. The whole plan depended upon the speed of the attacking Canadians – their speed to quickly displace the enemy, and their speed to immediately reinforce their positions for the inevitable enemy counterattack. In fact, speed was so vital that the attacking Canadians were forbidden to stop and help their comrades who were hit by enemy machine gun or shellfire.
Rushing into the inferno of war was Sgt. Harold Shaughnessy. He was a long way from his home in the Maritimes and dearly missed his family, but he believed he had a job to do. Tragically, before he could finish that job at Hill 70 he was struck down and killed. To make matters worse, his remains were never found, so his name was recorded on the Vimy Memorial as one of the Canadians in uniform from the First World War who had no known grave. With no remains to bury, it was as if Sgt. Shaughnessy had never existed and he was forgotten. But in 2016, his remains were found during a construction project. This past August, I had the privilege of conducting his funeral in France as Shaughnessy was finally laid to rest with full military honors.
One of the headstones in the military cemetery was engraved with the words “God remembers when the world forgets.” Romans Chapter 8 reminds us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, which also means “God remembers when the world forgets.” God knew exactly where Sgt. Shaughnessy’s remains were all those years but, even more importantly, he took his soul to heaven the moment he died. The world may have forgotten or not even noticed the moment when young Shaughnessy became a Christian, but he remembered and so did God. In a letter Sgt. Shaughnessy wrote to his sister, he referred to his faith, saying, “God’s will every time is our trust.” He chose to trust in a God who knows us individually and never forgets us.
As we observe Remembrance Day, one of the things we do is reaffirm that “we will remember them”. We will remember the service and sacrifice of those who gave of themselves so that we could live in freedom. But even when the world forgets, God remembers. God remembers those who paid the supreme sacrifice in time of war and God remembers and loves each one of us. And, as we stop and remember, may we also remember the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf and on behalf of all people. For, as the Bible reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13
Major Rev. Dr. Tom Hamilton serves in team ministry with his wife Rev. Paula Hamilton at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown, and St. Columba Presbyterian Church in Marshfield. He is the Senior Chaplain of 36 Canadian Brigade Group, the Military Chaplain to the Prince Edward Island Regiment, and Padre to the Charlottetown Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. A guest sermon runs regularly in Saturday’s Guardian and is provided through Christian Communications.