St Bartholomew and All Saints


Royal Wootton Bassett



Who do you think you are?

 The title of the popular BBC television programme ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ reflects an interesting phenomenon: that how we perceive ourselves is often governed by what we think is our history. In the words of Bob Marley: “If you know your history / Then you would know where you're coming from.” The television series reflects the emerging popularity of family genealogical research in recent years; many a dining room table across the UK is strewn with A3-sized family trees and question marks.   

I recently experienced something of this myself. I knew that my Great Grandfather, Harold Augustus Whittenbury, had been ‘in tanks’ in the Great War, and had been awarded the Military Cross, but little else. On August 8th this year, however, my family and I were invited to attend the Centenary Commemorations at the Battle of Amiens at the Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset, where Harold’s Mark V tank is now on display. And so, exactly one hundred years to the day, I climbed into the same tank and sat in his very seat. Together we read an account of his experience fighting alongside the Australian infantry in the battle which broke the stalemate of the trenches and marked the beginning of the final hundred days of the War.  

I learned that aged 23 Harold, a warehouse clerk in Manchester, had volunteered before conscription in 1915 and joined the ‘Manchester Pals’ as a Private alongside his friends and colleagues. After promotion to Corporal and becoming a Machine-Gunner, he endured both the Somme and Passchendaele before being selected for Officer Training in the newly-formed Tank Corps. It was for his role at Amiens that Harold, aged 26 and in the final stages of a long war, was awarded the MC.

Like so many of his contemporaries, he never spoke about these experiences. He did however, rather miraculously, return with his hearing perfectly in-tact well into old age!

Reading his service records, and sitting inside Harold’s tank, made me see my own history differently. Here was a young man in the family of whom I was proud – someone who lived an understated and humble life for the remainder of his days, but who had an amazing, if in parts traumatic, story. I felt a sense of rootedness and connection with a person of the past, whom I had never met, but who was very much a part of why I was here, and how I was formed.

 

I find the ancestry of Jesus an interesting way to open Matthew’s gospel (Matt 1:1-16). It’s not a show-stopper, and for the first book printed in the New Testament the list of ancestors doesn’t exactly grab our attention with Incarnate glory. But it roots the story in the history of the Israelites, in the unfolding act of redemption, not just from oppression and slavery, but in Christ from sin and death. Now, says the writer, we get to the culmination of all that has passed – we’ve been leading up to this…

 Through this genealogy all Christians inherit the identity of freedom in Christ. Our identity is not something found only in our past actions, or in the jobs we have, or the institutions of which we are a part. Our identity is rooted firmly in the One who has invited us to feast at His table. All Christians are children of God, fully redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, who died for us.

 So if we are to stop and ask ourselves, or even one another, ‘Who do you think you are?’ the answer is always: children of God; God’s beloved and redeemed people. And this is true of all Christians, even the ones, if we’re honest, deep down, we may sometimes find it difficult to love. Yet each of our neighbours is someone else for whom Christ died. It is not always easy to see them that way, but as members of the One Body, Christians must have Christ before our eyes as a kind of lens through which we see the world and all the people in it. If we each consciously look at everyone we meet as a child of God for whom Christ’s blood was shed, very quickly we will see what a transformation in our experience of daily life this has.

 As members of the Church, when the world asks ‘Who do you think you are?’ remember this identity in Christ, that we are God’s beloved, that we are redeemed and reconciled, and that we are all held in God’s love.


The Rev'd Oliver Blease

Assistant Curate