Saturday Sunday 1133 11th November 2018
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This Saturday was actually a Sunday but I’m sure you won’t mind.
Whilst all around us there has been a sea of red poppies I wanted to present a different side of the Centenary of the Armistice and talk about the White Poppy and Peace. To that end I attended a Remembrance Sunday Ceremony in Tavistock Square, London organised by the First World War Peace Forum. I will list the organisations who took part along with links to their website at the bottom of this piece, so that you might read more about each of them, or maybe just pick one?
Before you read on, may I ask that you go over to my other blog Helen’s Photomania to read a deeply moving and highly relevant poem called “Lest We Forget” written by Sue Gilmurray, a poet and songwriter from the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, which was read by her at the ceremony.
If you click HERE it will open a new tab. I commend it to you as a piece of essential reading.
Now I hope you have come back.
Tavistock square is thought of as an unofficial peace park. Not least because it contains, amongst other memorial trees and statues, a statue of Ghandi , a flowering cherry planted in memory of the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Conscientious Objectors Commemorative Stone commemorating “men and women conscientious objectors all over the world and in every age” beside which the ceremony was held ( photos of this later) Sadly it was also the scene of one of the four suicide bombings in London on 7 July 2005 when a double-decker bus was blown up in the street beside the square.
Click on any photo to enlarge it.
You can read more about the history of Tavistock Square by clicking HERE
So what does the White Poppy represent – “White poppies recall all victims of all wars, including victims of wars that are still being fought. This includes people of all nationalities. It includes both civilians and members of armed forces. Today, over 90% of people killed in warfare are civilians. “ ( Peace Pledge Union website)
This differs from the Royal British Legion and the Red Poppy – “The Legion advocates a specific type of Remembrance connected to the British Armed Forces, those who were killed, those who fought with them and alongside them. “ ( British Legion website )
I wear both a white, my own has the CND symbol too, and a red poppy. Like so many families, members of my own family served during WW1 and like so many others some of them died. They were my great uncles on my father’s side, all from the same family.
From left to right – William John Merchant – survived, Frederick James Merchant died in Flanders 24th March 1918 aged 26 and finally Henry John Merchant who also died in Flanders on the 8th August 1918 when he was barely 20. What a terrible waste. Addendum – whilst the people, dates and 1st photo are correct, I cannot be sure the 2nd and 3rd photos are.
Apart from the aforementioned Sue Gilmurray there were some other very moving speakers including Marigold Bentley of Quaker Peace & Social Witness, who has worked on peace building in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and elsewhere. She once said ” “if war is the answer, we’re clearly asking the wrong questions”. I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment.
Marigold spoke about war being failure – the failure of politicians, governments and of diplomacy. She went on to say “Humanity may be capable of terrible things but there are always people protesting, challenging, making policy to make the world a better place” and “The possibility of peace is constantly with us. The activities of peace demonstrated here today by many participants and organisations, who have been part of the World War One Peace forum, are a living testimony to the alternative stories.”
The actor Michael Mears read emotional words from the peace campaigner Clifford Allen which were spoken at the end of the First World War. Clifford Allen was chairman of the No-Conscription Fellowship – before his imprisonment for refusing military service. He served three prison sentences including many weeks of solitary confinement on bread and water diets, at the end of which he was a frail and emaciated thirty year old, who looked twice his age, weighed less than eight stone and was suffering from the onset of tuberculosis.
Michael also read the following Haiku written by the poet Adrian Mitchell
Try one hundred years
Without any wars at all –
Let’s see if it works!
2 minutes silence was held followed by the laying of white poppy wreaths ,and other flowers, at the Conscientious Objectors Commemorative Stone.
The Ceremony ended when we were invited to share words of commitment, “We commit ourselves to peace and justice…to use our power to work for a different kind of world starting with ourselves…our families, our neighbourhoods, communities, country. We invite everyone to join us in this urgent task.
For humanity’s sake our message is: – “No More War, Let’s make Peace Happen”each of us being asked to make an individual commitment to peace in repeating those words
The ceremony was followed by a a peace festival held nearby in the Quakers Friends House; bringing together 23 peace organisations, some of which are listed at the bottom of the page.
Similar ceremonies took place in many other towns across the country including Leeds, Bradford, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberystwyth, Pembroke, Exeter, Bath, Stowmarket, Saddleworth, Leamington Spa, Peterborough, Bridgwater and Bury St Edmunds.
I was moved to tears on several occasions during the ceremony but I left feeling thankful and hopeful that there are so many groups and individuals who are so committed to working for peace for all of us.
I’d like to end by saying if anyone is offended by the white poppy, and I know that some people are, please ask yourself these 2 questions.
1 – Are you more offended by the white poppy than the killing, maiming, widows and orphans that result from war?
2- What are you personally doing to prevent more war and promote peace?
Thank you for reading this far.
An alphabetical list of the organisations who took part in the alternative Remembrance Sunday Ceremony is below, followed by a list of the organisations who took part in a drop-in event, Peaceful Futures, afterwards. Click on the name and it will bring you through to the website:-
The Right to Refuse to Kill ( War Resisters International)
Apologies to the organisers if I have missed any.
Your comments are welcome as ever.
Saturday Girl signing off.
You can find my photography blog Photomania here