Graham Page and I attended the Bath Remembrance Day ceremony with the Mayor of Bath and Royal British Legion.
It’s a solemn and well-organised event, above all about remembrance. The sense of bereavement permeates everything, with widows and children whose stories one rarely hears but whose feelings are expressed in the tokens – the wreaths and wooden crosses – laid on the Cenotaph. One D-Day veteran was with us. I spoke with one woman who had never known her father lost at D-Day.
In one sense it is also an overpoweringly military event, with people stamping in steel-heeled boots, shouting at the participants from close quarters, saluting each other and walking around with unnaturally stiff arms. The memorial itself boldly places a Crusader cross on the stone crucifix, a troubling iconography that seems quite inappropriately to align Christianity with militarism.
But the shouting is leavened with humour, the language of the priests who spoke is inclusive, healing, and oriented towards peace. There are several prolonged silences for comforting reflection. The brass band’s rendition of Elgar’s Nimrod lingered long after the event. Nothing should disturb remembering the dead, and showing loving solidarity for the bereaved.
That said, some of us feel that militarism is not the right way to prevent further suffering in future. Quakers died giving principled service in both world wars, and we feel it’s right to be included in the community’s remembrance event. But we’re not comfortable with an overly militaristic approach to remembrance, or enticing young people into uniforms without careful consideration of alternative ways of preventing future conflicts.
Because of thefts in previous years the white wreath was wired on. It wasn’t intended to stand alone but it was the only one not to blow down in a gust of wind.
That is why, at the request of Bath Quakers and with permission of the Mayor and the Royal British Legion, Graham and I respectfully laid a wreath of white poppies at the event. This is in memory of all victims of wars, military and civilian, and of all nationalities. It expresses a commitment to peace, and a rejection of any attempt to glamorise war. These are different wider priorities, but in no way inconsistent with the central message of remembrance, loving support and respect for the fallen and the bereaved.
We recognise that being invited to participate in such a solemn and important occasion is a privilege, and an act of inclusive respect on the behalf of the event organisers. Some individuals are uncomfortable and even angered with the implications of the white poppy; there are news reports of Councils and pubs banning it. Our wreath has been stolen in the past years.
Having both red and white poppies laid at the war memorial with the utmost respect reflects well on the diverse and respectful community we are.