Peace vigils and peace witness
Theodore Sturge is a member of Northampton Quaker Meeting. He is a birthright Quaker and has been actively involved all his life. His family have been associated with the Religious Society of Friends for many generations.
My father was a conscientious objector in World War II. He was totally unwilling to kill. He did not talk about it very much, but as a young teenager I remember being in a town centre somewhere away from home where there was a silent Quaker peace vigil taking place. He told me to go off on my own, and I can still see him quietly slipping into the line of Quakers, and those already there parting so that he was absorbed into them, no questions, just a quiet acceptance that here was somebody of like mind who would witness with them.
Most of my adult life I have been involved with peace vigils and peace witness. In Leicester I was involved with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and regularly organised the stall in the Market Square on Saturdays. I did this in conjunction with Leicester Ecumenical Action for Peace. With this group I also helped to organise interdenominational events and hustings when there was general election. The Quaker Peace Group held monthly vigils in the Town Hall Square. We usually had a letter for the public to sign and I remember one at the time of the Falklands War when the Belgrano and HMS Sheffield had just been sunk. We were saying, “Both sides have now proved they are serious, the terrible killing on both sides has to stop. Pull back now while you still can.” I took the letter back to the museum where I worked prior to posting it and every time I stuck it up to take it to the post another member of staff made me open it so they could sign too, saying “That is just how I feel too.”
Later, I worked at the museum in Coventry. We had a peace garden outside the museum which had recently been opened by the Queen Mother during the events to mark fifty years since the Blitz. During the First Gulf War I gathered a group of colleagues around me and every lunch time we held a silent peace vigil around a candle in a jar. One day Canon Paul Oestreicher from the Cathedral came past; on his return he presented us with a roll of Polos. He just said “Mints for Peace” and passed quietly on.
These days I prepare the posters for the Monthly Vigil on the first Saturday of each month in Abington Street, Northampton. My speciality is getting everything together so we have all the posters to put up so others can come and join us. We aim to make people pause, perhaps only fractionally, and think. The vigils are under the umbrella of the Northampton Christian Network for Justice and Peace. There is a strong emphasis on justice. Justice has to come first: you cannot have peace without it. Most people appear to ignore us, but who knows? We have a sign inviting the public to join us. Occasionally they do, or they stop and speak to us. We had two lads from the Forces who were going back to Afghanistan. One said, “What are you praying for, it’s a stupid waste of time.” We started to talk to them, and the other, quieter one said “Maybe there is something in it”, and told the story of an officer in the First World War who prayed with his men at the start of every day. At the end of the War every man came home.
When numbers were low we were asked if we wanted to go on. I said that if one other wanted to stand with me, I would continue. Somebody said “I will”, and on it goes. An elderly Quaker comes in every time from Nether Heyford because she has to.