Despite being banned from the Cenotaph, Defence Humanists, the BHA and affiliated groups have been active across the UK. Following sustained pressure, more and more towns and cities are allowing humanist representatives to exercise their right to remember alongside religious representatives.
Last year, representatives of over twenty-one humanist groups from all over the UK participated in ceremonies to pay their respects and will be doing the same this year. Wreaths will be laid in Edinburgh, Belfast, Warwick, Birmingham, Sheffield, Oxford, Richmond and many other places besides. In 2014, for the first time humanists will take part in a ceremony on the Isle of Man.
This year, as commemorations for the centenary of the start of World War I took place across the UK and in Europe, Defence Humanists patron Dan Snow lead the memorial in Belgium. The Defence Humanists were also invited to take part in a service Plymouth, important as it is a naval city.
Wreaths laid at the MK Rose, Milton Keynes, in November 2012.
Below is a selection of photos and comments from these occasions. Full reports were in the Defence Humanists’ regular newsletter, The Moral Warrior.
John White – Oxford Humanists
This year, [as usual, I think], the service was clearly dominated by the “City Rector” who, presumably, is a CofE cleric.
But, also as usual, the Rector allowed 5 other clerics [Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, and Sikh] to “offer their own acts of Remembrance” – and the words they were to utter were already published in the Order of Service leaflet some of us picked up on our way to the memorial. As I drove home, I thought, given just how many Oxford citizens don’t have a faith, surely we ought to be allowed to have our say right at the very beginning – just like the other community representatives?
Andrea Quayle of the Milton Keynes Humanists felt that this might make a good site for a Humanist memorial Ceremony at Milton Keynes, so she made enquires, and the following comment came from local planner John Moffoot :
“The MK Rose is being specifically designed to be accessible to people of all religions and none. I think that it provides the ideal option for Milton Keynes Humanists. We will be unveiling the first column at a ceremony to take place from 10.45 on Friday 11 November, and to include a 2-minutes’ silence.”
The Milton Keynes Humanists decided to send a delegation to the ceremony, and this is Andrea Quayle’s comment ….
“Elaine, Val and I attended the unveiling of the first pillar of the MK Rose which celebrates Armistice Day. The Remembrance Day ceremony was truly and magnificently secular, attended by Quakers, Jews, Buddhists and maybe people of other unidentifiable faiths and none. It felt almost unreal, like the lifting of a great weight. Assuming that it remains the same, we are more than happy to participate in this ceremony in future.”
Bryan Dougharty – Sutton Humanists
”I attended the Sutton Borough Ceremony and laid a wreath from “Sutton Humanists”. The ceremony was led by a C of E vicar and was essentially Christian, notwithstanding the fact that the Mayor, who led the event, is a Humanist. However I think it would be unreasonable to expect him to have insisted on a non-religious ceremony, but maybe one day we will persuade Councils and the British Legion that non-religious ceremonies are proper and much more representative of the population (as I am sure the 2011 Census will show).”
Richard Scutt – Dorset Humanists
”We duly laid our wreath along with many others after the great and good, forces reps etc. had laid theirs. The Service was, of course, led by a local C of E leader but Reform Jewish, Hebrew Congregation and the Mayor’s Chaplain each made a contribution. They were billed in the Order of Service under “Listening for the Word of God”. A Catholic priest led prayers and the president of the local Free Church Council led prayers for peace.
With this type of service, it seems to me that we can only let Humanists, and indeed all other attendees know that Humanists are being represented by getting a member in place with the religious leaders who speak. That way we would get billing in the Order of Service (handed out freely in huge numbers) and the act of speaking at the ceremony, to show that we are involved.”
Charles Baily, Chair, Bedfordshire Humanists
”For the first time this year, a request from local Humanists to be allowed to lay a wreath at the annual Remembrance Day observance was granted. I was happy to attend, along with a number of like-minded people. But my heart sank when I read the opening words of the Order of Service: ‘We are here to worship Almighty God… and that the whole world may acknowledge Him as Lord and King.’ I wasn’t. Nor, I suspect, were the group of Sikhs standing nearby. I was here to pay tribute to all those who lost their lives so that I and millions like me could enjoy the freedom and security that we have today.”
Les Reid, Chair, Belfast Humanist Group
”The wreath laid by the Humanists carried the inscription: “For those who gave their lives for us. We shall remember them. On behalf of all Humanists in Northern Ireland and the UK Armed Forces Humanist Association.”
”A small group of very wet HSS members, family and friends took part in the Remembrance Sunday parade in Edinburgh this year – led by the sprightly Archie Beveridge (89) who carried the HSS/Defence Humanists wreath. Archie served with Ack Ack Command in the UK and then led a company of men and equipment (searchlight, radar and Bofors gun) throughFrance, Germany, Holland and Belgium in WW2. Marilyn Jackson said …. “It was wonderful to meet Archie at our October conference, when I announced that the Edinburgh Group had, after previous refusals, been invited to participate. Indeed, Archie brought family and friends who made up half our number!
I’m so pleased that Archie found the experience a good one, in spite of the rain, and hopes to come back to Edinburgh next year to lead a larger HSS contingent.”
Ian Abbot – Lancashire Humanists
British Legion [Preston] is to be congratulated for recognising that the very real and considerable sacrifices made by our service personnel should not be in any way diminished by the religious outlook of these individuals.
What a pity the same couldn’t be said of the ceremony itself!
Apart from Colonel Stam; delivering Binyon’s moving ‘They shall grow not old …’ and John Hughes The Burma Star Association’s poignant ‘Kohima Epitaph’ it was a Vicar – a Priest – a Reverend – and a Deacon delivering the whole of the open air ceremony on Preston’s ‘Flag Market’.