This issue is important to personnel from across the Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. Below we will continue to post testimonials by service personnel in support of the campaign to include them too.
Jim Radford – youngest D-Day veteran and peace activist.
I am an atheist, a humanist and a rationalist, and support the right of the non-religious to equal representation and to be accorded the same rights, consideration and recognition as those from a religious group.
Remembrance Services are often hijacked by politicians, the Royal Family and the Church. It’s not about any of those things. The message of Remembrance should be inclusive, and simply, ‘never again’.
Commander John Craig – Royal Navy
Having felt pressured into attending a religious ceremony onboard my warship in the North Arabian Gulf on the eve of the 2003 Iraq War – because, as the head of the Operations Department, my attendance “would set a good example for the sailors” – I realised that the Armed Services still considered Humanism to be an aberration from ‘the norm’, rather than a perfectly valid moral foundation. On that night, among the many concerns that affect anyone facing combat for the first time, I wondered how many others, like me, had gone to war for their country over the decades, only to be coerced into pretending to be something they were not, “for the greater good” of unit cohesion. As we commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, the time has come for Humanists to take a stand, to speak out, and to make it clear that – if we are good enough to lay down our lives for our country – we are also good enough to be recognised as equals to those service personnel of faith, who are represented by their religious leaders at the Cenotaph. We ask for nothing more than equality, and for nothing more radical than respect.
Richard Brown – Honorary British Consul in Sicily
Though many made the self-same supreme sacrifice, the deaths of some have been treated in a lesser manner. We will remember them all, the religious and the non-religious alike.
Major Tarquin Shipley – Defence Academy, Shrivenham
Every year as Remembrance Sunday approaches I begin to feel sad that when the day comes I will feel quite excluded. I don’t believe in a god or gods and I know that when the day comes that going to a church will be involved and that there will be an assumption that everyone will be mildly Church of England. There will be a nod to other religions but those of us of no faith are likely not to be thought of at all. I am sad that those people who were non religious who have died for their country are just forgotten. I wonder when people who organise these events will understand that everyone should be treated equally and fairly and that some of us don’t believe that any supernatural power is involved and that there is no ‘final RV’. Death is final and we should remember the sacrifices that people of all types have made and we should respect them in a fair way and not one that favours on particular belief.
That is why I support this campaign to treat the fallen equally and not exclusively.
Marilyn Jackson – Humanist Society Scotland
The British Legion first invited the Humanist Society Scotland to lay a wreath at the Stone of Remembrance in Edinburgh on Remembrance Sunday 2010 – isn’t it time London caught up?
Pamela – Flying Officer, RAF Volunteer Reserve
I am proud to stand as part of the light blue footprint on Remembrance Sunday. However I feel that honouring the dead in a religious way, especially a strictly Christian way is inappropriate. A Christian ceremony is not reflective of everyone who fought and died, nor of many people in our communities who come together in Remembrance. I believe these events should focus on commemorating those who have died in defence of the country and I don’t feel it is appropriate to mix this up with an often unrelated Sunday sermon. I would welcome a change to a non-religious ceremony so that everyone in our community can feel welcome to join in and pay their respects for the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for our freedom.
John Dickens – Army Ret’d
We serve our country and put ourselves in harm’s way, not for some supreme being or tired religious dogma but for each other, your mates, the guy in the defensive position next to yours, your Unit and the common bond you have with each other, your brothers and sisters under arms.
What we do is for our country, our family and friends and we need no spiritual motivation when the bullets start to fly.
I always try and attend Remembrance parades out of respect for those who have fallen during conflict; however, is it me or are such ‘services’ becoming more and more religious in content?
I attended a ‘inter-denominational’ parade (for inter-denominational, read CofE and RC only), that consisted only of hymns and prayers (except, quite rightly, for recitation of the Ode of Remembrance).
We were told to ‘pledge ourselves anew to the service of god’ and that we had sinned because we had not loved god enough. We were told to pray for the dead, for those serving and for god to influence the minds of statesmen (which I found quite baffling and at odds with Christians’ belief in free will). What I found particularly offensive was when we were told to pray for those ‘with no faith’.
We heard a bible story about a 1st century Roman centurion, after which the chaplain explained its relevance to remembrance. There are numerous accounts and poems from the Great War that would have been much more appropriate.
Is it really appropriate for Christians to have exclusive ownership of Remembrance? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for us all to have a secular event?
Gary McLelland – Defence Humanists supporter
There’s no doubt that the Cenotaph was designed as a secular symbol of remembrance, therefore, no reason why any particular religious or belief group should be excluded.
Warrant Officer Bill Connolly – RAF
I have been reflecting on the content of the presentation by the Army Chaplain. He was a competing speaker absolutely committed to his role however, his whole modus operandi revolved around his god and his service to that god. During his presentation he stated that he could not see what added value a non religious “Chaplain” could contribute to pastoral care or such ceremonies such as Remembrance. His rational for this statement; Chaplains have an “all souls” ministry.
The terminology used and assumptions he made do not fit with my beliefs. The attitudes shown are based upon the existing power relationships between those religious representatives already entrenched in an established role providing “Pastoral Care” and those who are on the outside. As the situation stands, the religious leaders within the Armed Forces have the ball and as such they set the rules by which we all have to play.
My starting question is this- do the Chaplains on military establishments “own” remembrance and if they do did they take it or have we given it to them?
The 11 of Nov 2011 is a significant date is it time to try and get a ground swell working from the bottom up. It is time for the Defence Humanists as a body be making contact to attempt to have a humanist voice heard at all remembrance ceremonies within military establishments.
Where no Celebrant has been established should humanist members of the Defence Humanists be stepping up to the plate and offering to give the humanist perspective/representation during remembrance ceremonies and by doing so get uniformed humanists in the public eye?
Senior Aircraftman Luke Jenkins – RAF
I attended a ceremony at RAF Odiham in 2011 as a serving airman, I must say it was a very Christian affair. As an Atheist, i felt uncomfortable and annoyed being present at a service that made literally no attempt to cater for anyone other than Christians. I also felt a little sorry for my close friend; who as a Muslim must have also felt as excluded as I did.
When the Padre began, I had some of Richard Dawkins’s words ringing in my ears ‘But why the chaplain? Why not the gardener or the chef?’ Indeed why shouldn’t the Station Commander deliver the service? Is the Padre the only one considered high and mighty enough to do it?
It’s about time this anachronistic and discriminatory service was changed.