Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Behind the new bench, from left, Alan and Fiona Wright, mayor Cllr Bruce Dowling, deputy mayor Cllr Judy Rogers and Jake Bowers.

Peace bench dedicated in the sunshine

On a bright sunny day, with the breeze rustling the leaves in the surrounding trees, the new bench in Alexandra Park Peace Garden was unveiled last Sunday by the mayor. Nick Terdre was among the crowd.

It was a peaceful occasion on Sunday 21 September, appropriately enough, as it was World Peace Day. But we still have a long way to go to achieve world peace,  as Harry Underhill of Hastings Quakers reminded us in his introductory address – though this year marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the ‘war to end all wars,’ he said, yet war continues to rage.

The new bench was donated to the garden by Hastings Quakers and the event included a period for silent reflection and prayer.

“All of us are here because we believe in one thing – peace,” said the mayor, Councillor Bruce Dowling. “We need to help other people understand that we need peace, we need to get rid of war completely, we need to use our own powers to persuade people, not only locally but nationally, we need to talk to politicians and those who run the country.”

The bench is a striking construction, consisting of a seat made of 200-year-old chestnut from Appledore with a steel backrest in the form of a white feather with 150 vanes. It was designed by Alan Wright, of Hastings Quakers, who also carved the inscription Choose Life, while the wood was sourced and fashioned by Paul Reed. The steelwork, including the forged, curve-ended vanes, was produced by art blacksmith, Jake Bowers, and galvanised and coated by Sussex Blast Cleaning, while Luke Brabant applied spray-paint touches.

The bench was fitted in place by Quadmost, a contractor working for the council, whose support for the project was acknowledged at the dedication. While the bench was being fitted, Jake told the assembly, he saw for the first time a bird of prey circling over the park, which he took to be an auspicious sign.

During the First World War, in the jingoistic pro-war mood which prevailed in the early months, white feathers were given to those who refused to fight as a sign of their cowardice. Incorporating a white feather in the bench design is to reclaim it as a badge of honour for conscientious objectors and the courage they showed – some of them were shot for refusing to fight, Harry Underhill told HOT.

Others lost their lives serving in the Friends Ambulance Unit, whose symbol, a dove with olive branch within a star shape, is also carved on the bench. The unit was active in both world wars.

“War is like darkness,” said Harry, who, at 88, is probably the oldest member of Hastings Quakers. “We need to keep the light of goodness on… We treat war as if it were unavoidable – but war is in the mind and comes from an absence of spiritual values; a vacuum of goodness. We shouldn’t wait until war comes, but make sure that the circumstances that lead up to it are inspired by the light, by spiritual values.”

Alan also made The Hope, a stained glass pillar mounted in a light box which has been offered for sale on Etsy to raise funds for the bench. The piece is on display at Hastings Illuminations on the corner of Queen’s Road and Waterworks Road. Donations for the bench can also be made at a Quaker Week book swap and sale, which will be held at Friends Meeting House in South Terrace, Hastings, at noon on Saturday 4 October.

All photos by John Cole.

See also Hoping for peace…

and Zelly Restorick’s article about  WW1’s Private Peaceful.

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Posted 09:44 Wednesday, Sep 24, 2014 In: Home Ground

Also in: Home Ground

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