Hosting an open-house peace event during Armed Forces Day

In 2019, Salisbury city hosted a three-day celebration of all things military. Kathrine Sealey shares how local Quakers provided a peaceful counterpoint.

salisbury quaker meeting house
Salisbury Quakers screened films about peace for visitors. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On Saturday 29 June, Armed Forces Day, Salisbury Quaker Meeting hosted an afternoon of films about militarism and thought-provoking conversations about peace at our Meeting House.

We organised the event to create an alternative for Salisbury residents during the city's Armed Forces National Event. This three day celebration aimed to thank the military for their role in helping Salisbury through the poisoning crisis in 2018, while the police, ambulance services, Salisbury District Hospital and experts at Porton Down played essential roles as well.

Publicising peace

We planned a relaxed drop-in style event, with plenty of food and a 'come-and-go' atmosphere. We sent the information to 16 meetings in the wider area, and to the local Churches Together contact who sent it round to member churches. This led to some welcome messages of support.

I informed national peace organisations – QPSW, Peace News, Peace Pledge Union, Veterans for Peace, Medact, Christian CND, CAAT, Forces Watch – and local papers and radio. QPSW sent a box of materials on militarism, especially multiple copies of their publication Take action on militarism (PDF).

A disappointment was that our weekly local paper did not print the meeting's carefully worded letter (PDF) explaining what we were offering and why. However, we received publicity when BBC Wiltshire radio interviewed Symon Hill from the highly supportive Peace Pledge Union a few days before the event.

Creating talking points

On the day, we offered visitors free tea and cake, screened a 12-minute loop of short films that look at how militarism shapes Britain today. The footage featured the devastation of Damascus, stacks of coffins representing the WW2 dead, country by country, and the short film The Unseen March. This film looks at the increasing military presence in British schools, and the armed forces' practice of recruiting at age 16 (the only country in Europe to do so).

These films moved and horrified visitors in equal measure, and we soon found that they prompted plenty of wide-ranging conversations around topics such as young cadets, devastating destruction caused by war and the horrendous numbers of the dead in WW2.

However, the subject on many people's minds was the disruption caused by the Armed Forces Day celebrations. At varying times over the weekend, 38 roads in the city were closed for the parade and traffic management; fortunately Wilton Road, where our Meeting House is, was not affected.

Around 30 visitors came, including representatives from the Peace Pledge Union who told us that the National Armed Forces Day in 2020 will be in Scarborough. We made the QPSW materials about militarism and peace available to everyone there, but I think the conversations were what people took away with them most.

Further outreach

We were pleased with the way having our Meeting House open on Saturday afternoon went. At least a dozen local Friends helped with all the arrangements, and others dropped in to take part.

We also felt encouraged on Sunday morning when a BBC Wiltshire radio programme about the Armed Forces interviewed Ken Smith, a Salisbury Quaker who had compiled the meeting's unpublished letter to the Salisbury Journal.

Ken stressed that war is not inevitable, and that greater resources and emphasis should be put on measures that reduce the risk of conflict leading to military action.

Links to referenced resources