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A forgotten ceremony for the fallen remembered

15 November, 2018 — By John Gulliver

School children and dignitaries including deputy mayor Maryam Eslamdoust and Cllr Flick Rae pay tribute to the fallen in Fortune Green

SOME years ago, I discovered a sequestered spot in Fortune Green cemetery where stood the only gravestones, to my knowledge, in Camden of soldiers killed in the Second World War.

A few hundred yards further rose a cenotaph in memory of those killed locally in the Blitz. Once, the local priest, accompanied by the borough’s mayor, had annually laid wreaths there.

But then the priest and their worships no longer turned up on Remembrance Day. The annual ceremony had disappeared between the cracks.

For several years I found myself making up for their absence with my own annual pilgrimage to the monuments. I was the only person there. But I tidied up one or two wreaths relatives had left – and wrote in this column about the sacrifice the men had made.

Finally, West Hamp­stead councillor Flick Rea decided it was time to hold the ceremony again. And on Friday it was held there again – the deputy mayor Maryam Eslamdoust, Flick Rea, the Rev Alistair Tressider of St Luke’s Church and children from St Margaret’s School, Emmanuel primary and St Luke’s school, all made up a moving ceremony, as shown in my picture.

White poppies for the World Peace Day event in Tavistock Square

Perversely, on the great day – Sunday – I didn’t attend the conventional commemorative ceremonies for the Armistice but wandered to Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury for an event I suspected would sail by past the media – a white poppy gathering for the thousands of men, many jailed, who were classified as Conscientious Objectors in the First World War. To honour the “victims” of war there was a two-minute silence.

There were hundreds of moral resisters in Camden, Islington and Haringey – 350 alone in Haringey: a mixture of socialists, Christians and men who held intense moral feelings against the war. Several held a poster remembering Robert Lown, imprisoned for his convictions, and only discovered as a moral objector decades later.

More than 100 gathered – grey beards and white-haired women mainly but also 20somethings – willing to resist the drum beats of war. As a one-time conscript I am not anti-war by any means but admire those whose moral beliefs make them refuse to don a uniform.

I spotted Bruce Kent, a peacenik over the decades, once a senior Catholic priest at St Aloysius’ Church, Somers Town, now still writing and speaking against the war in that thought-provoking magazine Peace News.

“I was in the army,” he smiled, waving his stick. “Stationed most of the time of National Service in Worksop, thank goodness!” He’s still going strong at 89.
Later, crowds drifted to nearby Friends House in Euston Road for refreshments, along with sales of books and magazines, and talks… all on the theme of peace.


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