Posted on 12 October 2019
Four simple curves of Rutland limestone with benches resembling a Quaker Meeting stand in a quiet grove of trees.
The stone benches sit on the fringe of the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, England.
The choice of the National Memorial Arboretum is perhaps surprising for a Quaker memorial as it’s Britain’s site of national remembrance of war – designed to both honour those who have died in war and encourage pride in the Armed Forces.
However, British Quakers wanted a presence in the arboretum to remember the contribution the Society of Friends has made in both peace resolution and humanitarian work during wartime.
There are hundreds of individual memorials and military emblems in the arboretum, almost all of which are in memory of armed service. The Quakers wanted something distinctive but not something dulling both the landscape and visitors’ feelings.
As the trustees of the new Quaker Stone Benches memorial acknowledge, some Friends may initially feel out of their comfort zone here. “This has led to a lot of discernment,” says Anthony Wilson, clerk to the Quaker Service Memorial Trust. Quakers like trees and wooden benches, but these weren’t chosen because the trust, “Saw just how many trees and benches the arboretum already has.”
Friends were reassured by the support of the Royal British Legion, which manages the park in the spirit of its founding aim to be “a place of joy where the lives of people would be remembered … in a world of peace.”
The Four Benches
There are six texts, four carved on the backs of the stone seats and two on the front. The wording on the backs of seats is:
1: RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS (QUAKERS): The Society emerged after the civil war of the 1640s with a commitment to live by the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars”. Quakers continue to work worldwide for peace and reconciliation.
On the front of this seat:
Quaker meetings for worship are often held in a circle, a symbol of unity and equality.
On the front base: TRUTH
2: FRIENDS AMBULANCE UNIT – The Unit enabled conscientious objectors to serve in theatres of war. They cared for civilian and military casualties of any nation in both World Wars. Seventeen members were killed in World War II.
On the front base: EQUALITY
3: FRIENDS RELIEF SERVICE– The Service was set up in 1939 to relieve civilian distress. It worked in a spirit of peace at a time of war in the UK, Europe and further afield.
On the front base: SIMPLICITY
4: NOBEL PEACE PRIZE – It is the silent help from the nameless to the nameless which is the Quakers’ contribution to the promotion of brotherhood between nations” Citation from the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Quakers in 1947.
On the front of this seat:
“Let your life speak, answering that of God in everyone”
George Fox, 1624 – 1691.
On the front base: PEACE