The most recent peace plaque at Beachy Head in Sussex, which local activists paid for, installed, and in some cases, wheeled by foot all the way from Brighton, is a year old this week. Here's something I wrote for my Facebook blog a year ago
The following was written for the installation ceremony of a new peace memorial at Beachy Head, Sussex, on 24 May 2008. In the event I decided not to say it, but the mayor of Eastbourne was present on a very blustery evening and made a fine speech. (Not as long as this one is…)
The idea of the plaque was to provide a focus for peace for the many local peace groups, and to be a kind of alternative war memorial - one which reflects the fact that since 1914 civilian casualties in wars have increased exponentially. It is now, overwhelmingly, civilian populations that suffer the heaviest casualties, particularly through aerial bombardment, and we wanted the memorial to remember them as well as the military deaths.
What made the day all the more remarkable was that the six-kilogram plaque was brought to Beachy Head on foot, by several members of our local peace group, all the way along the coast from Brighton (some twenty miles away). This was some achievement, particularly in view of the undulating Seven Sisters cliffs and the fact that two of the walkers were senior citizens. A heroic achievement, and a day which is vividly recalled to me every time I see the plaque in its prominent position opposite the visitors centre.
The Second World War, whose end gave birth to the United Nations and the UN Charter quoted on our plaque, was fought partly in the skies above Beachy Head. The town of Eastbourne was bombed, like many others, and had its own civilian and military casualties amongst the millions killed by the war’s end. Since then, despite the UN Charter, dozens of wars have been fought around the world, and more millions of people have died as a result.
We are now only a few years into a new millennium. We have a symbolic chance for a new beginning of peace, justice, toleration and the rule of law, but so far the lessons of the past hundred years have not been learnt. This plaque stands as a memorial not only to the casualties of war in the twentieth century, but to all those still being killed in wars across the world. Respect for international and humanitarian law, even by the world’s most powerful countries, is in serious decline, and millions have already died in the years since 1 January 2001.
This plaque, brought to Beachy Head through the heroic physical efforts of local peace activists and generous donations from the public, stands not only as a memorial to those killed but also as a symbol of hope - for a better, more tolerant, law-abiding and above all PEACEFUL world in the years to come. Let’s hope that by the time the chalk cliffs have eroded this far and the plaque will either be gone or moved further inland, that world will long since have arrived.
Meanwhile, in its small way, the installed plaque will be something tangible that supporters of both organisations have achieved, and its presence by the Beachy Head UN Peace Path a lasting memorial to the millions who have died in war, and a reminder of the UN Charter which MUST be reaffirmed as a vital document for the safety of the world and ALL its peoples. This is reflected in the wording of the plaque, which says:
IN MEMORY OF
ALL WHO LOST THEIR LIVES
IN THE WARS OF THE
LAST HUNDRED YEARS, WHATEVER
THEIR GENDER, AGE OR NATIONALITY,
MILITARY OR CIVILIAN
EASTBOURNE UNITED NATIONS ASSOCIATION
EASTBOURNE FOR PEACE AND LIBERTY
...WE THE PEOPLES OFTHE UNITED NATIONS
DETERMINED TO SAVE SUCCEEDING
THE SCOURGE OF WAR
CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS
JUNE 1945, IN SAN FRANCISCO