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Peace Garden Officially Opened

Posted on 24 October, 2016

Those walking to the church on Sabbath mornings from the auxiliary car park outside the neighbouring BUC offices will pass through the new Peace Garden that has been created as a memorial to those who during two World Wars have stood up for peace. For a while its construction necessitated closure of the path between the two requiring a longer walk along St. Albans Road. The memorial was finally opened as a place for all to sit in quiet contemplation on Wednesday, 21st September which was the United Nations International Day of Peace.

The idea of a memorial has taken the form of a circular garden, lit up at night, with quiet seating in tranquil surroundings and a three-tier fountain as the centrepiece whilst the surrounding wall has 12 portals representing the gates of the New Jerusalem. It is now a national memorial and living tribute to all those who have stood for peace in wars past and present.

The idea for the memorial arose out of a recognition that130 Adventist men, many of them based around Stanborough Park, the Church headquarters office in Watford, went to prison and suffered severely for their non-combatant values during World War I. Even in World War II, when the government had a much better understanding of Adventist principles, Adventist men had to appear before a tribunal and were then assigned to work of 'national importance'.

The official ceremony, in the form of a moving and thought-provoking service, took place at Stanborough Park Church with host minister, Pastor Jacques Venter, giving the welcome to the many assembled there. BUC President Pastor Ian Sweeney, who originated the idea for the peace garden, gave the main address in which he highlighted that while we are citizens of two kingdoms, that when those kingdoms clash, the kingdom of God must take priority.

Other presentations in the programme came from Brian Phillips, pastor and historian who gave his personal testimony of seeking the path of peace rather than national service and Simon Colbeck from the Watford Quakers. With similar pacifist views, Colbeck shared Quaker values on conscientious objection and working for peace, making brief mention of his documentary film, 'Watford's Quiet Heroes'. Norman Tyrwhitt, an Honorary Freeman of the Borough of Watford, brought civic greetings from the town, and expressed the importance of telling the story of those who made difficult wartime choices.

It was Pastor Victor Hulbert, now Trans-European Division Communication Director, whose research discovered the 130 Seventh-day Adventist conscripts who refused to bear arms during World War 1 while at the same time maintaining the value of their Sabbath day of rest. He briefly recounted their history during the service, but equally emphasised that while this garden was created as a memorial to their courageous stance in the midst of great ridicule and opposition, it also stood for the larger numbers of up to 20,000 who also stood for peace then – and for those who need to stand for peace today.

When asked Pastor Hulbert said, "I felt very humbled to be a part of the day. I set out in 2013 to do some research and tell a story of Seventh-day Adventist men who refused to bear arms. That resulted in a documentary film, lectures, and numerous journal articles." He added, "I never expected it to result in a beautiful lasting memorial like this ...... this will be a lasting memorial and a place that will provide a space of tranquillity for future generations."

After the short church service, a large group, including a number of children and grandchildren of the WWI COs, gathered outside the garden, cameras in hand, as Garth Till, a former member of Stanborough Park Church, cut the white ribbon. Garth, now 87, is the son of Willie Till, one of fourteen who were imprisoned, severely beaten and mistreated at Military Prison Number 3 in Le Havre, France. While he only once, aged nine, ever heard his father talk about his experiences he remembers the trauma it caused his dad recounting the experiences, but clearly states, "He had no regrets. He made the right decision."

This day will always be remembered for the right reasons. Though a memorial of what was a sad and traumatic experience for some, through their courage and faithfulness the Church can honour these men who 'stood for the right'. Now the garden provides us with a reminder of the Christian's lasting legacy of peace and hope for the future. However, as the daughter of one of the Le Havre group commented when asked how she felt, we must not at the same time forget the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives to enable us to enjoy peace in this country. A picture gallery can be found on the BUC News Facebook Page and a video of the event here.