On Sunday 6th August, six members of Crewe & Nantwich Meeting gathered beside the river on Water Lode then proceeded to the pedestrian bridge over the river. Howard Hilton then reminded the gathering that we were there to commemorate the thousands of civilians killed by the dropping of the first Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. He then asked if anyone would like to speak, and Linda spoke extemporarily on the Quaker Commitment to Peace from the earliest years of the Society, shortly after the Civil War, at the Restoration of the Monarchy. Howard then asked if he might speak, and began by recalling that he had just started “big school” at the time, as, no doubt, had many Japanese girls and boys, but they, together with their younger brothers and sisters, and their Mums and other relatives, were vaporised or left with dreadful injuries and radiation sickness. It was not necessary, as the Japanese were already negotiating the terms of peace, but scientists like to see their experiments (now commemorated in the film “Oppenheimer”) through to The End.
Some have argued that the Japanese had treated their opponents and prisoners with extreme brutality and deserved what they got, but war exaggerates everything: ordinary people do acts of great heroism, and those of a brutal nature have opportunity to indulge themselves. The artist and cartoonist Ronald Searle (famous for his “St Trinians” creation) left Art College to join the Royal Engineers and endured the war in Burma and the “Bridge over the River Kwai” in reality. Like all true artists he never stopped making drawings, even in captivity somehow, and eventually published a book of them. However, he tells the story of how when the war was ended he was in Changi Jail, still under Japanese control, waiting for arrangements to be made for repatriation. He was one of a party of men given the job of maintenance tasks on a building used as an Officers’ Mess. One day the Camp Commandant, an officer called Takahashi, came in for a morning drink, took off his officer’s sword, relaxed and looked around at what was going on. He saw that Searle was drawing (as usual) and went over to look over his shoulder. He then reached down, took up a pencil, and with a few quick strokes drew a beautiful mother and child, which could be a Madonna. He then said, in his careful English, “I too am an artist, a painter, and when this business started was studying in Paris. I was recalled to Japan.” He gathered his belongings and turned to go, then went back to Searle and said “I almost forgot - you may find these useful” reached into a pocket and gave Searle a handful of pencils. He too was a member of the human family.
Finally, Hiroshima was not the end but the beginning: ever since then we have all lived under the shadow of nuclear weapons - the arms race, the Cuban Missile Crisis and so on. And it distorts our priorities. The Government plans to spend, 2021-2025, on military affairs £201.6 billion, whilst on reducing UK carbon emissions £27.7 billions.
We then turned to the bridge parapet, and threw into the river below the white flowers we had brought. As the ever-rolling stream took them away, it seemed appropriate to recall the words of the Anglican General Confession: Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have offended against thy holy laws, we have done those things we ought not to have done, and we have left undone those thing which we ought to have done, and there is no health in us, but Thou . . .
After that we needed a cup of tea - and a place on Welsh Row provided it, so that we could sit in the sunshine and enjoy companionship