Hundreds flock to the cathedral for Eve of Peace ceremony
- Credit: Cpl Jamie Hart
It was full of poignancy and pageantry and attended by up to 800 people from across a wide spectrum of communities in Suffolk.
Marking 100 years since the end of the First World War, the Eve of Peace ceremony attracted members of Suffolk’s military and civilian groups to St Edmundsbury Cathedral on Wednesday evening.
Troops from Wattisham Flying Station, RAF Honington and USAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall linked up with veterans, youth groups, multi-faith organisations and civic dignitaries for a service to mark the centenary of the ending of the 1914-18 conflict and to commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The service in Bury St Edmunds was led by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich the Rt Rev Martin Seeley and included a dramatic mass drop of poppies during a moment of silence and the lighting of candles in a Circle of Light to symbolise peace.
The exhortation was read by Daniel Saunders, the nine-year-old great great grandson of Sergeant Arthur Saunders VC, a Suffolk Regiment soldier from Ipswich who was awarded the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Loos in 1915.
Although nervous at the prospect of reading out the tribute, he said: “It is a proud day for me and I feel very privileged and I know that my great great grandfather has allowed me the opportunity to do this.”
The youngster, who is a pupil at Oundle Primary School, in Northamptonshire, proudly wore his relative’s miniature replica medals.
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The service, aptly called “Eve of Peace”, was directed by Anthony Fairbanks Weston and was a key part of the commemorations in the county this week, coordinated by the Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, Clare Countess of Euston.
It marked 100 years to the day when German officers arrived at Compiegne to begin negotiating the Armistice to end the war.
Suffolk actor and personality Roy Hudd read an extract from King George V’s speech at the conclusion of his tour of the British and Commonwealth cemeteries in France in 1922.
And the ceremony also marked the world premiere of the poem “Before Action”, written by William Hodgson, youngest son of the first Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, who was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, with the text set to music by David Fawcett, winner of the Cathedral’s World War 1 composition competition.
The Rev Canon Philip Banks, precentor of the cathedral, said: “As the county’s cathedral we feel enormously privileged to be hosting this service at such a poignant time in our nation’s history particularly as it falls on the eve of peace that was being finally settled.
“We hope to help people remember that war is a terrible thing to be avoided at all cost but we also honour all who serve in our armed forces to keep us safe and risk their lives for our nation.”
Lieutenant Colonel Marcus Brown, Commanding Officer of 6 Regiment Army Air Corps, said he was “proud” and “honoured” to be attending the service.
“We are tremendously proud to come along and be representative of today’s forces and remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for the country so long ago,” he said.
And Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, President of the Suffolk County Royal British Legion, added: “It’s a chance for all the different aspects and communities to honour the sacrifice made all those years ago.
“What we saw back then was unbelievable sacrifice as with over 10,000 people from Suffolk laying down their lives for firstly the people of Belgium, the people of France and ourselves.
“Many of them didn’t come back and the sacrifice they embodied for their country and communities was picked up in subsequent wars with that sense of social responsibility.
“It’s about picking up the torch of remembrance. It’s about sacrifice, duty and love of others.”