This years Annual Gathering was held over four days in London. In total over 100 members of Veterans For Peace attended. We were joined by comrades from the USA, Germany and Ireland.
The weekend began on Thursday 10 November with a guided tour of the Bloomsbury area, led by James Florey of VFP London. He walked a group of twenty around places of war, peace and activism. This was a great opportunity for those from outside London to become acquainted with the area and for informal chats along the way. The tour finished at The Jeremy Bentham pub where a well attended welcome reception was started with the recital of the poem Boy Soldier by Ross de Freitas of VFP London.
On Friday 11 November we held our Annual General Meeting at Friends House. Our new Handbook was ratified and priority campaigns were identified for 2017.
- Boycott the War System.
- End Child Engagement by HM Armed Forces.
- Stop Trident renewal.
- Shut down the Arms Fair.
Six members of VFP stood for election to the Policy Group. It was proposed by Aly Renwick that all six be elected, this was agreed unanimously.
A workshop was held by Turning The Tide which focused on the skills we have in VFP, relationships, spreading power and decision making. It became clear during the workshop that it is all too easy to slip into military behavior and attitudes. The military is 90% male and encourages sexism towards women. Sexism harms our women members deeply and degrades us all. We must actively stand against sexism within VFP.
Before lunch Rachel Taylor of Child Soldiers International gave a short presentation on how VFP can help in the campaign to raise the recruitment age of the British Army from 16 to 18.
In the afternoon we broke off into regional groups to begin discussions on action for 2017 and also to identify possible new Action Groups that could be formed. Scotland could be up and running soon and Manchester will be re-started in the new year.
The AGM ended with instructions for our Remembrance Ceremony at The Cenotaph.
On Armistice Night we put on a Band Night at The Water Rats. D-Day veteran Jim Radford kicked off the evening with three folk songs including a rendition of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”. Fenya then sang “Christmas Truce” live for the first time. James Toler played a set before VFP band Batang Kali took the stage. Batang Kali is a project started by Ian Olliver. He uses the words of veterans to craft songs that reveal the true nature of military service and war. They were joined by Megaciph who also played some of his own songs. The band night was a success and we will look to put on another one at next year’s Annual Gathering.
On Saturday 12 November we held our Annual Public Conference. This was led in the morning by anthropologist and VFP member Steven Gardiner. The theme for the day was “Creating Enemies: Critical perspectives on the justification of war”.
Kathryn Piquette (VFP) and Andrew Gardner (UCL) gave presentations focussing on ancient Egypt and Rome, “Creating Enemies: A long view from history and archaeology”.
Steven Gardiner (VFP) gave a presentation on “How to Make Enemies & Mobilise Aggression”.
A panel discussion was then held on the theme “Creating Enemies: Social perspectives”. This featured Bilal Ahmed (Souciant.com) who focussed on Islamophobia in France, Omran Belhadi (Reprieve) who focussed on the drone assassination program and Lena Mohamed (Islamic Human Rights Comission) who focussed on the Prevent Strategy.
During lunch we screened a new VFP film by Arla Albertine. You can watch it by clicking here.
VFP member Stuart Griffiths gave a presentation titled “Memory of Time: British soldier snapshots”. The images were both brutal and moving.
The final panel chaired by Ben Griffin was entitled “Creating Enemies: In military training & on the battlefield”. Wayne Sharrocks (VFP UK) spoke about growing up with a soldier dad and serving in Afghanistan. Matthew Hoh (VFP USA) spoke about the effects advertising had on his young mind and also about the creation of “Hero’s” to dehumanise the enemy. Phil Clarke (VFP UK) spoke about his role in creating the enemy as a soldier in the Intelligence Corps. Joe Glenton (VFP UK) rounded off the day by fleshing out the idea of the veteran as an enemy. There were numerous questions from the floor.
After two days of intense meetings it was time to unwind at The Exmouth Arms…
On Sunday 13 November we held our Remembrance Ceremony at The Cenotaph. 68 members of Veterans For Peace turned up to walk under the banner NEVER AGAIN and lay a wreath of white poppies. This was our fourth year and our largest turnout out yet. We received a respectful reception from the many people still lining the streets.
The film of the ceremony has been seen over 300,000 times, to watch it click here.
The Annual Gathering was put on at no cost for those attending. Veterans For Peace UK has no paid workers. We rely on small regular donations to cover the costs of our organisation. Please consider making a regular donation to VFP UK via Paypal or Standing Order. For our bank details please email firstname.lastname@example.org.