This is the story of how and why Coventry Lord Mayor’s Committee for Peace and Reconciliation was formed and of its work over the past 40 years.
Coventry is the UK’s only City of Peace and Reconciliation. The motivation for adopting this status was the bombing of Coventry by the German air force on the night of 14 November 1940. Coventry Cathedral, like many other parts of the city, was destroyed. The response of the Dean of the Cathedral, Richard Howard was to have the words, “Father forgive” inscribed on the wall behind the altar of the ruins. In the BBC Christmas broadcast six weeks later, which came from the cathedral ruins, he said “we are trying, hard as it may be, to banish all thoughts of revenge … to make a kinder, simpler – a more Christ-Child-like sort of world in the days beyond this strife”.
Since 1940, Coventry Cathedral has appointed a ‘Canon for Reconciliation’, a position held by Archbishop Justin Welby and Rev Canon Andrew White among others. The Cathedral has created an international Community of the Cross of Nails, dedicated to spreading the message of peace and forgiveness.
Another consequence of the bombing was that Coventry women reached out with aid to Stalingrad (now called Volgograd), a city similarly bombed in 1942. This eventually led to Coventry City Council forming the first town twinning, which took place with Stalingrad in 1944. Twinning aims to create relationships between the people of the twinned cities.
The 1950s and 1960s were decades of warning of the dangers of nuclear weapons by many international, national and local groups. Activists had many other concerns.
Coventry Lord Mayor’s Committee for Peace and Reconciliation was formed in the late 1970s to co-ordinate the Lord Mayor’s annual Peace Lecture. In the early 1980s the Committee was responsible for organising the Coventry Peace Festival, held in November and included the anniversary of the bombing. The Committee also organised a stall with games at Leamington Peace Festival to raise money for the committee. This included a bicycle that pedalled backwards.
From 1986 the Committee has held Coventry Hiroshima Day on 6 August in the new Coventry Cathedral. At the first event, activist Alan Edwards made little boats with candles and floated them on a paddling pool in the chapel of unity. The early liturgy was written by Ann Farr with Jean and Roger Fawcett. Sadako’s story and the pleasure or torture of making Japanese paper cranes of peace is the centre of our commemorations every year.
Around the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Coventry 1990, Committee chair Madelene Sharpe led several conferences about the environment and peace including Small is beautiful and the role of Peace Keeping army work. Armies are the last to want to go to war and will do anything to prevent war.
In 1982 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for “work for disarmament and nuclear and weapon-free zones” and the Lord Mayor’s Peace Committee hosted a European regional conference of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
The 2000s were the years of collaboration between the Peace Committee with Penny Walker of Coventry Peace House, which included a picnic on the Cathedral Lawns. Also in those years, Ann Farr and John Hartley linked with Hiroshima Coventry Friendship Club founded in Hiroshima by Hideko Okamoto in 2008. The peace studies department at Coventry University began degrees and offered evening classes in reconciliation. The university now includes the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations whose staff perform research on many aspects of security, peacebuilding, trust and social relations.
The 2010s saw many more events, with the inclusion of young people. A memorable event occurred in 2016 when Michael Morpurgo was the speaker at the Lord Mayor’s Peace Lecture. The 250-strong audience even included students from a primary school in Stafford. The support of Coventry City Council for the Committee has become stronger. For example, the exchange of letters of greeting annually with the City of Hiroshima. The Committee also created its first website at coventrycityofpeace.uk which has been followed by several other sites supporting the Committee’s various activities.
In the 2020s Coventry became UK City of Culture and one fifth of the bid was based on peace and reconciliation. The Lord Mayor’s Committee established a Peace Award for schools, the winners of which receive a trophy and window stickers to show their success in promoting peace. It has also run conferences for schools in Coventry Cathedral.