From Bethlehem to Bedford, Soham, and Ground Zero

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Bedford Scout Leader Peter Sharples’ greatest achievement was the annual Bethlehem Peace Light project. Started in 1986 by the Austrian Broadcasting Company, ORF (Linz) to help needy children, this extraordinary Christmas pilgrimage now touches the lives of countless thousands of people around the world. Peter was the good Samaritan who introduced it into the UK in 1991. Later he delivered it to Ground Zero in New York starting a countrywide celebration in the USA for the festive season that today reaches and touches well over 100,000 people.

A life-long Christian, Peter saw this symbol as a sign of hope and encouragement in a world where children were often caught up in terrible conflicts. For well over a decade he used his background as a British Rail Scout to ensure that hundreds of towns and cities in the UK had a chance every Christmas to share in this peace message.

In 2001 the devastation of the World Trade Centre in the USA gave him the inspiration to spread the message of peace beyond Europe. He refused to take ‘No’ for an answer and conquered numerous logistical problems to fly the light to New York where it brought comfort to thousands at the mortuary in what became known as Ground Zero. American Scouts have since made it a part of the nation’s Christmas celebrations.

A compassionate Scout, Peter quietly introduced the light to the congregation at St Andrew’s Church in Soham after the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002. His widow Sheila intends to carry on this legacy in Peter’s memory.

Gary Bates, a fellow Peace Light Scout from Nottingham said,

‘We did so much travelling, met so many people, toured Vienna and Paris, drank mulled wine and ate salami. We laughed and joked and shared stories along the way — a true Scouting experience —Thank You. Good bye to a very special man.’

When he was not making public transport journeys with a burning lantern, Peter looked after the needs of Bedford Scouts. An adviser for water activities, he went on to become the only narrow boat assessor in the county. This allowed him to demonstrate his self-taught skill as an artist painting all manner of designs on his boats to the delight of the Scouts who helped him.

For over half a century, Peter was a dedicated and knowledgeable Scout Leader. He began in St Albans in 1956 before moving to Bedford in 1978 where he was taken under the wing of then District Commissioner, Ken Wells. He was awarded a Medal of Merit, iin 1982 and a Silver Acorn in 1995. An Honorary Scouter, he received a Bar to the Silver Acorn in 2011 for continued exceptional services to Scouting. This year, just before he died, he attended the opening of a new slipway at Jordans Close Scout Activity Centre, named Sharples Way in his honour. A fitting tribute to a great Scout.

Peter’s first wife, Janet, died in 1982. He is survived by his second wife, Sheila, four children, and five grandchildren. He will be sadly missed by all who knew him.


Irish, formerly known as Michael, a student with The Open University, living in Dublin with his husband Andrew and their three cats. Also interested in first aid, heraldry, Scouting, and occasionally to be found at the organ or in a bell tower.

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Posted in Bedfordshire Scouts, Jordan's Close, Narrow Boats, Volunteering
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