CND at 60

Easter at Aldermaston with London CND

Two London CND coaches made their way to Aldermaston on Easter Sunday to celebrate CND’s 60th anniversary in traditional style, with old friends and new, including a Samba band who kept our toes tapping. HELEN MARTINS (pictured) was on board. You can read her report below, and check out our photo album here.

helen martins.jpg

Looking at the overcast sky, CND General Secretary Kate Hudson reminded us that the first Aldermaston march held in 1958 was the wettest Easter on record since 1900! Kate opened the 2018 rally at Aldermaston on 1 April and attended by several hundred people. And how much there was to commemorate and celebrate, and how the goal of global nuclear disarmament is now within reach.

Kate later paid tribute to two lifelong and much-missed activists, who died in recent weeks – Marg Behrman and Phillip Wearne – who both worked so hard for a world free of war and weapons.

Veteran campaigner Walter Wolfgang, CND Vice-President, was organiser of the first Aldermaston march. Sixty years on, he said that civilisation has not kept up with technological progress. He remembered the last leg of that march, and arriving at Aldermaston – “a place of barbarism, which remains a place of barbarism.” He talked about a current political establishment that has become frightened and is hitting out against anyone who wants to abolish nuclear weapons, but that in Jeremy Corbyn we now have the best possible Labour leader anywhere. “We now need to succeed wholly, not just half-way.”

May Chatham travelled to the rally from Manchester. Her parents took her on the first Aldermaston march: aged 16 at the time, she joined them very reluctantly. But by 1959 she had joined a direct action group and been arrested. May said she is still active. And she is still angry. She said she was at the rally in 2018 to register her protest, in particular about the ‘toddler’ international leaders who keep on saying “my toy is bigger than yours.”

Poet and patron of CND Peace Education, Antony Owen, read from his book of very moving poems The Nagasaki Elder. Anthony argued for the need to start proliferating peace, because millions of pounds are spent on nuclear weapons but peanuts on peace education.

Officiating at four weddings one afternoon in Kensington, Bruce Kent, CND Vice-President, was perplexed why bride after bride was arriving late. It turned out they had all been held up because the streets were filled with people on the first Aldermaston march. The same year, an Archbishop asked Bruce whether he thought it was OK to murder hundreds of thousands of people. Bruce thought not. The Archbishop then asked him “Isn’t it a sin then just to have the intention to do so?” Bruce agreed. Talking about deterrence, Bruce asked “Deter who? You can’t deter accidents.”

The Nuclear Information Service is a non-governmental organisation in Reading. David Cullen talked about warheads being assembled in Burghfield and the research and development work on uranium and plutonium being done at Aldermaston. Aldermaston has the 197th most powerful computer in the world and uses it to carry out virtual nuclear testing. And the Aldermaston site is continually being upgraded and expanded, with massive building plans that stretch into 2030s, creating “a footprint to keep nuclear weapons in perpetuity.”

Carol Turner, London CND Chair, then paid tribute to Helen John, who also died recently. Most famous for the women’s peace camp at Greenham, Helen was a lifelong and passionate campaigner against nuclear weapons.

Rebecca Johnson, CND Vice-President, urged people to join the regular Aldermaston peace camp, and to turn up in thousands at the demo at Faslane on 22 September. She reminded us that the original CND slogan was ‘Ban the bomb’ and that, with the UN Global Nuclear Ban Treaty, we have now – in effect and in the real world – banned the bomb! [Loud cheers at this point!] The task ahead is to get countries to sign the treaty, so it can be ratified: the vision to achieve this is to get the treaty into force in 1,000 days.

CND Chair, Dave Webb, talked about the world hanging on a thread, and that we mustn’t give up and we can’t give up. “You can’t kill the spirit”, so we need to hope, and believe – and achieve. Dave talked about a transformation of industry, with the need to work with trade unions and politicians and move towards a more caring society, and to convert Aldermaston from a war-like machine into a job diversification strategy that will benefit everyone.

After that rallying call, there was an interfaith service and the opportunity for everyone to write their personal messages of peace and tie them onto the fence.

CND… now more than ever.


Six decades of radical protest: Victoria Brittain reviews 'CND at 60' by Kate Hudson


Special price for a limited time only from London CND

The backdrop of CND’s 60 years of history is in the story of its relations with the Labour Party and with the left in Britain, both full of contradictions.

Kate Hudson has long been steeped in CND history, as its general secretary for a decade and for seven years before that as its chair. In this book she has done a great job with the archives to give a vivid feel for the years in the shadow of the cold war and Britain’s umbilical link to US foreign policy.

The compromises, splits, betrayals and principles heroically upheld within CND and its splinter movements were intertwined with intellectual and personal power struggles in the Labour Party. In the world of social media today, such political fights are mostly on public view, but this book tells a story known in detail to relatively few beyond the participants, most of whom are no longer with us.

Here is the campaign’s start in 1958 behind the eloquent intellectual and moral leadership of Bertrand Russell, JB Priestley, Donald Soper, Kingsley Martin, Rose Macaulay, Julian Huxley, Canon John Collins and Michael Foot. A mass movement for Britain’s unilateral nuclear disarmament, speaking to the public’s outrage after the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and huge anxiety at nuclear testing and the effect of Strontium-90, was born from their writing.

CND’s story is one of waxing and waning tides of public opinion’s engagement with the urgency of the threat of nuclear weapons. Its strength through the decades has depended partly on resistance to the extent of successive British governments’ commitment to spending on nuclear weapons and acceptance of US nuclear warplanes and bombs being based in Britain.

But also crucial has been its evolving links to general anti-war campaigns, notably in the years of Vietnam in the 1960s and then in the 1990s and thereafter, against the devastating Western wars of choice in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

The book records the ebullience of the four-day Aldermaston Easter marches, where 8,000 people in 1958 had become 100,000 by 1960. By 1962, with the acute cold war nuclear crises over Berlin and then the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, there were 1 million US soldiers in 200 foreign bases threatening the USSR. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of the following year seemed for a moment to mark a breathing space from tension although, in fact, only the US, Britain and the USSR signed it.

CND was impossible to ignore, with public events like the iconic Trafalgar Square Easter rally of 1966 under the wing of a ‘Punch and Judas’ extravaganza. There were 20-foot puppets designed by great satirical cartoonist Gerald Scarfe and a ‘bold, shameless, satirical script’ featuring Britain’s prime minister Harold Wilson, Ian Smith, of white Rhodesia’s independence movement, US president Lyndon Johnson and the Bank of England.

Thousands of helium balloons carried silver-foil missiles and bombs and, to the sound of missiles, buckets of blood-red paint were thrown in the faces of the rogues’ gallery of war criminals, while Harold Wilson’s head split open and a crying baby emerged. It was then set on fire as the roar of B-52 bombers filled the air. Those were the years of the Vietnam war and these protests linked the US war in Asia with Polaris nuclear missiles in Britain and the wider Labour Party leadership's failure of principle.

In 1968, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) was passed at the UN with 95 votes for and 21 abstentions, but disarmament was soon an evident failure. Polaris was replaced by Trident and the US planned to deploy neutron bombs with their advanced potential to damage people more than buildings in Europe.

There was pressure on the continent in which END (European Nuclear Disarmament), an ally of CND, had a key role, as did the outstanding brave and determined Greenham Common women’s peace camp. The neutron bomb initiative was pushed back.

But today there are still 200 US nuclear weapons in Western Europe and Turkey — illegal under the 1968 NNPT — and in Britain we have a government determined to press ahead with the upgrade of Trident against all logic and overwhelming public opposition.

But Britain, like the other nuclear states, is going against the curve of history. Last year, the 2017 Nobel Peace prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of hundreds of organisations, including CND, which was among its founders. And last summer 122 countries at the UN endorsed a global treaty to ban nuclear bombs, despite strong opposition from nuclear-armed states and their allies.

The US and North Korea terrorising the world with their nuclear threats earlier this year will no doubt be another moment when CND has a surge of new support to mobilise against the grotesque global threat which our leaders still refuse to recognise all these decades after the US war crimes at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  • This review first appeared in the Morning Star on Wednesday 7 March

  • CND at 60: Britain’s most enduring mass movement, price £12.95 is available from London CND at the special price of £12 including p&p here

CND at 60 book launch

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson launched her new book, CND at 60: Britain’s most enduring mass movement, at Friends House in London. In conversation with Victoria Brittain, she discussed what prompted her to update CND’s history and read passages from her book before answering audience questions.


The launch date – 8 March, International Women’s Day – was well chosen. Women have played an important role in CND and the wider peace movement from the very beginning. This includes London CND’s own Pat Arrowsmith, nowadays a CND UK Vice Chair, an organiser of the first march to Aldermaston and prominent in the Committee of 100.

You can purchase a copy of the book here