CND At 60

Sixty years ago I wasn’t really into politics, only just a teenager, and didn’t then share the views of my two elder and wiser brothers. I think I still saw war as rather like the school playground, where you had to stick up for yourself and fight (even if not very effectively.)  Jim was 13 years older than me, Alan just 4 years my elder and I think both spent that Easter weekend marching to Aldermaston, though I can’t recognise either of them in the film clips and photos of the event.  Three years later I remember them coming home after a protest organised by the Committee of 100, when thousands sat down in Whitehall; Jim had gone limp and been lifted off the street by police, and his spectacles were broken, but on that occasion there were no arrests.

Later I did join CND, and went to a number of their protests and marches in London, though I’ve never walked the full distance to or from Aldermaston. Back in 2004 I went to the rally in Trafalgar Square on Friday, but left the marchers in Kensington, joining them again for a few hours on the Sunday as they made their way from Maidenhead towards Reading before walking back to pick up my bike and cycle home. And then on Easter Monday an early morning train took me and Linda back to Reading in time to join the final day’s march to Aldermaston.

It was a privilege to be able to walk part of the way and talk with Pat Arrowsmith, and there were many old and some new friends on the march. Because I was going to have to walk at least 12 miles (and actually rather more) I didn’t take my normal camera bag, but just a small digital camera, the Canon Digital Ixus 400. It wasn’t a bad camera, but the pictures are not quite to my usual standard and only about 3.8Mp. Seeing the difference between this and the Nikons made me upgrade a couple of years later to a Fuji FinePix F31 6Mp camera.

I’ve been to Aldermaston a few times since then, but for the protests I’ve usually put my bike on the train to Reading and cycled the 12 miles from there.  Sometimes even lazier, just from Mortimer station and once from Aldermaston station, a mistake as the Atomic Weapons Establishment (Bomb Factory) is up a rather large hill.   There is a similar climb, Hermit’s Hill on the Reading Road at Burghfield, but after struggling up that a few times I now take a slight detour along Clayhill Rd, also as its name implies a hill, but less daunting and with less traffic. Coming back to Reading Hermit’s Hill is exhilarating, though highly dangerous given the potholed state of our roads , and I was lucky to survive on this occasion. Slow-moving cars did mean I had to brake a little, a waste of energy which always disappoints me.

Not only was it the 60th anniversary of CND, but there was also something else to celebrate – the UN treaty banning nuclear weapons, finalised last year and signed by 122 nations, for which ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, of which CND is a part was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Of course the UK is not one of those 122 nations, although long ago British governments argued that although they were against unilateral nuclear disarmament, they favoured multilateral nuclear disarmament and would be ready to sign a treat if other nations did. It never was a serious promise – there are too many vested interests in warfare and military expenditure.

There was a great deal of grey hair on show, and a number of people who had marched in 1958, including Walter Wolfgang who spoke at the event. Veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent recalled how he had cursed it as a young cleric in Kensington as it blocked the road for several hours and disrupted the schedule of four weddings he was conducting, though it was soon after that he was converted to the cause.

More about the event and more pictures on My London Diary at CND at 60 at Aldermaston.

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