Today marks the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Michael Randle of Shipley attended the founding meeting of CND in 1958 and was co-organiser of the first London to Aldermaston march later that year, he continues to be a committed campaigner for global nuclear disarmament.

IN one sense, Bradford was where it all began. In an article in the New Statesman on 2 November 1957, Bradford-born writer and dramatist J.B. Priestley argued that Britain should take a moral lead by renouncing nuclear weapons. This generated a huge response culminating in the launch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) at a mass meeting in Central Hall Westminster on 17 February 1957.

However, there were in fact several tributaries that flowed into the mainstream anti-nuclear campaign. Among these was the National Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapon Tests (NCANWT), which was set up in February 1957, the Labour H-bomb Campaign Committee, and the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC).

The Direct Action Committee had its origins in a pacifist campaigning group of in the early 1950s , Operation Gandhi – subsequently renamed the Non-Violent Resistance Group - which I joined as a young conscientious objector in 1952. It stemmed more directly from an attempt in the summer of 1957 by Quaker Harold Steele to hire a boat in Japan and sail with other volunteers to Britain’s scheduled H-bomb testing area near Christmas Island in the Pacific.

The bomb test went ahead before the intervention could take place, but on Steele’s return in November a meeting was held in London at which the new Committee was set up, with Hugh Brock the editor of Peace News as its Chair. At his suggestion, the Committee decided its first action would be a four-day march from London to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston over the Easter weekend,1958. An Aldermaston March Committee was set up comprising Hugh Brock and myself, and two members of the Labour H-Bomb Campaign, Committee, Labour MP Frank Allaun, and Walter Wolfgang; Pat Arrowsmith was the Secretary working from a small office in the Peace News building in Finsbury Park.

The response was huge, with offers of help and accommodation coming from Churches, Quaker Meeting Houses and individuals living along the route of the march. Soon we had to get an additional phone line installed to deal with the volume of calls. One such offer of help came from artist Gerald Holtom, who came to see Hugh, Pat and myself at the office to show us a new symbol he had designed, and sketches of how he envisaged it being displayed on the march. He explained that the symbol was based on the semaphore signal for N (nuclear) and D (disarmament), enclosed in a circle. We agreed there and then to adopt it. Those original sketches were bequeathed by Hugh Brock’s widow, Eileen, to the Commonweal Collection, a peace library of over 4,000 books within the main J.B. Priestley Library at Bradford University, and are now held in the Special Collections section of the main Library.

Recruitment for the march was further boosted by the public launch of CND. which also agreed to sponsor the march. Canon Collins, the Chair of CND, and Michael Foot, a member of its Executive, were among the speakers at the initial rally in Trafalgar Square. Another speaker was the black civil-rights activist, Bayard Rustin, an associate of Martin Luther King, who went on to coordinate the 1963 March on Washington at which King made his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. Bayard told us later that Aldermaston had been the main inspiration for that march and he is credited with bringing the ‘Peace Symbol’ to the US.

Has the campaign succeeded? Clearly nuclear disarmament has not been achieved, and some experts in the field suggest that the world is in greater danger of a nuclear war now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. And with the nuclear powers, including Britain, stepping up their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems, Trump in the White House issuing infantile and insane threats to rain ‘fire and fury’ on North Korea, and Kim Jong-un determined to further develop that country’s nuclear capacity, it is hard to disagree with that judgement.

But there have been successes too for which the Campaign can claim some credit, like the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty of 1968, and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987. Last year, too, the UN General Assembly voted in favour of a ban on all nuclear weapons, and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (of which CND is a partner) in recognition of its work. And if the danger is indeed greater than ever, so too is the importance of continuing the disarmament campaign and developing new ways of promoting it.

Anyone wishing to help can contact Yorkshire CND at:

Michael Randle