Peace Stories - Ray Hainton
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Ray Hainton with family members.
Ray Hainton has always been committed to peace and internationalism. Since 1980 she has lived out this commitment through her work for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Her CND work has taken her to the USA and USSR, as well as to Greenham Common, Faslane and Aldermaston. She wrote a chronology of her peace work to help her prepare for this interview.
RECORDED PEACE STORY (September 2009)
Joining the peace movement
I’ve always been concerned about peace and disarmament, even before I became a Quaker in 1969. For example I started a branch of the United Nations Association in Hounslow in 1956. But I didn’t become involved with CND until 1980. I went to a weekend at Woodbrooke, the Quaker College in Birmingham, about disarmament, in the Easter of 1980 when cruise missiles were coming in. And it wasn’t until then that I realised the full horror of nuclear weapons and the fact that the theory of mutually assured destruction was being replaced by talk about a limited nuclear war in Europe. I was so horrified by all this I went back to East Cornwall and started a peace group in Tavistock. It was then that I met Bruce Kent. I went up to London to find out material for running a peace group and met Bruce Kent, and then held a meeting in Tavistock and we decided to call it the Tavistock Peace Action Group. And the first thing we did was hold a public meeting to show the film ‘The War Game’ which was banned by the BBC. And we also ran a float in the Tavistock Carnival.
Did you have a large group of supporters?
I think there were probably about twenty of us, very enthusiastic. Some of them were Quakers and some of them weren’t. We got the Quaker Peace Action Caravan to come to Tavistock and we decided fairly early on to affiliate to CND because they were the people who had all the information. And we got a coach to a demonstration in London in 1981 and were astonished that a quarter of a million people turned up. It was against nuclear weapons in general and cruise missiles in particular.
Visit to the United Nations
Fairly early on you started to travel abroad for peace campaigning?
We decided to support the World Disarmament Campaign which was collecting signatures to go to the Second Special Session of the United Nations Disarmament in New York in 1982. It was asking people to sign, begging the Powers to disarm in general. And Bruce Kent took a party of about fifty to the Second Special Session in New York, and I went on that. It was very impressive. We marched from Central Park past the United Nations building. Actually the march was just asking for a freeze on nuclear weapons but there were about a million people there from all over the world and the World Disarmament Campaign had collected signatures from all over the world. They got about four million signatures and I watched Fenner Brockway present these signatures to Perez de Cuellar, who was the Secretary General of the United Nations at that time.
Did you talk to peace campaigners from other parts of the world?
Well there were people from all over the world. I was particularly impressed by the Japanese. I remember they gave us garlands of paper cranes. And I was very impressed by the Native Americans as well.
What were they doing?
I just went to one of their meetings which was very strange to me. I can’t remember the detail now, only that I was, I think, the only white person there in fact, and they were carrying out strange rituals.
The same year, you visited Greenham Common?
We took a coach from Tavistock to the women’s demonstration at Greenham Common just before Christmas in 1982. And we did take men as well, they weren’t supposed to take part in the demonstration but they were there in a supporting role. I joined in with the thirty thousand women who held hands and embraced the base. We stretched all round this great fence which is nine miles long and we decorated the fence. I put up pictures of my grandchildren and people were putting up baby clothes, and I remember as we drew away... It was nearly Christmas time so it was dark by four o’clock, and we had lit night lights all round the base. I can still remember how impressive it looked.
Did many people from Tavistock go?
Well we filled a coach, yes. People of all ages, lots of young people.
What was it about Greenham Common which particularly roused people to protest?
Well that was where the cruise missiles were based. They hadn’t actually arrived, but that was where they were first based. And these women had marched from Cardiff and were camping outside the base and said they were going to stay there until cruise missiles went away.
Why do you think women particularly got involved in this campaign?
Well they started by calling themselves “Women for Life on Earth”. I think, as women who give birth to life, they felt particularly strongly against the horror of destroying it indiscriminately.
Had you been involved in the feminist movement?
No, I wasn’t at all really an ardent feminist but I could – having children and grandchildren – I could see what they were driving at. In fact they had a slogan: “Take the Toys From the Boys”.
Talking to the Russians
After Greenham Common you travelled again?
I made several visits to the Soviet Union as it was then, first of all in 1981. All these visits were organised by Quakers. 1981, I went on a trip to Moscow and Uzbekhistan and Leningrad. And it was organised by Sidney White, a Quaker from Birmingham who’s dead now. Of course the Russians had invaded Afghanistan the previous year, so Russia was the “great enemy” all these nuclear weapons were aimed at, and Sidney White’s idea was that we ought to talk to the Russians. So we did. We actually visited peace committees in Moscow and Tashkent and Leningrad. And I went on another such peace trip to the Caucasus in 1983. We went to Baku in Azerbaizhan and to Tblisi in Georgia and Yeravan in Armenia, and met peace groups. And the third trip to the USSR I went on was organised by Eleanor Barden, a member of Northampton Quakers. It was called “Meet the Russians” and we stayed in Moscow and met a lot of Russian families.
What was the aim?
Well, to meet the Russians and get to know them as people.
Did you speak Russian?
Well I started trying to learn Russian, in fact I persisted for a good many years but I’m afraid I haven’t kept it up. I did learn a bit of Russian. My aim was to be able to talk to the Russians in their own language. I did learn a bit of Russian, but really you have to work at it every day and I was so involved in other peace activities, and being old I think it’s harder to learn, so I never really mastered the language. I gave several talks after my Russian journeys on “Is There a Russian Threat?”. I came to the conclusion there wasn’t, and said so! There was a certain amount of hostility. I remember this talk was advertised in Wimbledon, and we had people throwing bricks through the window. I never saw them. Some of the members of the Wimbledon Peace Group chased after them, I don’t think they caught them.
Campaigning in Exeter.
During the 1990s you became very involved in the campaigns around Trident missiles and eventually the campaign around replacing them?
Well I organised a trip to Faslane, where the Trident submarines are based on the Clyde, from Exeter.
What did you do there?
Marching past the base, making speeches at the main gate. There have been a lot of blockades at Faslane but on that occasion there wasn’t a blockade.
Arrest at Aldermaston
In 2000 I invited Angie Zelter, who runs the Trident Ploughshares campaign, which aims at taking non-violent direct action against Trident. I invited her to come and speak in Exeter. And she was so impressive ‒ she was inviting people to come and join the blockade at Aldermaston ‒ that I did go with four others to join in this blockade.
What were they aiming to do?
Well, to stop people going to work at the base. Aldermaston is where the nuclear missiles are actually made ‒ the warheads, not the missiles. The warheads are made at Aldermaston in Berkshire, the missiles are actually made in the United States, then they’re put on submarines which are based at Faslane. Anyway, the aim was to stop people going to work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, and they start work at half past six in the morning. We slept at Douai Abbey which was two or three miles away and got there before half past six, joined ourselves together and lay down in the road in front of the main gate, to stop people coming to work.
How did you feel?
I had never done anything like that before, though I’d been to a lot of demonstrations outside bases. I can remember the policeman in charge saying he really didn’t want to arrest us ‒ “Please go away”. And we were cleared off the road by the police, then we ran back and I think I felt a bit frightened. Anyway I did go back and I was arrested and dragged off the road, taken to a police van, then to a police station some distance from Aldermaston. I think the Reading police station was full up because there were an awful lot of people, so they had to use this other police station which was quite a way away. I can’t remember the name of the place now. Anyway I was searched and they took away my money and all my belongings and put me in a police cell. And you have to take your shoes off before you go in a cell, in case you might strangle yourself with the laces! And I can remember the door clanging, and I realised what people mean by talking about being banged up. But I was given a piece of paper saying I was entitled to a blanket and a pencil and paper and food. They did offer us a choice of food. I asked for the blanket and the pencil and paper. The place was wall-to-wall concrete. I couldn’t see you could possibly hang yourself, even if you wanted to. There wasn’t anything to attach your bootlaces to.
I spent my time writing an account of this for the Exeter CND newsletter. I was left for some hours, but finally let out. The policewoman that let me out of the cell said, “Was I the one who wrote for the Exeter CND newsletter?” I was very surprised that she should know that. I was hauled before some senior police person, and she was up on some sort of platform and I was down below, obviously meant to feel very small, and at a distance. I said “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. I’ll have to come a bit nearer.” Anyway she told me I was being released on police bail, and that I would have to attend Newbury Magistrates Court. After which I was let out, and people at Aldermaston had organised a system of cars to come and fetch people who were let out. I was met and taken back to Aldermaston. My friends were very pleased to see me.
I was kept dangling, so to speak, for some months, and then I was told I had to attend Newbury Magistrates Court at 11 o’clock in the morning. I was living in Exminster by that time, but I couldn’t possibly get to Newbury by 11 o’clock in the morning. I was wondering how on earth I was going to do it, but eventually after about three months I received a letter saying that the Public Prosecutor had decided it was not in the public interest to prosecute me. I think really the authorities were getting a bit tired of old women standing up in court saying why they were lying in the road at nuclear bases. But I must say this: being arrested gave me more publicity than anything else I’ve done in the peace movement. I was very surprised when I went down to the village shop to see a big placard outside ‒ newspaper placard ‒ saying “Exminster Gran arrested”! People had seen me driving round the village with CND stickers for years and had never discussed the matter, but after this they all wanted to talk about it.
How old were you when you were arrested?
Was that the reason you decided to be arrested – because it would attract more publicity?
No, I think it was because I was very impressed with Angie Zelter. I felt she needed support. I was quite surprised at the amount of publicity it did attract.
Exeter Peace shop and the Iraq War
In the 1990s we had the first Gulf War, then in 2003 the Iraq War.
Yes, I haven’t said that I moved to Exminster in 1986, from East Cornwall and the Tavistock area. And I obviously joined Exeter CND, which was much larger than the Tavistock group, and quite soon became the secretary there.
Can you explain how the CND campaign developed in connection with the Wars? And talk about the Exeter peace shop?
Well, Exeter CND had opened a peace shop quite early in the 1980s, before I moved there.
What is a peace shop?
Well, our basic aim was to give people information about the peace movement. But I mean the shop is still running. It sells peaceful goods, a lot of peaceful toys in particular, and campaigning materials, T-shirts and banners and mugs and badges and posters and it also carries a lot of information about peace issues and the environmental issues as well. And petitions, and on the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 the peace shop became the centre of the peace movement in Exeter. We worked very closely with the Stop the War coalition. And there was so much opposition to the Iraq War, our little shop became full of TV crews and the phone constantly going with journalists wanting information. And we actually ran twenty coaches to the big demonstration in London on the eve of the Iraq War. We sold the coach tickets at the peace shop.
Twenty coaches from Exeter?
Twenty coaches from Exeter, yes. It was very hard work.
What part did Exeter Quakers play in the peace movement at that time?
Well, a lot of them did go on the coaches.
Was there any other peace work going on in that period?
I didn’t actually go to that London demonstration because some people who couldn’t take coaches to London asked me if we could have a demonstration in Exeter. So I decided there were so many people going to London that I would organise a demonstration in Exeter High Street, which I did.
This wasn’t an anti-nuclear demonstration, so how does it link up to CND?
No, well CND has always worked closely with the Stop the War Coalition and also the Muslim Association of Britain, and it isn’t simply an anti-nuclear movement. It is an anti-war movement and there is always a danger that nuclear weapons will be used in these wars of course. In fact Geoff Hoon, who was defence secretary at the time, actually spoke about the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Saddam Hussein.
Changing public opinion
Your long experience of peace work – has it been worthwhile? Has it been effective?
Well we did get the cruise missiles out of Greenham eventually. In fact Greenham Common is back to common land, and we are working for an international convention to abolish all nuclear weapons. And I feel more hopeful now about the possibility of that than I have done for the last twenty years. We held a lot of street demonstrations in Exeter, giving out leaflets and collecting signatures, and I spoke in several schools and colleges. Younger people than me have been speaking in schools. I think it has had an effect on public opinion. I have seen a change in public opinion. People used to say to me, “Nuclear weapons have kept the peace for forty years.” You don’t hear that any more, and I saw in today’s paper... a poll conducted by the Independent newspaper yesterday reported that 58 per cent of the people polled think we should get rid of Trident. So I think we are gradually changing public opinion. And I think in the long run the government will have to listen to public opinion.