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Testament of youth

Bill Hetherington, archivist, Peace Pledge Union, London

ImageMichael Randle (‘How PN helped give birth to the peace symbol’, PN 2616_2617) rightly attributes the origins of the direct action wing of the nuclear disarmament movement to a study group set up by the Peace Pledge Union in 1949.

It was originally called the ‘Nonviolence Commission’, becoming the most effective of seven ‘commissions’ within a Steps to Peace conference held by the PPU on 5 November 1949, under the chairpersonship of Vera Brittain.

She looked to ‘a new kind of movement, based on the co-operation of really concerned people, with something fundamental in common, working at the heart of it.’In its initial report, the Nonviolence Commission looked forward, among other things, to ‘a nonviolent economy for Britain, having regard to the rights and needs of all other peoples’, and ‘a nonviolent foreign policy for Britain, with some indication of suitable individual or small group demonstrations practicable in present conditions’.

From that tentative beginning, and with the particular inspiration of Hugh Brock, as Michael explained, evolved ‘Operation Gandhi’ and then the ‘Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War’, organiser of the first Aldermaston March, for which the celebrated ND logo (based upon semaphore letters N & D) was designed by Gerald Holtom, now known worldwide as the peace symbol.