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Tower Hamlets CND started off as the ‘CND Stepney and Poplar Group’ in 1959 originating in the campaign group ‘Stepney & Poplar Against The Bomb‘.

During the early 1970s, CND membership dropped from its 1960s peak, as people’s existential anxiety about nuclear war in the world reduced: in the wake of the terrifying Cuban missile crisis in the cold war era, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, brought hope for a de-escalation of a nuclear-arming world and for a nuclear weapon-free future. The US, UK and Russia (then Soviet Union) and 40 others had signed the NPT when it came into force in 1970. The focus of UK campaigners then shifted onto the Vietnam War, and the ‘Stepney and Poplar Group’ stopped holding meetings.

CND owed its resurgence at the beginning of the 1980s to Ronald Reagan, as a renewed nuclear belligerence of the US Presidency re-ignited global nuclear insecurity and British reaction when he introduced Cruise Missiles, and entered an agreement with Margaret Thatcher for Cruise Missiles to be stationed at Greenham Common. This caused a national outcry and huge protests, including the 19 year-long Greenham Women’s Peace Camp on the common from 1981.

In this new wave of protest, the CND Stepney and Poplar Group re-constituted as Tower Hamlets CND in a launch meeting at Oxford House. Supporters of the Greenham Common women, local Councillors, and many young people were among the rush of members to join the local group.

THCND has continued to participate in national CND demonstrations and the direct action activism of the original Stepney and Poplar Group members, augmented by the experience of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. It has also engaged with the Council, achieving a notable success when the Mayor of Tower Hamlets became a Mayor for Peace, joining over 6,000 others from 160 countries and regions around the world in the international Mayors for Peace organisation, initiated by the Mayor of Hiroshima.

Some of the founder members of both the CND Stepney and Poplar Group and Tower Hamlets CND are still active in the THCND now, joining with newer members in the decades-long commitment to ‘persuading the Government that renewing the so-called nuclear deterrent is neither militarily, morally nor economically justifiable‘ (Phil Sedler, current treasurer of THCND).

Meet some of the THCND members here:

(over the next few months we will adding more and more portraits of some of our members here to give you a flavour of who we are – we will also add some photos to the mix!)

Len Aldis 1930-2015

It was a great shock to us all to learn of the recent passing of Len Aldis, our former Chair and so much more.

Len was involved in the wider peace movement for many years. A strong opponent of the Vietnam War and supporter of the Vietnamese people for many years after the end of the War, he was also active in the movement for an independent Palestinian state, and more progressive organisations than there is room for here.

As far as Tower Hamlets CND is concerned, he was an inspirational and tireless Chair for more years than he liked to remember, a man who never gave up whatever the obstacles. We all recall with awe his battle with the then Council to get them to affiliate to the Mayors for Peace organisation. He was very pleased to learn shortly before his death that the current Mayor is keen to continue his predecessor’s work with us on this.

He was also a determined campaigner for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and, more specifically, East London Against Arms Fairs. On one occasion he managed to get himself invited as a delegate to the biennial arms fair at the Excel Centre, took photographs and spoke to exhibitors. He also purchased a share in BAE Systems so that he could attend their AGMs and harangue their Board!

This was a man of strong beliefs and high principles. He will be greatly missed.

The Morning Star published a powerful obituary about him that you can read here.


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Phil joined the CND Stepney and Poplar Group in 1962 after he heard about Bertrand Russell getting arrested at Trafalgar Square during a protest related to the Cuban Missile Crisis – when he was already in his 90s i.e. in an age “where he doesn’t have much to fear for himself in terms of nuclear weapons” So Phil decided that “if he can do it (protesting and getting arrested) I can as well!

So far, Phil has only got arrested once as part of a sit-in at one of his first protests at the US Air Force Base in Ruislip.

So far, Phil has only got arrested once as part of a sit-in at one of his first protests at the US Air Force Base in Ruislip.

Asked about why he continues to be an active member, Phil only says because “it’s common sense! It’s not even a very radical statement. Why would you want to spend huge amounts of money on weapons that by definition you can’t use??”.

On a more personal level, Phil also recognises the power of being a member of the movement, “it’s almost a habit… CND it’s part of you and you’re part of it”.

That is not denying that there have been challenging moments like a protest march that Phil joined in Faslane/Scotland which was tiny with some 50 odd marchers. With dread Phil remembers the endless walk through the quiet Scottish countryside with “no escape and only the sheep to talk to” and the sound of the Hare Krishna gong…

But Phil keeps going, literally, and the 2003 ‘Stop The War March’ in 2003 in London with no sheep and instead millions of people made up for the Scottish outbacks.

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Sue’s brother died of health damages caused by radiation after he had been flying RAF aircraft over atomic test sites in the Pacific. Sue has been an active CND member and passionate peace campaigner all her life – she passed away in 2010 and Marc Block remembers here here in his obituary.

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John and Isabel

John is the oldest active member of THCND. We celebrated his 90th birthday in 2013. A commitment to peace and non-violence has always been a family affair for John who met his wife Isabel while in college in Canada. Together they moved to the East End of London in the 1950s, where John became curate of the parish of St Paul, Bow Common, joining Fr Gresham Kirkby, also a “peacenik”, who was the Vicar then. CND came into existence in the late ‘50s but already there were anti-nuclear movements all over the country, as there were in Stepney and Poplar, where a group was meeting at St Paul’s church hall. One of its members, John’s brother-in-law Tom Waldon, took part in a demonstration in Essex, for which he served a fortnight in Brixton Prison – refusing to sign an undertaking to abandon any future acts of civil disobedience while, a little later, another member from Stepney, the parish Vicar, left John in charge of the church while he served a fortnight in prison for sitting down where he shouldn’t, together with other members of Bertrand Russell’s ‘Committee of One Hundred‘.

Isabel, John’s wife, was born of missionary parents in Japan where she spent her childhood years before her family was obliged to leave Japan, before the War. Because of her family’s close connection to Japan, the 1945 explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki came as a deeply personal shock and Isabel has been committed to the Campaign against nuclear arms ever since. At the same time she has brought up six children in the Stepney/Poplar neighbourhood where the midwifes and nuns of ‘Call the Midwife’ were then serving the community.

John and Isabel’s children have for many years been actively involved in the campaign in East London and, as well, have contributed to a more peaceful world in their own ways; in 1996 daughter Kate set up the community mediation charity ‘Tower Hamlets Mediation Service’ (later to become ‘Common Ground, East London Mediation‘ which unfortunately closed doors in December 2013).

For John “the worst thing about the British bomb is the bad example it sets to other countries”.

His favourite memory in over 50 years has been the huge wooden ”dinosaur on wheels’’ bearing the slogan “Too much Armour, too little Brain” which was trundled into Trafalgar Square at the end of one of those great marches at Easter in the olden days of CND. John remembers helping to escort the monster from Trafalgar Square to Mile End where it could be pushed through the high west door of a derelict church. There it remained until it it was needed for another demonstration.

Over five decades Isabel particularly remembers the uproar that groups like ‘Committee of One Hundred’ and ‘Direct Action Committee’ evoked: “People had a lot of fear about getting involved in direct action because the public at large were very law-abiding. It was shocking because here were nice people going and breaking the law!”

Isabel says “What has kept me going over five decades of campaigning is that the people were persevering even when it seemed for a while that the campaign had died. People kept going.; it was very heartening – and then we got the non-proliferation treaty!”