On September 9th, Janet Bloomfield is coming to Wimbledon to show the documentary film “Sacred Fire” which records the Pilgrimage of 1996 which took her both to the most sacred sites and to the atomic centres of Great Britain. Most of you will remember Janet as inspirational Chair of National CND. The expertise gained during these years is now proving invaluable in her work for the Forum for UN Renewal and the Oxford Research Group (the organisation which was founded to demystify the nuclear decision-making process by contacting in person the traditionally anonymous nuclear scientists and advisors).
The Atomic Mirror Pilgrimage of April 5th - 28th 1996 was timed to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of Chernobyl. It was inspired by a pilgrimage which had carried the eternal flame from the Peace Park in Hiroshima to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico the previous year, the fiftieth anniversary of the first atomic bomb.
The route of Janet’s pilgrimage was planned to include the major nuclear sites in Britain, and also some of the most powerful and beautiful sacred sites, such as Iona, St David’s Cathedral, Wells Cathedral and Avebury. This was the “mirror”: the contrasting message of modern nuclear folly and these monuments to ancient wisdom.
“What have we learned? Where are we now? What is our vision for the next ten years?” she writes. “By journeying through the nuclear landscapes of our country in our minds and hearts, and connecting with some of its most sacred places, we planned to reflect upon and incorporate the contrasting lessons of both histories.
“I think of the nuclear sites we visited, and how they infest and infect the beauty of these islands with malevolent power. We saw in three weeks the full manifestation of the British nuclear state in all its fear, secrecy and greed. From the political centre of Whitehall, to the black gates of Aldermaston, to the sinister golfballs of Menwith Hill spybase, to Torness nuclear power station, to seeing Trident sail up the loch at Faslane, and finally to Sellafield on Chernobyl Day, we tried to speak truth to power...”
Janet will speak both about the pilgrimage and about her current work, and there will be an opportunity to ask questions.
The group commemorated Hiroshima Day over the weekend of 9/10th August. In common with many groups up and down the country, Saturday evening was devoted to symbolic candle floating. One hundred candles, each representing one thousand deaths resulting from the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, were floated on Rushmere Pond, Wimbledon Common.
It was a perfect evening, warm with hardly any breeze. As the sun went down the candles were launched and in a short time were afloat and drifting very slowly, flotilla-like, across the pond. It was a beautiful and moving sight. The lack of wind meant that the candles took a long time to reach the other side and they were still alight when the last person in the group left at 11 pm.
Two very young supporters (Maureen’s grandchildren), were concerned that the pond would be littered with debris, but they had no need to worry. As we were unable to retrieve the candles and their containers on Saturday night, three members of the group were back there before 7·30 am, to clear up and leave the pond cleaner than we had found it. Grateful thanks to Carmel, who had the foresight to wear her wellies!
Sunday’s now traditional picnic around the cherry tree was an enjoyable event, which presented an opportunity for members and friends to meet socially and chat in the pleasant surroundings of Cannizaro Park. The picnic attracted the local press and a report, together with photograph, appeared in the Wimbledon Guardian, 22·8·97.
Helen and I are always at the Sidmouth Folk WFestival and for many years we have organised a short commemoration and leaflet distribution for Hiroshima Day on August 6th. This year was no exception, but it turned out to be quite exceptional in some ways and we reached more people than in previous years.
Because we were able to get it announced in many of the concerts and workshops held during the week, we succeeded in getting the message across to thousands of people that it was Hiroshima Day and that CND was still doing something about achieving nuclear disarmament. We understood, of course, that people on holiday do not, in the main, want to become involved in the serious issue of nuclear weapons, so we did not expect, nor did we get, a massive turnout. But around twenty people did turn up, in pouring rain, and took part in the discussion about Hiroshima, the need to re-dedicate ourselves to the achievement of nuclear disarmament, and the encouraging developments of the past year, e.g. the Canberra Commission, Abolition 2000 and the change in government, all hopeful indications that changes can be made. One valuable contribution came from a woman who was from Australia; she talked about environmental work going on in Australia and experiences with the people of Chernobyl. She gave us a booklet and a tape which explains the work of the group in more detail (available from Maisie 540-0572).
At the end of the service we stood in silence and then finished with “We Shall Overcome”. At least we intended to finish there, but we were approached by a young woman who invited us into a nearby pub, to “tell the people in the bar all about Hiroshima and to sing the song”, as she put it.
It was with very mixed feelings and not a little trepidation that we agreed, thinking that people in the bar who were drinking, singing folk songs, listening to music and generally enjoying themselves, would not take very kindly to being interrupted by our serious reminder and message about Hiroshima. But we were so wrong. There was complete quiet when we were announced. I spoke briefly and indicated that we would sing one of the early Aldermaston songs, “We Shall Overcome”. To our complete surprise, everyone stood up, joined in the singing and afterwards came up to thank us profusely.
Leaflets were distributed, the discussion continued and more anti-war songs were sung. Later that night, at the Sing Around, Helen reminded the MC that it was Hiroshima Day and asked if it could be marked by a peace song. There was an overwhelming reponse, nearly all the singers obliged and those who did not have a peace song in their repertoire apologised!
It was not all success, however. Out strenuous efforts to involve the local clergy met with no response. We asked one church official if he or the vicar would attend or say a prayer, but he declined. We then asked him to display a poster and announce it in his church, but again he declined, saying that he had to ‘keep a balance’. To us there seemed to be very little balance, with the scales being tipped in favour of the establishment — shades of 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ tried to challenge the church hierarchy.
Florence Croasdell, lifelong peace campaigner, died peacefully on July 23rd, after a long and courageous fight against Parkinson’s Disease. Florence’ activities did not only include work in Britain and her original home country, Canada, but took her to many parts of the world. She took part in all the early Aldermaston marches, and since her youth was an intrepid traveller in the cause of peace. As a member of the World Peace Council, she attended peace conferences in Paris, Moscow, Warsaw and Prague, and numerous events in Britain.
Florence will be remembered particularly for her rôle in the campaign to end the war in Vietnam. She was organising Secretary of the Campaign for Medical Aid and the General Secretary of the British Campaign for Peace in Vietnam. She played a prominent part in the daily vigil outside the U.S. Embassy to protest about the war, which went on for four years. After the war had ended, she was the only British person on a delegation to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. At that time the Vietnamese had gone to the assistance of Cambodia, to put an end to the genocide being carried out by the infamous Pol Pot régime. The Vietnamese were condemned as aggressors by the British press, but Florence was witness to the truth, that in fact the Vietnamese had saved the lives of millions of people. Pol Pot was ousted and a different government put in place. Florence actually saw the killing fields long before John Pilger wrote articles about it in the popular press.
Her staunch and courageous efforts for peace were recognised by Vietnam when she was awarded the Vietnamese Order of Friendship, the highest order to be bestowed on foreigners.
Florence will be sorely missed, by her children and the grandchildren who brought such joy to her life and by all her friends in the peace movement. But she will be remembered with pride by all those who knew her and who admired her indomitable spirit, her courage and optimism.