We have said goodbye to many good friends in recent weeks and this Newsletter carries more than its fair share of obituaries, but for all long-standing WDC/CND members the death of Muriel Wood marks the end of an era. The following appreciation is written by Don and Muriel’s eldest daughter:
Recently, Muriel’s memory and physical frailty significantly increased her vulnerability, but she only moved into residential care five months before she died. She enjoyed her 93rd birthday this February there, with family very much involved in the celebration. Carers who knew her well spoke of her as brave, warm and strong with a twinkle in her eye, a witty sense of humour and good natured spirit. She was indeed a real stoic and just got on with whatever life brought along.
Before having her children, Muriel attended Birkbirk College, University of London on a part time basis during World War 2, working at the same time at the Gas, Light and Coke Company. Her degree in Biology was followed, post war, by study for an MSc alongside her work as a research assistant at the Royal College of Surgeons, with a focus on genetics at a time of new discoveries in the field. She wrote and published several learned papers.
After becoming a mother, she resumed work not in research, but in teaching science, alongside her role caring for her three children, the youngest of whom had Downs syndrome. She did it with her characteristic pragmatic care, loyalty and fairness, while she continued to hold fast to her beliefs and principles. As a mother of a child with special needs she was unfailing in her advocacy and active support for people with learning disabilities for the rest of her capable life. She never just talked. She took action to live according to her beliefs.
Her unshakeable commitment to human rights and peace was replayed through her active involvement firstly in the Communist party, as a young woman holding dear the concept of equality of wealth, and her lifelong commitment to Trade Unionism taking a feisty and vociferous role as NUT rep during her teaching career, through to her long term involvement with national CND and local Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition/CND. She always found the time to canvass, leaflet and attend all meetings, and did long stints as WDC/CND secretary and membership secretary, always attending the monthly Saturday Peace Table and the weekly Friday vigil in Wimbledon. She spent one day each week as a volunteer at CND HQ gathering information from local groups for what became known as Muriel’s Grapevine.
In her time, she enjoyed Badminton, pottery and Car Maintenance classes and she and our Dad also had some amazing holidays together. As a loving grandmother, she is remembered for visits to the Natural History and Science museum and so much more. Later, she enjoyed rambling and took an active role in Merton Seniors Forum and Merton Carers. She ‘looked out’ for people she judged to be vulnerable and many of us will remember the time she spent trying to help others.
Muriel was rational and scientific, matter of fact and self-effacing. Almost to the end she maintained a light hearted, smiley competitive spirit and was known for her determination to win Wednesday night Scrabble at Bradbury Court and beating carers at noughts and crosses whenever they dared to play!
Her wit and good humour were quiet and stayed with her to the end of her life. When we said “we’ll leave you in peace now” she would grin and say “but not in pieces”!
Muriel is survived by two of her daughters and her four grandchildren. Her daughter Judith died a week before her. Her granddaughter will take part in the 10k Regents Park run (3/7/2016) in memory and celebration of Muriel and Judith and to raise funds for the Alzheimers Society.
Readers may remember that we contributed towards the costs of replacing the much-loved statue of Bermondsey M.P. and philanthropist Dr Alfred Salter and his little daughter Joyce, which had been stolen by metal thieves. Our Chair, Maisie Carter, who grew up in Bermondsey (and has vivid memories of roaming the streets with a gang of children chanting “vote, vote, vote for Dr Salter”) was guest of honour at the unveiling in November 2014 [see December 2014 Newsletter]
This time an extra figure was added to the Salter family group, that of his wife Ada who was not only an equal partner in all Dr Salter’s endeavours but also a formidable campaigner and politician in her own right. Graham Taylor’s scholarly and well-written biography pays long-overdue tribute to Ada’s work in local government and documents her significance for the history of both socialism and feminism and for the Peace Movement.
Ada was born and brought up a Methodist but increasingly identified with the Quaker principles of pacifism, regarding all war as humanitarian disaster. “Comrades in all lands... we have had to ask ourselves whether it is any good making speeches and passing resolutions against war in general during a time of peace, if now when the test has come, we are in favour of this particular war” (Labour Leader, October 1914). She travelled to Bern for the 3rd Socialist International Conference in March 1915 and was a lifelong supporter of WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) — although prevented by the government from attending the Hague peace conference in May 1915. The main work of both Ada and Alfred for the remainder of WWI was with the No-Conscription Fellowship.
The second WILPF Congress at Zurich in May 1919 was specifically aimed at exerting an influence on the intergovernmental peace conference at Versailles, the Zurich delegates urging the politicians to draw up a non-annexationist, non-punitive treaty. Sadly they were not successful, with the short-sighted Versailles Treaty leading to another war only twenty years later.
Between the wars Alfred and Ada both worked tirelessly for the ‘Bermondsey Revolution’, Alfred being elected M.P. and Ada winning a council seat, eventually becoming the first woman mayor in London. Ada’s ‘Beautification Committee’ had a vision: “the drab and dreary borough of Bermondsey was to be dazzled by flowers and enlivened in every corner with music, games and children’s play”. Clearing slums, installing clinics and public baths were all practical aspects of Slater ‘ethical socialism’, with the introduction of beauty and convenience into working-class housing being internationally recognised when Bermondsey was chosen to represent Britain at the International Housing Congress in Prague in 1935.
Election to the LCC in 1925 enabled Ada to extend her influence beyond Bermondsey, winning election after election with record majorities. She was an enthusiastic member of Rev. Dick Sheppard’s Peace Pledge Union and was profoundly shocked by the renewed onset of war in 1939, dying in 1942 having witnessed the physical destruction of much of what she had worked for.
Graham Taylor suggests that Ada was a “Green before the Greens” but that some of the ideals of ‘ethical socialism’ “have recently returned to contemporary politics”. WDC/CND members will be amused by his account of the unveiling of Ada’s statue. “The two best speeches, as judged by the crowd, were by Maisie Carter and Nick Hudson [descendant of Ada’s sister Beatrice].... Carter, who was accompanied by peace campaigner Bruce Kent[!], stood up for the politics of the Salters, denouncing nuclear weapons and calling for the defence of the National Health Service”.
At £18·99 this excellent biography is not cheap but we can obtain it for 10% discount. Get in touch (020 8543 0362) to order a copy.
“The Truth about Trident: Making sense of the Arguments For and Against” (Luath Press, 224pp, £12·99) is a new book by Tim Wallis, programme manager for peace and disarmament at Quaker Peace & Social Witness. He summarises the technical facts about Trident and the historical and present political context, and then assembles the arguments that have been put forward by modern advocates of ‘nuclear deterrence’, demolishing them one by one. “Only by working incessantly to ensure that no country has nuclear weapons can we be protected from the threat of nuclear weapons ourselves” he writes, and his clear analysis of the points of debate will be of great value to all campaigners.
The untimely death from cancer of St Helier ward Councillor Maxi Martin saddened many in Merton, but she has a special place in our hearts because of her deeply-felt rejection of nuclear weapons. Everyone who was present at our Rushmere candle-floating ceremony a couple of years ago will remember her diminutive presence and passionate denunciation of the use of weapons of mass destruction as weapons of war and her real grief for the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Maxi, personal conviction rose above party politics. But she was no pacifist: she was co-ordinator for Merton’s annual Armed Forces Day parades, making an important distinction between patriotic support for those who have undertaken to die if necessary in the service of their country and endorsing a nuclear ‘deterrent’ whose threat or use contravenes every aspect of international humanitarian law. She will be much missed.
The death of long-serving MANA administrator Joan Horrocks on April 18th will sadden many: with her background in the media and her many musical contacts Joan was ideally placed to persuade (bully, badger!) many very distinguished performers to give their services in the cause of peace, raising many tens of thousands of pounds over the years.
Musicians Against Nuclear Arms is now reborn as MPD (Musicians for Peace and Disarmament) and a few days before Joan’s death several of us enjoyed a magnificent piano recital by Beethoven specialist Julian Jacobson, a large audience almost filling St John’s church, Waterloo, but for me at least these occasions are not the same without Joan’s commanding personality. Her health never recovered from the after-effects of a fall at Aldeburgh, obliging her to retire in 2011, but her work lives on.
In previous years we have been able to run stalls at Mitcham Carnival, Morden Park Fair and the Carshalton Environmental Fair, raising several hundred pounds, attracting publicity and generating goodwill. In order to do this we need to transport not only plants and bric-à-brac but also gazebo, tables and chairs. We shall not be able to continue this tradition without some new volunteer drivers.
We have opened a Business Account with NatWest which offers greater flexibility and convenience than our former postal account. For those who would prefer to transfer money directly to the bank rather than fiddling with cheques and cash, the details are as follows:
NatWest Wimbledon Branch
Account name: WDC/CND
Branch Sort Code: 60-24-06
Account Nº: 91342473
We are grateful to Wimbledon M.P. Stephen Hammond for helping us establish our bona fides in connection with the application to NatWest.
May 21st is the date. The venue is the same (St Mark’s church hall and garden) but the time is different: please note that it is an afternoon event this year, 2–5pm.
Thank you for all the offers of help we have received and for the donations of books and bric-à-brac which arrive regularly at 43 Wilton Grove, but we still need tombola/raffle prizes and jams and cakes for Naseem’s home-produce stall. I can offer freezer space if anybody prefers to cook in advance. Kiki will be running a fancy goods stall and would welcome small, smart items such as scarves, purses, bags, gloves or costume jewellery.
All donations of plants are gratefully received. House-plants and spare seedlings or pieces lifted from the garden all help to maintain the rich horticultural variety for which we have become famous.
Please help with publicity. Distribute leaflets to friends and neighbours (just ask for as many leaflets as you can use), put a notice up on your gate, or join us outside Centre Court. There will be two leafletting sessions outside Centre Court shopping centre on Sunday 15th May, from 12·30 to 1·30pm and 2·30–4·30pm, and then at 11am every day from Monday to Friday of the week before the Fête (16–20 May).
Transporting stuff to St Mark’s is a massive operation and we need able-bodied loaders and unloaders at each end: 10am onwards at 43 Wilton Grove and 11am onwards at St Mark’s. Phone 020 8543 0362 if you can help.