One of the definitive articles on Spies For Peace by one of the group's members, Nicolas Walter. Originally published anonymously in The Raven (1988).
The Spies for Peace episode at Easter 1963 was one of the most successful single actions of the old Nuclear Disarmament movement. It is described here in some detail partly to preserve the memory of such a dramatic event in the recent history of the British left and partly to consider what lessons may still be drawn from it.
First let us summarise the achievement, purpose and significance of the people who called themselves the Spies for Peace. Their main achievement was to make public the secret plans of the authorities for an emergency regional government of the country in the case of nuclear warfare—or of political breakdown. Until they took a hand, these plans were known only to the relatively few people involved and were deliberately concealed from the wider population in whose name (and at whose expense) they had been made. A combination of the criminal law, embodied in the Official Secrets Acts, and of bureaucratic tradition, supported by the media, meant that not only possibly damaging military information, but perfectly innocuous civilian material was surrounded by an elaborate curtain of security, and that the only public references to the system were guarded hints in the press.
Their main purpose was not to render assistance to any enemy country or subversive organisation, but to provide this information to the general public and at the same time to reinforce the argument of the Nuclear Disarmament movement that the official preparations for a future war were directed against rather than towards the welfare of ordinary people. Their main significance was to show that a small underground group could take effective direct action against the power of the establishment, discover and distribute secret information very widely, avoid detection and punishment, and through such propaganda by both word and deed set an example for subsequent exposure of more such material.
Crisis in the Committee of 100
The Spies for Peace had nothing to do with any foreign power or any Marxist party, but were a group of libertarian activists in the Committee of 100.
The old Nuclear Disarmament movement—like all reformist or revolutionary movements—tended from its beginnings soon after the Second World War to be polarised between moderates, who favoured constitutional action through conventional demonstrations and pressure on Parliament, and radicals, who favoured direct action through unconventional demonstrations and pressure from the people.
The moderates were represented by a series of organisations culminating at the beginning of 1958 in the formation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which had broad support but was run by a small group of political activists, mainly associated with the Labour Party and later also with the Communist Party. The radicals were represented by a series of organisations leading at the end of 1957 to the formation of the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, which organised small-scale non-violent demonstrations and won little support for a couple of years, and culminating at the end of 1960 in the formation of the Committee of 100, which organised a series of large-scale non-violent demonstrations and won considerable support for a couple of years.
The Committee of 100 was particularly successful in attracting radicals both from the old revolutionary left and from the New Left which had emerged during the late 1950s as well as old pacifists and new anti-militarists, and also in combining the long tradition of popular protest and resistance with the fresh techniques of non-violent civil disobedience.
By the end of 1962, however, the Committee of 100 was in serious and worsening difficulties. The original Committee was based in London, where it held its meetings and maintained a paid staff in a permanent office. Its success during 1961 led to such increase in support all over the country that at the beginning of 1962 it was replaced by a dozen regional Committees, which took over the organisation of action, very loosely coordinated by a federal National Committee of 100, which took over the existing staff and office and the organisation of national meetings in various parts of the country. (The development of a bureaucracy was prevented by the authorities through frequent arrests of leading officials!)
This process of devolution increased local autonomy and activity but weakened the sense of unity and direction of the original Committee. At the same time the imprisonment for twelve or eighteen months of six of its most active leaders in February 1962 (for organising its most ambitious demonstration at Wethersfield and several other places on 9 December 1961) weakened the sense of confidence and courage of the whole radical wing of the Nuclear Disarmament movement.
The various Committees were increasingly divided by theoretical arguments about non-violence and direct action and broader political aims and by practical arguments about how to regain the initiative and how to restore the sense of identity. Meanwhile the moderate wing of the movement, represented by CND, was dominated by the need to remain respectable and acceptable in the face of the temporary success of the Committee of 100, and there was considerable discontent among the rank and file over its activity. Its major new policy statement, Steps Towards Peace (which was drafted by the New Left leader Smart Hall and issued in November 1962), was widely considered to betray the cause of unilateralism, and the plan to hold yet another conventional march from Aldermaston to London at Easter 1963, without any radical demonstrations on the way or a dramatic climax at the end, was similarly considered to ignore the developments of the past two years.
The problems of the Committee of 100 were most acute in London. The London Committee, which was inaugurated on 1 April 1962, was by far the largest single organisation in the movement. It was the only one apart from the National Committee itself to maintain paid staff and a permanent office, and it also had a Working Group which met every week and a local convenor system. But it was the most deeply troubled. After the last demonstration organised by the original Committee of 100—a sit-down in Parliament Square on 24 March 1962—it proved impossible to organise a major demonstration in London, other than emergency actions arising from sudden international events (such as the American and Russian nuclear tests in April and August and the Cuba crisis in October).
The London Committee decided at its second meeting, on 13 May, to organise a large-scale sit-down in Whitehall for 9 September; but as late as 2 September this had to be cancelled because of lack of support (only 4,000 pledges were received, against a target of 7,000) and reorganised as a conventional demonstration two weeks later.
All of the most important Committee of 100 demonstrations during this period were organised outside London—by the Scottish Committee (at Holy Loch on 10 June), by the Oxford Committee (at Greenham Common on 23-24 June), and by the East Anglian Committee (at Honington on 20 October)—though most of the participants in the last two came from the London region. The most successful of all took place outside Britain—in the Red Square in Moscow, when members of the Committee of 100 held a public meeting during the World Disarmament Conference on 13 July.
The position had been made still more serious by the failure of the Committee of 100 generally to respond adequately to the Cuban Missile crisis in October 1962, when neither the non-aligned policy nor the non-violent methods of the Committee made much impact. The famous people who had made up most of the original Committee of 100 dropped out—culminating in the resignation of Bertrand Russell in November 1962, when the London Committee dissociated itself from his biased position during the Cuba crisis.
Meeting after meeting failed to decide the crucial issues of 'future action' because the membership was so deeply divided over the basic issue of what kind of action was appropriate once 'sit-downs' had lost their novelty. The other regional Committees became increasingly impatient with the state of the London Committee—as a meeting of the National Committee of 100 in London on 18-19 August noted tactfully, 'It was generally agreed that the London Cttee should be regarded as in a state of transition' —and also with the weakness of the National Committee.
This critical situation in the Committee of 100 was the scene of the development of the Spies for Peace, who emerged from the London Committee during the long, cold winter of 1962-1963.
Beyond Counting Arses
At the end of 1962 the London Committee of 100 provisionally planned another large-scale sit-down in Central London for 12 May 1963, but it proved impossible to settle the details and even to confirm the principle of such a demonstration. At the beginning of 1963 this became the symbol of the deepening crisis in the Committee movement. On 14 January a meeting of the London Working Group revealed strong dissatisfaction with the planned demonstration; there was a close vote to cancel it, and a general feeling that there should be a major demonstration before Easter, but no agreement about what to put in its place. On 21 January the London Committee held an emergency meeting to discuss the issue. The circumstances were particularly unfortunate: Helen Allegranza—a popular member of the Committee, the only woman among the six imprisoned leaders, and the new secretary of the National Committee—was found dead that day, and the news of her suicide cast a shadow over the whole meeting; and a power-cut that evening meant that it had to be held in virtual darkness as well as extreme cold.
The 3 1/2-hour meeting was dominated by bitter disagreements, which were not resolved by a series of decisions to go ahead with the 12 May demonstration as an orthodox 'public assembly' culminating in a traditional sit-down, and also to hold a march to Parliament on Budget Day, 3 April.
A small group of members present who were strongly opposed to these decisions felt that it had become essential to make some kind of collective stand which would bring home to the Committee leaders and officials that the rank and file of the movement was dissatisfied with such an unimaginative approach. They met at a pub immediately after the meeting and then at a Soho restaurant three days later, and began a series of frequent meetings to decide how to take the next appropriate opportunity to explain their dissident position and to influence their colleagues. They were begged by the officials of the National and London Committees and other leading figures not to harm the movement, but they decided that the situation had gone beyond polite disagreement and demanded much more radical dissent.
An appropriate opportunity arose immediately. On 9-10 February there was a national Way Ahead conference in London—the first of many — to consider the future of the Committee of 100. It was in effect a general meeting of the radical Nuclear Disarmament movement, most of those present being deeply unhappy in various ways about the way things were going but equally unable to agree about the way to improve them. As usual, nothing concrete emerged from the weekend's talk; but a paper was presented to the conference by the dissident group which defined once and for all the oppositionist line against the accepted forms of Committee activity—especially against the obsessions with non-violence, openness, symbolic actions, arrests, names, respectability, and so on.
The paper took the form of a duplicated eight-page quarto pamphlet called Beyond Counting Arses1 , written by one member of the group on the basis of its discussions and signed by eight others, dated 6 February and circulated on 7 February. It began by describing the confusion in the Nuclear Disarmament movement in general and in the Committee of 100 in particular, singling out 'the lack of common ground among its members and supporters' and its organisational chaos. It pungently expressed total dissatisfaction with the established policy of limping from sit-down to sit-down, relying on 'the number of arrested arses' and the length of the press reports to keep the whole process going. It insisted that the most significant demonstrations during the previous year—such as that in Moscow's Red Square in July 1962 and some of those in London during the Cuba crisis in October 1962—had taken place 'in spite of rather than through the Committee's normal structure'.
It dismissed 'the perennial back-to-the-womb suggestion for a mass sit-down in Whitehall'. It listed the assets of the Committee of 100—its past reputation, its experience of illegal activity, and the commitment of its members—and it called for a deliberate continuation of 'radical action' and also a move forward into more consciously subversive activity. The general proposal was that 'we must attempt to hinder the warfare state in every possible way'.
Three ways of doing this were suggested. The first was a campaign of 'Civil Disobedience in Print to 'unmask and publicise the most secret preparations of the Warfare State . . . publish the location of rocket bases and what goes on in the germ warfare centres . . . give details about the secret hide-outs of "civil" defence—and the secretly kept lists of those who will be catered for in the event of nuclear war . . . publish the names of the emergency government "gauleiters" and details of phone-tapping and of the activities of the Special Branch'. The general position laid down was as follows:
As recent events have shown, the Official Secrets Act does not really function to prevent espionage, but to keep the facts from the people of this country. There can be little information that a foreign power cannot obtain by bribery, blackmail or plain observation. We propose that the Committee should deliberately take the lid off these facts, and let people know what the state does in their name. It is clear that activities of this sort would have to involve certain measures of secrecy, analogous to those practised by VND [the Voice of Nuclear Disarmament, the pirate radio system loosely associated with the Committee of 100].
Various other forms of action were proposed or suggested, and the paper ended with the following conclusion:
'We do not believe in passive martyrdom. We are not in this movement to opt out of a burden on our consciences but to fight for what we believe in.'
The discovery of RSG-6
Beyond Counting Arses had no effect on the conference itself, though it irritated or impressed many of those who read it. In the light of this situation, the group—reinforced by some new members who were interested in putting its proposals into practice—decided that if it couldn't influence the Committee movement by argument it would have to do so by action, either by a small but dramatic demonstration of its own or else by the organisation of a mass demonstration which it could prepare and then present to the movement as a fait accompli. In either case, it was felt necessary to bypass the inevitable bottle-neck of prolonged discussion and persistent dissent in the Committee by doing whatever had to be done themselves.
On 15 February the group considered various possible actions—to sabotage the parliamentary debate on the Defence White Paper on 4-5 March or the Budget speech on 3 April, whether by interrupting the debate or by disrupting it with the release of some noxious substance from the public gallery (the latter plan was eventually put into effect seven years later, when a CS gas canister was thrown into the chamber in July 1970); to organise a `sleep-out' in the Reading streets or a 'sleep-in' at the Reading Town Hall on the first night of the Aldermaston March, in protest against the Council's threat to refuse accommodation to the marchers; or else to organise some kind of diversion of the March at a suitable place along the route.
At this point in the discussion it was remembered that political contacts in Reading had once mentioned someone knowing someone who had worked at a secret bunker near the town. This seemed worth following up, so on 16 February four members of the group drove to Reading. The contacts confirmed that the person in question had been a workman employed on installing equipment in an underground bunker just off the A4, the Reading-London main road—that is, the route of the Aldermaston March on its second day. On the strength of this information they immediately searched the whole area. After many hours of driving over ice-covered roads and tramping over snow-covered fields in the middle of the worst winter for years, at the end of the afternoon they finally found what they assumed must be the place, at the east end of the village of Warren Row, a couple of miles off the main road, eight miles out of Reading. They climbed over the low bank by the locked gate to have a closer look. They took photographs of the general view of the place, the ramp, the air filters, the electric cables, the radio masts, and so on. They were just about to leave when one of them tried the boiler-house door and found that it was unlocked. They went in, looked around, and were about to go out again when they noticed another door, which was also unlocked; it led to a steep staircase which led down into a huge office complex. They rushed down, took a quick look round, grabbed what papers they could find on a desk and a notice-board near the entrance, saw from the visitors' book that the boiler-man was due to call in half an hour, and rushed out again.
On 17 February the London Committee of 100 yet again considered future action, and after another long discussion finally decided to cancel the proposed demonstration on 12 May in favour of supporting a demonstration organised by the East Anglian Committee of 100 at the Marham nuclear base on 11 May. But by this time it was too late for the group to be diverted from its own activity, and anyway this decision, though welcome, seemed only to confirm that the London Committee was still unable to do anything on its own account.
The Spies for Peace
On 20 February the whole group held a crucial meeting to discuss what had happened and to decide what to do next. They first heard a rough account drafted by one of them of what the papers revealed—that they had discovered a Regional Seat of Government (called RSG-6), only about 20 minutes' walk from the Aldermaston route—and they examined the photographs which had been taken. This seemed to be an opportunity beyond their wildest dreams, but before taking it they had to consider its implications. All the members present said in turn what they should now do. The overwhelming majority agreed that they should independently produce a pamphlet about RSG-6 on the basis of the material discovered in Warren Row, and secretly distribute it to the movement in time for the Aldermaston March seven weeks ahead, in the hope that there would be a major demonstration at the site.
There was some disagreement from a small minority, who argued either that such an action would tend to wreck the Committee of 100 and that the function of the group should continue to be that of an open pressure-group within the Committee rather than become a secret cell outside on its own, or else that such an action, however desirable it might seem, would inevitably lead to the arrest and imprisonment of those responsible. After a long discussion, the group decided to go ahead, and the minority left the meeting and took no further part in the group's activities. At the same time the group decided to exclude its more prominent and vulnerable members from direct participation, though they would be kept informed of progress, and also not to include any more members for the time being, except to approach outsiders on a ‘need-to-know’ basis for any necessary help with particular details. The people who remained active members of the group at this stage became the Spies for Peace.
There were eight of them, all in their twenties. They were mostly men with middle-class backgrounds, though two were women (one of whom was pregnant) and two were working-class in origin. Several of them were drop-outs from the educational system, though two of them had Oxbridge degrees. Between them they had one small car and the use of a delivery van. They had all been active in the Committee of 100 in various ways—some of them as full-time workers or local convenors or members of the Industrial Sub-Committee—and they had all been arrested on demonstrations several times. Most of them had previous experience of left-wing politics covering all kinds of groups—CND or the New Left, student or trade unions, Labour or Communist Party, Trotskyist or anarchist organisations—and between them they had a wide circle of contacts all over the country (their closest connections outside the Nuclear Disarmament movement being with the new Solidarity group and the old Freedom group). They had got to know each other well during the previous year or two, and now shared both a personal commitment to radical action and also a common acceptance of libertarian socialism (though hardly any of them would have called themselves anarchists).
Having decided to produce a pamphlet, they had to settle several other questions. The next decision they made was that the pamphlet should be produced in conditions of complete security, to minimise the chances of the authorities being able either to interrupt their work before it was complete or of catching them afterwards. They were prepared to take necessary risks, but not to offer themselves up for sacrifice. They took into special account the experience of the publication of an analogous official secret five years earlier.
The Isis case
When the Second World War was followed by the Cold War between Communist Russia and the West, the American and British governments (joined by Canada, Australia and New Zealand) made a secret treaty in 1947 known as the United Kingdom United States of America Security Agreement (UKUSA). This established a joint system of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), concentrating on the surveillance of Russian military radio traffic from bases in Europe and the Middle East. Many of the radio operators involved were National Servicemen taught Russian or Morse and trained as radio operators, who returned to civilian life—many going on to university—and were a potentially weak link in the security network.
During the 1950s there were several occasions when American and British aircraft and ships made deliberate incursions across the Iron Curtain in order to provoke radio traffic and provide valuable information. This activity was of course top secret, but it was obviously known to the Russians, and on a few occasions they retaliated by attacking and even destroying American or British aircraft, and the resulting international incidents led to considerable publicity and consequent embarrassment. This episode is described in a recent book on the subject by 'Nigel West' (the Conservative MP, Rupert Allason)—GCHQ: The Secret Wireless War, 1900-86 (1986)—in a chapter with the appropriate title 'Russian Adventures'.
The British authorities generally managed to cover up the significance of such incidents, but on one occasion their cover was blown. On 26 February 1958 a special H-Bomb issue of the Oxford student paper Isis included a short article called 'Frontier Incidents—Exposure', which described the SIGINT system and explained the frontier incidents.
. . . All along the frontier between east and west, from Iraq to the Baltic, perhaps farther, are monitoring stations, manned largely by National Servicemen trained in morse or Russian, avidly recording the least squeak from Russian transmitters—ships, tanks, aeroplanes, troops and control stations. It is believed, perhaps rightly, that this flagrant breach of the Geneva Convention can provide accurate estimates of the size and type of Russian armaments and troops, and the nature of their tactical methods.
In order to get this information the West has been willing to go to extraordinary lengths of deception. British Embassies usually contain monitoring spies. When the Fleet paid a 'goodwill' visit to Danzig in 1955 they were on board. And since the Russians do not always provide the required messages they are sometimes provoked.—A plane 'loses' its way; while behind the frontier tape recorders excitedly read the irritated exchanges of Russian pilots: and when the latter sometimes force the aeroplane to land an international incident is created, and reported in the usual fashion. . . . In a moment of crisis irresponsibility of this kind could well frighten the Russians into war. Certainly if Russian planes were to fly over American bases the American reply would be prompt. But there is no controlling the appetite of the statistical analysers at Cheltenham. . . .
The point of the article was of course that such incidents were more likely to cause than prevent war, and that such information should be made available to the British people as well as the Russian authorities. The authors were two undergraduates who had worked in SIGINT during their recent National Service in the Navy. The article was not signed, but security at Isis was poor, and the British authorities soon took their revenge. In March the office was raided and the editor interrogated, and Paul Thompson and William Miller were charged under the Official Secrets Act. They were tried at the Central Criminal Court in July, and after a deal with the prosecution they pleaded guilty and were sentenced to three months' imprisonment (they went on to distinguished careers in academic history and serious publishing respectively).
The offending article was immediately reprinted as a leaflet by the Universities & Left Review Club, the main organisation of the New Left in London, so the information was widely distributed, at least on the left; but the fate of the victims was a warning of the possible price to be paid for such activity, and the Spies for Peace were determined not to make the same mistakes. (Nigel West's account of this episode is very inaccurate.)
Danger! Official Secret RSG-6
The group then turned to the problem of whether they needed more material for the pamphlet. After further discussion of the risks to be taken and the advantages to be gained, they agreed that another visit to Warren Row was indeed necessary to obtain more information and to make the pamphlet more detailed and convincing. After leaving the material already collected with a sympathetic anarchist who worked in a Communist bookshop in London, they made careful preparations for a second visit to Warren Row on 23 February (a day when there were meetings of both the National Committee and the London Committee in London).
Four members of the group drove to Reading again, checked that the site was clear—noting with interest that there were workmen there during the day, even though it was a Saturday—and then spent the evening in a pub and watched the satirical late-night television programme That Was The Week That Was before returning to search the bunker at leisure. They arrived after midnight, picked the lock of the boiler-house door (which was shut this time) and spent several hours inside the installation. They found to their astonishment that the RSG was fully operational—the electricity and water were on, there were notices on the boards, signs in the corridors, maps on the walls, directories in the telephone exchange, desks and cabinets in the offices, and papers in the drawers. It was clear that nothing had been touched since it was last used during the NATO exercise Fallex 62 five months before—except that for some reason all the ashtrays had been locked up in an office.
First they explored the whole place, and then they specialised in various activities—one transcribed documents, one traced maps, one took photographs, and one ransacked every room. They took the greatest care to leave no trace of their visit. They wore gloves the whole time; they broke no locks, picking those they had to open; they took away only those papers which had duplicates, and copied those which hadn't; they photographed the signs and maps, and copied the plan of the bunker from a wall-chart. When they had finished, they put everything back in its place and left with a suitcase full of papers and a camera full of pictures. This technique was clearly successful, for when the pamphlet appeared both the authorities and the media assumed that an insider must have made some kind of deliberate leak rather than that some outsiders had simply broken into a sensitive and insecure installation and found all the necessary material right there in situ.
The material taken from Warren Row was looked after by the same bookshop assistant for a few days, just in case anyone had noticed anything. The group met again on 25 February and discussed the new material they had now obtained. Its significance lay not only in that it included far more information about the RSG system—including the locations of all the other RSGs and the identities of the staff of RSG-6 (and also of RSG-4 in Cambridge)—but that in addition it included detailed information about the disastrous results of two recent Civil Defence exercises—Parapluie in Spring 1962 and Fallex 62 in September. The latter had already been the subject of dramatic disclosures in October 1962 by the West German news magazine Der Spiegel, which had immediately been prosecuted by the authorities. The group decided that the pamphlet should contain as much information as possible about both aspects of their discoveries, and they immediately set to work to produce it.
They met regularly every Monday evening—that is, at the same time as the Working Group of the London Committee of 100, on the assumption that any likely surveillance would be diverted elsewhere—with more frequent contacts between various individual members in between. Six members lived within walking distance of each other in Hampstead, and the meetings took place in one or other of their three flats. A constant rule was that every single action involved in the operation must have a complete cover story which sounded convincing and could be checked. Another was that the absolute minimum of material was to be kept in writing or said on the telephone. Everything was decided at the meetings, and nothing was recorded. The procedure was completely informal, with no set structure. Decision were taken by consent rather than vote. (As is so often the case, those who did the most talking tended to do the least work.)
The first task was to write the text of the pamphlet. One member of the group prepared a rough draft based on the material from Warren Row, filled out by research in a reference library, completing it on 15 March; a second member then expanded this into a longer draft, adding the postscript, by 18 March; a third member then polished this into a final draft, adding the foreword, by 23 March. During the same period three other members drew out maps and developed the photographs. The text and form of the pamphlet were discussed and agreed by the whole group on 25 March. All the material taken or copied from Warren Row was then burnt, apart from the photographs.
The pamphlet was planned as follows. The group took the dramatic title 'Spies for Peace’, partly as a serious shorthand summary of their position, and partly as a frivolous joke at the expense of the Communist front organisations which used such titles. The pamphlet was to be typed and duplicated (those were the days before personal computers and cheap photocopying), since this could be done with the least trouble and the least risk. It was to be foolscap size, to minimise the number of stencils and the quantity of paper needed. It would have twelve pages, including four electro-stencils for illustrations. The only photograph used would be that of the outside of the RSG, so that there would be no indication that anyone had been inside it. There would be 4,000 copies, the maximum number stencils would run to. The pamphlet was given the inelegant but striking title Danger! Official Secret RSG-62 as a way of catching people's attention in the flood of papers and pamphlets always produced at Easter. The front page consisted of the title with the picture of RSG-6 (photographed in the snow). The text began with a short introduction, then described the RSG system, giving the locations (and telephone numbers) of all the known RSGs, described both the outside and inside of RSG-6, adding a list of its main personnel and a plan of its lay-out, described the two exercises, adding that the RSGs hadn't been activated during the Cuba crisis in October 1962 (with the comment that 'in the face of a real emergency, fuck all was done'), and ended with a conclusion, adding on the back page a map of the area with the suggestion of a demonstration there during the Aldermaston March.
The group calculated that the whole operation would cost about £100—about £1,000 today—which they knew they couldn't afford but thought they could probably raise. They decided to go ahead and see about recovering some of their costs from people who could afford it when they had something definite to show them. They bought a cheap old Underwood typewriter, and one member cut the nine text stencils; the electro-stencils were made by taking the photograph and the maps into a commercial firm in the normal way. By the time all this was ready, they realised that they had only enough time and would probably have only enough money for 3,000 copies after all. They then bought ink, staples, envelopes, wrappers and labels in the normal way. They obtained the paper through a sympathetic anarchist who worked in a pacifist bookshop in London and was able to supply the necessary three dozen reams of duplicating paper without awkward questions being asked. All this material was handled only with gloves at every stage; the coldness of the weather fortunately made this particular precaution seem nothing unusual.
Right up to the last moment they expected the pamphlet to be ignored by the mass media, so it was important to distribute it as widely and effectively as possible. Also every single copy—including their own —had to be sent out by post so that there would be no trace of their origin. About 2,000 copies were to be sent to people likely to be on the Aldermaston March and likely to know what to do—the members of the group themselves, other members of the Committee of 100 (bundles going to secretaries of Regional Committees and convenors of local Working Groups), people known to be sympathetic with the Committee of 100 in CND, Youth CND, the Young Socialists, and the New Left. Copies were also to go to all left-wing papers and magazines. This would at least ensure good publicity in the Nuclear Disarmament movement.
The other 1,000 copies were to go to people who might give it another kind of publicity, whatever happened on the March—national newspapers and magazines, Government ministers and Opposition leaders, right-wing Conservative and left-wing Labour MPs, civil servants, and a long list of 'progressive' celebrities in this country and abroad taken from Who's Who. Copies were also sent to key people in the area of southern England covered by RSG-6—local papers, local councillors, local government officials, constituency Labour Party and trade union branch secretaries, army officers, religious ministers, university dons, and, of course, the people listed on the staff of the RSG itself. One copy was sent to the British Museum, but it never appeared in the catalogue. Later a senior member of the Reading Room staff attempted to obtain a copy, but the person he approached refused to supply one if its availability was going to be restricted; no agreement was reached, so no copy was produced.
By the weekend before Easter, 6-7 April, everything was just ready. Some members of the group then showed typescripts of the final draft of the pamphlet to people they knew personally who had previously given money to the Committee of 100 and were likely to be sympathetic but not inquisitive. One former 'name' in the Committee gave £50, two others gave £10; one relatively rich surviving member of the Committee gave £25. This was just enough. The typescripts were then burnt.
Incidentally, Bertrand Russell did not give any money, though he intended to do so and even believed that he had done so. In the relevant passage of The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, he described the work of the Spies for Peace and added: 'They had no funds, and appealed to me. I gave them £50 with my blessing' (Volume 3, p. 125). An approach was indeed made to contacts on Russell's staff, but the answer was that while Russell approved of the project he couldn't contribute to it financially—though the contacts themselves made a small contribution. Only later was it discovered that Russell had actually authorised a payment of £50, which had been prevented by Ralph Schoetunan, the most powerful member of the staff.
The final production of the pamphlet was completed during the week before Easter. The sheets were run off on the Solidarity duplicator in the premises of the Independent Labour Party in King's Cross Road, a building used by several left-wing organisations known to the group who wouldn't ask any questions. The work took from Sunday to Tuesday, the members taking turns as they could. At the same time the hundreds of labels were typed on the same typewriter. The sheets were assembled and wrapped and labelled in one of their flats from Tuesday evening to Wednesday afternoon, the members again taking turn as they could, some working right through the night and the next day. The stamps were bought in several Hampstead post offices, and again handled only with gloves. On the Wednesday afternoon they began posting the pamphlet at various places all over London, first the bundles being taken from post office to post office in the delivery van and then the envelopes being taken from post-box to post-box in the car.
Before all the thousands of packets could even be sorted, let alone delivered, the incriminating material was being destroyed. Everything that could be burnt was burnt. Of the things that couldn't, the typewriter was thrown into a river outside London, and—as a last touch of political malice—the cardboard boxes were left in dustbins outside the old Daily Worker office down the road in Farringdon Road. The photographs were posted anonymously to Bertrand Russell to provide him with any direct evidence he might need if he were approached by the press—as indeed he was; it was later discovered that when the police hunt began they were buried in his garden at Plas Penrhyn in North Wales, where they may be to this day. At the same time details of the staff in RSG-4 were sent to contacts in Cambridge, in the confidence that they would be either destroyed or published in a similar way. The final task was to clear out the flats of the members of the group thoroughly to make sure that there was no physical evidence linking them with the operation in any way.
By the Thursday morning, 11 April, when the pamphlet began to arrive all over the country in the post (which was more reliable in those days), there was nothing to show who was responsible. Everything had been disposed of except the pamphlets themselves, the pamphlets had all been got rid of, and they had no fingerprints, no traceable typeface or postmark, and only their contents to help the police with their inquiries. A secret had escaped, and so—they hoped—had the Spies for Peace.
There was a couple of days' grace before any public comment on the pamphlet. It arrived after Thursday's newspapers had been published, there were no newspapers on Good Friday, and the radio and television news programmes took some time to catch up with it. On Thursday, the day before the Aldermaston March began, there was much discussion of the mysterious document among members of the Nuclear Disarmament movement—and no doubt among news editors and Government officials as well. When the March began at Aldermaston, on Friday morning, many of the marchers had already received copies, and further copies were quickly distributed among them and also to reporters. Soon the police began to seize it and question people about it, but of course no one knew who was responsible. Some people had already begun to produce reprints and summaries on Thursday, more did so on Friday, and many more during the rest of the weekend, which increased both the circulation of the pamphlet and the difficulties of the police. The details of the RSG system had been covered in a D-Notice (an official censorship instruction to the media) only two months earlier, and the authorities answered press inquiries by attempting to suppress the story, but in vain. The news of the pamphlet was broken to the general public on Saturday morning, when it was the main item in almost all national newspapers and radio news programmes, and it dominated all comment on the Aldermaston March for the rest of the weekend.
On Saturday the March was due to pass along the A4 main road a couple of miles away from Warren Row. On Friday night several marchers explored the area, produced leaflets calling for a demonstration there, and distributed them among the marchers in Reading overnight and along the March during the next morning. On Saturday this demonstration took place, exactly as had been hoped. Several hundred marchers—led by 'anarchists, left-wing socialists, and members of the Committee of 100' (as reported by Freedom)—turned off the main road during the lunch break at Knowl Hill, despite the noisy attempts of CND marshals—led by the general secretary, Peggy Duff—to discourage them from leaving the March, made their way to Warren Row and over the fences and banks around the site, and surrounded the entrance to RSG-6 for several hours, chanting slogans and singing songs (the latter were later collected in The RSG Song Book3 ). This, too, was widely reported, though the media made an elaborate business of not saying exactly where the demonstration had occurred.
The pamphlet dominated the rest of the March and helped to inspire the more radical marchers, co-ordinated by a March Must Decide Committee, in a series of diversionary activities, culminating on Easter Monday in a huge final demonstration in the West End of London —again led by anarchists, left-wing socialists, and members of the Committee of 100—which brought the weekend to a fitting climax.
Reactions and comments
The reaction of the radical wing of the Nuclear Disarmament movement, and indeed of the rank and file of the left in general, was quite as favourable as had been expected. Bertrand Russell issued a statement about the Aldermaston March on 16 April including strong praise: 'In particular, the authors of the pamphlet published by the Spies for Peace have performed a public service.' The Committee of 100 generally took the same line, with some qualifications about the danger of being diverted from its main activity, and its members and supporters around the country took the lead in all the following activities.
The reaction of CND was much more mixed, as had also been expected. The senior leaders—especially the chairman, L. John Collins, and Peggy Duff—were at first furious at what they saw as sabotage of the March, and only later grudgingly gave their approval. Peggy Duff said in her memoirs—Left, Left, Left (1971)—that 'the worst year we ever had on the march was 1963' (her account of the episode is very inaccurate). Canon Collins treated the episode differently in his memoirs—Faith Under Fire (1966)—by ignoring it completely. The younger leaders felt differently. The editor of the CND paper, Sanity (David Boulton of Tribune, later a prominent figure in Granada Television), naturally wished to publicise the pamphlet. In the special issue prepared on Friday and printed on Saturday for publication on Easter Sunday, the back page had an anonymous article called 'The Secret Society of War' discussing the subject in general terms, accompanied by an illustration with a caption identifying it as 'The cover picture of the secrets pamphlet, described as "the entrance to RSG-6, seen from the road that runs through Warren Row": This alarmed the CND officials so much that they insisted on first blacking out or cutting out the caption and then tearing out the whole page from all copies distributed. The article was reprinted without the illustration in the May issue, identified as being by Stuart Hall, and accompanied by a front-page article by David Boulton himself, giving some of the detailed information in the pamphlet; and a new illustration showed a marcher's banner with the location of RSG-6 written on it. As for the rank and file of CND, local groups played an active part in distributing reprints and summaries of the pamphlet.
The reaction of the rest of the left was similarly various. The hard Marxists said as little and as late as possible in the Daily Worker (Communist Party) and the Socialist Standard (Socialist Party of Great Britain). But the annual conference of the Independent Labour Party at the Easter weekend praised the Spies for Peace, as did the ILP Socialist Leader. So did the Trotskyist Newsletter. The anarchist paper Freedom was favourable, as was the syndicalist Direct Action. The pacifist paper Peace News was strongly favourable, publishing a front-page article called 'The spies were right' with a detailed account of the pamphlet and a back-page cartoon by Donald Rooum identifying the location of RSG-6 (19 April). The ILP youth paper New Generation later also gave a detailed account of the pamphlet (June).
The right-wing press was as hostile as was expected. The so-called left-wing national newspapers, the Daily Mirror and Daily Herald, were just as hostile, publishing furious condemnations respectively by Cassandra (16 April) and James Cameron (17 April)—the latter groaning, 'God save us from our friends.' Tribune and the New Statesman, and most left-wing Labour figures, were very ambivalent. The Labour Party leaders were either silent or hostile. The Conservative Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, had described the Spies for Peace as ‘traitors’; the shadow Foreign Secretary, Patrick Gordon- Walker, followed by saying that 'they are spies and must be treated as such'. The right-wing journalist Chapman Pincher said in the Daily Express (15 April) that they should be treated 'with the same rigour as spies for war’ that is, capital punishment! But when Parliament reassembled after the Easter recess on 23 April, the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, told the House of Commons that the whole affair had been greatly exaggerated, and the excitement began to subside.
How, and who?
The lasting effect of the episode remained to be seen, but the immediate effect was a wave of speculation about the source of the information in the pamphlet and the identity of those responsible for it. A deliberately misleading reference in the pamphlet to 'at least one occupant of at least one RSG' was taken as seriously as had been hoped. The general assumption was that the information must have been leaked by an insider rather than discovered by outsiders, and many people involved in the RSG system were subjected to unpleasant interrogation. The undramatic truth doesn't seem to have been guessed by anyone at the time.
As for the identity of the Spies for Peace themselves, they took care to remain as undetected after their operation as before it. The group automatically disbanded when their work was done, and some took a much-needed and well-earned holiday. Most of them went on the Aldermaston March, but they had nothing to do with the production and distribution of the many reprints and summaries of the pamphlet during the Easter weekend, or with the organisation of the demonstrations at RSG-6 and the various other RSGs around the country. Four of them took part in the demonstration at Warren Row on 13 April, and enjoyed the knowledge that their plan had worked perfectly. Four of them also took part in the demonstrations in London which marked the end of the March on 15 April and were partly inspired by their example, and some of them were arrested. But it was clear that virtually no one, whether in the movement or the media or the police, was sure exactly who they were.
Nevertheless it was fairly easy to guess who they might be. Of course a few of their close colleagues knew some of their identities, and some of their many other associates had ideas which were sometimes correct—though often incorrect. As for the authorities, their views will perhaps be better known when the official records are released under the thirty-year rule in 1994—though not necessarily even then.
At first, however, they clearly had no realistic ideas at all, and then they made much the same sort of guesses as anyone else. Police activity began at once, with threats and seizures and arrests and minor charges on the March, a break-in at the Committee of 100 office in London on 13 April, and interviews with possible suspects from 15 April. On 17 April members of the Special Branch raided a score of people in the London area, including the signatories of Beyond Counting Arses—or, rather, those they could trace—as well as some other people suspected of being involved. Nothing significant was found, and no charges were ever made.
Several of the actual Spies for Peace were never raided, and indeed seem never to have been suspected; whereas many of those suspected and raided had nothing to do with the operation at all. The problem of the authorities was that, while it proved fairly easy to establish the identities of some of the people responsible for the many reprints, it proved completely impossible to track down those responsible for the original pamphlet, and after a few weeks the official hunt died down.
Public speculation about the Spies for Peace was generally very badly informed. The defence correspondent of The Times, Alun Gwynne Jones (later Lord Chalfont), quoted the opinion of 'security officials' that they were 'supporters, probably communist, of nuclear disarmament' (13 April); the Daily Express, quoting the same sources, mentioned 'Communist agents' (15 April); and the Daily Telegraph referred to 'Communist subversion' (17 April); Tribune suggested an ‘agent-provocateur' (19 April); Clare Hollingworth, the defence correspondent of the Guardian, went so far as to suggest 'enemy agents' (13 May).
The main single suspect at the time was Peter Cadogan, secretary of the East Anglian Committee of 100 and convenor of the March Must Decide Committee (later prominent in the humanist movement); in fact he was completely innocent, and he played a valuable part in drawing off press attention for a few days. Subsidiary suspects were Philip Seed, a Committee of 100 activist who was also completely innocent, and George Clark, a prominent activist in both CND and the Committee of 100, who had led a Campaign Caravan around the country during 1962 and claimed previous knowledge of the RSG system, but who wasn't even on speaking terms with the Spies for Peace. The general public were completely bemused, going by a National Opinion Polls survey of Londoners published later in April 1963 — asked who they thought was to blame, 50 per cent said they didn't know, 1 per cent said the Committee of 100, 3 per cent the Civil Defence organisation, 4 per cent the Communists, 5 per cent CND, and 37 per cent the Government!
Speculation continued afterwards. Peace News drew attention to Beyond Counting Arses on 26 April. The Sunday Telegraph, which had good contacts with the security authorities and a good knowledge of the far left, suggested on 21 April that 'it would not be surprising if investigation does not bring to light a shrewd political mind directing this brilliant subversive operation’, and followed on 19 May with heavy hints about a 'master mind behind the Spies for Peace, a 'Jekyll and Hyde character' who was thought to be 'a brilliant man who may be doing an important job', and so on; it was easy to see what was behind this nonsense, but nothing came of it. The Conservative Party Campaign Guide for the 1964 General Election implicated the Independent Labour Party; it was actually involved only to the extent that it supported the Spies for Peace and that some of its members in London and Leeds produced reprints of the pamphlet. Herb Greer's unsympathetic early history of the movement—Mud Pie (1964)— carelessly asserted that the Spies for Peace were 'made up largely of Anarchists loosely attached to the Committee of 100'. Christopher Driver's sympathetic early history of the movement—The Disarmers (1964)—cautiously suggested that they 'might be found among the readers of the Trotskyist [sic] magazine Solidarity'. Richard Taylor's and Colin Pritchard's sympathetic later history—The Protest Makers (1980)—described them as a 'group of libertarian socialists and Anarchists', adding a note that 'it is clear that the group around the journal Solidarity was closely involved'. Paul Mercer's unsympathetic later history—‘Peace' of the Dead (1986)—alleged that 'it did not take Special Branch long to identify those responsible' and that 'it was an open secret within the Committee of 100' that some members of the Syndicalist Workers Federation were involved; the authorities were actually never able to establish who was responsible, and the two named people were involved only in producing reprints and had nothing to do with the original group (indeed the named source of this story wouldn't have been trusted by anyone).
The fact is that the identity of only one member of the group has ever been publicly admitted, though a great many outsiders have claimed membership at various times. At the beginning of 1965 there was much interest in the press and amusement in the movement about a man called Trevor Jones (‘Jonah'), who alleged that he was one of the Spies for Peace and had caused much disruption of official activity, but he was generally dismissed as a nuisance or a provocateur. And a much later example of confusion may be found in Alan Ryan's book Bertrand Russell: A Political Life (1988), which includes references to 'the activities of "Spiees for Peace" (who discovered where the government's wartime communications centres were located and published the information in defiance of the Official Secrets Act)', which isn't quite right, and to 'the government's efficient use of the Official Secrets Act to send the most determined Spies for Peace to jail for eighteen months', which is quite wrong. The essential point to emphasise is that, by taking simple precautions, the Spies for Peace made sure that there was no material evidence against anyone, so that no one was arrested, let alone imprisoned.
Effects and results
The original pamphlet, which appeared just before Easter 1963, was followed by a literally incalculable number of reprints and summaries produced by various groups and individuals over the Easter weekend and then during the next few weeks. There were certainly at least a hundred separate versions, most duplicated but a few surreptitiously printed. It was estimated that about 10,000 pamphlets and about 30,000 leaflets summarising the pamphlet had been distributed by the end of the March, on Easter Monday, and Vanessa Redgrave's speech at the closing rally in Hyde Park that afternoon repeated its main contents.
The largest known edition was a printed version which was produced in London on 22 April in a run of 18,000 copies. (This was one of several which expurgated the remarks about the Cuba crisis to say that ‘damn all' or 'nothing at all' was done.) One summary was distributed at the annual conference of the National Union of Students at Keele University during the weekend after Easter by Martin Loney, then a student leader (and later general secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties and then an academic sociologist).
A particularly interesting version appeared in the French left-wing paper France Observateur on 18 April. The story filled the front and back pages, with the comment: 'Treason ceased to be treason when it became a public service. The boldness of the Spies for Peace has promoted the peace march from the level of British folklore into an event of international significance'; and the two middle pages were filled with facsimiles of the pamphlet. (The issue was banned in Britain.) Copies of the pamphlet soon travelled further afield, and by June versions were being produced as far apart as Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Also in June the London Committee of 100 began producing a series of duplicated editions which it sold at one shilling, and various other versions continued to appear for the rest of the year.
In exactly the same way, the demonstration at RSG-6 on 13 April was followed by demonstrations organised by local Nuclear Disarmament groups at almost every other known RSG in the country on almost every weekend during the next couple of months. As had been hoped, the Committee of 100 and indeed the radical wing of the movement in general took on a new lease of life.
All these events were reported in the press much more widely than had ever been hoped. No doubt this was partly because of their intrinsic interest; but it was much more because the press during that period bore a bitter grudge against the Government—following the imprisonment in February of two reporters for refusing to disclose (non-existent) sources of information for (imaginary) stories about the Vassall spy case to an official tribunal, and the denial in March by the Minister of War, John Profumo, of rumours about his relationship with Christine Keeler which everyone in Fleet Street knew to be true (the resulting sex-and-politics scandal revolving around Stephen Ward dominated the political scene for the rest of the summer). All the capitalist newspapers wanted the Spies for Peace to be caught and punished; but meanwhile they were delighted to be able to embarrass the Government from a new angle.
Despite specific police threats, detailed accounts of the pamphlets and the demonstrations appeared in some papers of the libertarian left. What was more surprising and significant was that, despite official and unofficial pressure and all the political implications, the Daily Telegraph finally broke ranks in the Establishment—by printing on 19 April what was alleged to be the transcript of a programme broadcast by Radio Prague the previous day, including substantial quotations from the Spies for Peace pamphlet. On the same day Private Eye published a full-page parody of the pamphlet—with the title 'Top Secret: Do not read this page' and spoof details of 'Holes in the Ground' (HIGs)—and on the next day the pamphlet was shown and discussed on the television programme That Was The Week That Was. And the case was used as the theme of an episode in the Granada Television serial The Odd Man (Edward Boyd's 'The Betrayal of Ambrose Leech'), broadcast on Independent Television on 17 May.
The Spies for Peace had entered the folklore of political culture—and not only in Britain. The pamphlets and demonstrations were praised by the Situationist movement on the Continent as an exemplary instance of the destruction of spectacle4 and creation of situations, made the subject of an art exhibition called 'The Destruction of the RSG-6' held in Odense, Denmark, during June and July 19635 , and held up as a model for further revolutionary action—which they were.
But the important thing was how the situation would develop in practice. Soon the ripples began to spread as the lessons sank in. The information about RSG-4, which had been sent to contacts in Cambridge, was published in a similar though much shorter pamphlet on 25 April. On 2 May a typed leaflet appeared stating that the communications system connecting the RSGs and the central Government was located in underground bunkers near Chancery Lane underground station in London, with surface entrances in Furnival Street and High Holborn. At the same time secret telephone numbers and addresses were being passed round by word of mouth, and for several weeks members of the Nuclear Disarmament movement used them to harass and, if possible, to disrupt the communications system.
One unfortunate episode occurred after the demonstration at RSG-12 in Dover Castle on 5 May. Local activists broke in to the site and discovered further secret papers about the RSG system. However, lacking confidence in their own ability to make use of the material and knowledge of who else might be able to do so, they handed the papers over to the secretary of the National Committee of 100 and the editor of Peace News—both of whom had expressed support for the Spies for Peace at Easter. But these two leading figures in the anti-war movement not only destroyed the material but even rebuked those responsible for this skilful and entirely successful action, so a valuable opportunity was wasted.
The Spies for Peace episode and work continued to be the subject of both private and public discussion during summer 1963. In June the text of Beyond Counting Arses was reprinted by Solidarity (Volume 2, Number 116 ) to provide documentation for this discussion. Also in June a pamphlet with the acronymic title Resistance Shall Grow7 was published by a coalition of groups in the libertarian left—the Independent Labour Party, the London Federation of Anarchists, Solidarity, the Syndicalist Workers Federation, and a section of the London Committee of 100—and was also included in Anarchy 29 as `The Spies for Peace Story. Subtitled 'The Story of the Spies for Peace and Why They are Important For Your Future', this compilation of anonymous articles described the events of Easter 1963 and the various repercussions, with particular attention to the reactions of the authorities, the media and the orthodox left, and with the hopeful conclusion that the episode might be 'the basis of a genuinely revolutionary mass movement'.
In September Nicolas Walter's The RSGs, 1919-19638 was published as Solidarity Pamphlet 15 to fill in the historical background of the emergency regional government system since the First World War (though he didn't go back as far as its slightly earlier origins during the First World War). One interesting point to emerge was that the revived RSG system had not only been fairly widely known for some time but had actually been discussed openly in the press on several occasions and described in some detail in the Daily Mail in February 1961; indeed Bertrand Russell himself had drawn attention to its significance (in a speech to the Midlands Conference for Peace in Birmingham on 11 March 1961, reprinted as the pamphlet Win We Must). By this time, the authorities, having failed to lay their hands on the Spies for Peace, drew a practical lesson from them instead, and also in September an official report on Civil Defence gave detailed information about the RSG system to the general public for the first time. Already the structure had been modified to provide for the likely dismemberment of the regions by nuclear attack and the establishment instead of Sub-Regional controls (as reported by Sanity in August), and soon the Civil Defence structure was completely dismantled, though a skeleton system survived. In a way, then, the Spies for Peace succeeded completely.
Revival and failure
But the Spies for Peace had aimed at something much more than merely discrediting or even destroying the Civil Defence system, and by the autumn of 1963 they resumed their work. The group had kept constantly in touch, and had also remained active in other ways. Members were among the representatives of the Nuclear Disarmament movement who confronted Bernard Levin with the pamphlet on That Was The Week That Was on 20 April, and among the hecklers at the public meeting organised by the London Region of CND on 28 April when leaders of the Nuclear Disarmament movement offered their belated approval to the Spies for Peace (and made an idiotic appeal to give themselves up!). Several members took part in the Committee of 100 demonstrations during the summer at Marham (in May) and Porton (in June), during Greek Week (in July) and the subsequent Committee convoy to Greece, as well as in the Cuban Embassy demonstration (in July) and the Notting Hill anti-eviction struggle (in August). But, when the London Committee once more relapsed into the same paralysis as had afflicted it before Easter, the group was re-formed at the end of August.
At this point two members dropped out of any further activity, and two new members were brought in to replace them. At various times during the following period other people took part in specific activities on a temporary basis, and there was a growing network of contacts in several parts of the country, but the hard core remained almost unchanged.
The aim of the Spies for Peace remained the same; but now their task was more difficult. It would not be sufficient to repeat their work; it was necessary to move forward and do better than before. They had discovered and exposed the emergency regional government system; now they set out to discover and expose the emergency central government system behind it. They had acquired the essential trust in each other and the basic expertise and experience for this kind of activity; but they were determined not to take any unnecessary risks, which limited their freedom of action. So once more they withdrew from other activities and resumed work.
The first area to be explored was the deep shelters in London which had been constructed during the Second World War. Papers found in Warren Row had shown that the RSG- system had not been activated during the Cuba crisis in October 1962, a few weeks after the Fallex 62 exercise which proved the uselessness of the whole system. The group decided to see what been done with the deep shelters, and they picked on the one near Belsize Park underground station as being the easiest to break into without risk of detection. The shelter was raided on 28 September 1963, and they discovered that it not only had been unused during the Cuba crisis but was unusable at any time, since its fittings were all either dismantled or derelict. But nothing much could be made of that on its own.
The next area to be explored was the enormous military complex near Corsham, just east of Bath on the main London-Bristol road and railway. Contacts at the CND annual conference in October reported local suspicions that this was the site of the emergency central seat of government, and this coincided with hints in the press that in a war the Government would go underground 'somewhere in the West'. The group decided to see what could be discovered. A preliminary visit was made in November, and two thorough searches were made during December. The whole area was combed, and several installations were broken into; but the group found it impossible to get far enough into the complex to confirm their strong suspicions about it without taking excessive risks, and the operation was temporarily suspended.
Instead the group turned to the London communications system near Chancery Lane underground station. Attempts were made to break into various places during January 1964, but again they found it impossible to penetrate the system without more drastic measures. At several meetings the group discussed—both alone and with sympathetic contacts—the possibility of cracking the system in other ways, whether by planning a public demonstration to draw attention to it and trying to get in during a diversion, or else by mounting a more determined assault altogether. But in the end it was decided to proceed no further because the operation seemed unlikely to succeed without taking unnecessary risks or using undesirable methods.
Another visit was made to the West Country in February, this time in the area of the Mendips, where other contacts had suggested the central seat of government might be located. A long search ended with the discovery of a mysterious site at Temple Cloud, but when this was raided it turned out to be only a Home Office Supply and Transport Store. A great deal of equipment was found in it, but no important papers. Yet another visit was made to the West Country in May, but again nothing was discovered.
By this time attention had been turned elsewhere, as a result of independent work by another group active in East London. In March 1964 the Ilford Civil Defence headquarters was broken into, and some of the papers found there were passed on to the Spies for Peace. References were found to a site near Kelvedon Hatch in Essex which sounded interesting. The site was located after a short search, and was broken into on 29 March, Easter Sunday, at the time of the Easter March. Kelvedon Hatch turned out to be an intriguing place, since it combined a Sub-Regional headquarters in the RSG system with a Group headquarters in the Royal Observer Corps system. A great deal of material was removed from the huge bunkers at Kelvedon Hatch, and much of it was found to be interesting; but most of it related to the ROC structure and its exercises, which were hardly worth the trouble of exposing.
One particularly significant item of information that did emerge was that the London Region, whose RSG was strangely missing from the material found in Warren Row, had apparently been eliminated from the system altogether, and divided up between the Eastern, Southern and South-Eastern regions, so that London was to be ruled by Regional Commissioners in Cambridge, Warren Row and Dover; the various sectors of the capital were to be administered from several Sub-Regional headquarters, of which Kelvedon Hatch was the one for East London north of the Thames. The implication was that in the event of nuclear war London would be virtually abandoned to its fate—but this was no news for anyone who had read the original Spies for Peace pamphlet, and again it was not worth the trouble of exposing on its own.
Further developments in East London put an end to work in that area. In May the Wanstead Civil Defence headquarters was broken into. In August three people were arrested and charged with the Ilford and Wanstead break-ins. There was some dramatic publicity for a time, with heavy hints about the identity of the Spies for Peace, but in the event the magistrates court proceedings were confined to events in East London and the wider implications were obscured. The defendants were given large fines, which were soon raised by sympathisers.
Another area again was Wales, where contacts pointed out suspicious sites in various parts of the country. Visits were made several times during the spring and summer of 1964, large areas were explored, and some sites were examined; but no hard information was ever obtained.
On 16 and 17 October 1964, during the weekend after General Election which brought the Labour Party back to power after thirteen years, two final visits were made to the Corsham complex, and the most determined efforts so far were made to break into appropriate sites. But yet again the task proved impossible, and the operation had to be terminated once and for all. This marked the end of the activity of the Spies for Peace as a group.
Scots Against War
During all this time a parallel but completely independent response to the situation in the Committee of 100 had taken place in Scotland. Some Glasgow activists who had attended the Way Ahead conference in February 1963 were impressed by the arguments of Beyond Counting Arses, and developed their ideas in a similar way.
The first public indication of this phenomenon was the appearance at the Holy Loch demonstration on 25 May 1963 of a duplicated leaflet called How to disrupt, obstruct and subvert the Warfare State, and signed `Scots Against War'. This was followed by an irregular series of publications over the next couple of years, aimed at stimulating radical activity in the Scottish Nuclear Disarmament movement.
This activity was not confined to argument, and sabotage became frequent and widespread from 1963 to 1966. Several fires were started at the Holy Loch and Faslane bases, and many Civil Defence and Army offices all over the country were broken into and wrecked. Occasionally some individuals were arrested, but the authorities generally preferred to keep things quiet. Few charges were brought, and only fines were ever imposed. The Scots Against War group was never broken, but in the end it faded away.
In June 1966 the Scottish Solidarity group published as its first pamphlet A Way Ahead9 , which was a collection of articles by and about the Scots Against War and the sabotage issue printed in both Scotland and London, with editorial comments. The subtitle was 'For a New Peace Movement', but the pamphlet actually marked the end of the old one. Nevertheless, the career of the Scots Against War, inspired by the same ideas as the Spies for Peace (and frequently in informal contact with them), may be seen as one of the most successful practical assaults on the military system mounted by the whole Nuclear Disarmament movement.
The individual Spies for Peace remained active after the end of their work as a group. During 1964 they had already joined the picnic at Warren Row on 16 August. Following the successful pirate radio broadcasts during the General Election of October 1964 in South London, they joined a new group of Radio Pirates which set out to combine old methods of gathering information with new methods of distributing it. But they left the group before its first (and last) broadcasts at Easter 1965. The theme of the messages was to be the secret Civil Defence plans for London, and some of the material accumulated by the Spies for Peace was used in preparing the texts. But the treatment was sensationalised and the organisational and technical defects of the group were such that it soon collapsed. Despite this failure to revive the work of the Voice of Nuclear Disarmament, the Spies for Peace joined the demonstration at the end of the 1965 Easter March called for by the broadcasts (whose texts were distributed in pamphlet form). This was at the Rotundas in Monck Street, Westminster, which were suspected of being the site of the London RSG (if any) or even of the emergency seat of government — and where there had also been a demonstration at the end of the Easter March in 1964.
After this the individual members of the group were involved in several appropriate activities. Some helped to produce the fake American dollars bearing slogans against the Vietnam War during 1966 and 1967. Several took part in the Brighton Church demonstration in October 1966. Contacts were involved in the springing of George Blake from Wormwood Scrubs in October 1966. Several took part in the Greek Embassy demonstration in April 1967. Some joined the Committee of 100 demonstrations at the Corsham complex during 1967. And several were involved in the housing struggles which became the Squatters movement in 1969.
At one stage tenuous connections were made with a new tendency on the libertarian left. One of the contacts of the Spies for Peace, who had been prominent in the Radio Pirates, was involved in an attempt to fire a harmless rocket at the Greek Embassy in 1967; the attempt was a fiasco, but also a portent of things to come. And after the first shooting at the American Embassy in August 1967, the police raids of Committee of 100 militants involved a few members of the Spies for Peace. None of the group was in fact involved in the later developments culminating in 1970-1971 in the Angry Brigade, but these connections were not entirely coincidental.
In 1968 some of the Spies for Peace joined the Aldermaston March on the Easter Saturday to take part in a YCND demonstration at Warren Row. This commemorated their success five years earlier; but it also marked their failure to achieve any further success, and indeed the failure of the first Nuclear Disarmament movement as a whole—for that was the last of the first series of Aldermaston Marches, and 1968 also saw the disbandment of the Committee of 100 and its replacement as the vanguard of the radical left by the new student movement and the campaign against the Vietnam War. Some of the Spies for Peace continued political activity for many years, and a few were involved in the revived Nuclear Disarmament movement of the 1980s, but by that time they had long ceased to have any corporate existence.
One of the main successes of the Spies for Peace was the complete absorption into the public consciousness of the information they revealed. This was shown in 1965 when Peter Watkins made The War Game, a television film about the effects of a nuclear war which turned out to be so convincing that the authorities put pressure on the BBC not to broadcast it. Its picture of the political system which would be operated during a nuclear war took for granted the RSG system described by the Spies for Peace, although this had actually been radically altered by then. (It was shown in cinemas at the time and then to peace groups all over the country for twenty years, until it was at last broadcast in July 1985.)
Another success was the general assumption that further information of the same kind should be distributed as widely as possible, and quite soon this began to happen quite openly. Peter Laurie wrote a long article on the emergency government system in the Sunday Times Magazine (10 December 1967), and then expanded it into a frequently revised book, Beneath the City Streets (1970, 1972, 1979, 1983). Further information appeared in Tony Bunyan's book, The Political Police in Britain (1976, 1977), and also in several pamphlets—such as London: The Other Underground (1974) by 'Anarchists Anonymous, Region 1 (1978) by Martin Spence, and Review of Security and the State (1979) by 'State Research'.
During the following decade the field was taken over by Duncan Campbell. He first became well known as one of the three defendants in the ABC trial of 1977-1978 (which concerned the SIGINT system), who were found guilty of breaches of the Official Secrets Act but were neither fined nor imprisoned. He then turned to the emergency government system. Articles in Time Out (21/27 March 1980) and the New Statesman (2 October 1981) were followed by a 500-page book, War Plan UK (1982, 1983). This is a very detailed study of 'The Truth About Civil Defence in Britain' from the beginnings of the system during the First World War up to its reorganisation during the 1970s and the exercises testing it during the early 1980s. Campbell was able not only to work (almost) completely in the open, but also to use the work of a great many other people (including some of the Spies for Peace). He later produced another book, The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier (1984, 1986), a similarly detailed account of 'American Military Power in Britain’. His work may be said to have completed that begun by the Spies for Peace after a quarter of a century, so that the British people now have all the necessary information about their fate at the hands of the state in a military—or civil—emergency.
All accounts of the Spies for Peace by outsiders have been vitiated by lack of knowledge of what really happened. The only previous accounts based on such knowledge were articles published in the Guardian (9 April 1966)—and reprinted as a leaflet, The Spies for Peace: Their Story Told at Last—and in Inside Story 8 and 9 (March/April and May/June 1973), of which the present account is a revised and expanded version.
NB: Footnotes added by Libcom.
- 3The Broadsheet King - The RSG song book: a handful of songs (1963)
- 4“In Britain, the revolt of youth found its first expression in the peace movement. It was never a whole-hearted struggle, with the misty non-violence of the Committee of 100 as its most daring program, At its strongest the Committee could call 300,000 demonstrators on to the streets, It had its finest hour in Spring 1963 with the "Spies for Peace" scandal. But it had already entered on a definitive decline: for want of a theory the unilateralists fell among the traditional Left or were recuperated by the Pacifist conscience.” – On The Poverty Of Student Life (1966) https://libcom.org/library/poverty-student-life
- 8 https://libcom.org/history/rsgs-1919-1963-nicolas-walter
- 9 https://libcom.org/library/way-ahead-new-peace-movement