A demonstrator is pulled from his kayak in Holy Loch, 1961.


The DAC also took direct action at Holy Loch itself at the same time, and the events gained widespread public attention. However, the tolerant police attitude was not to last. At subsequent actions, mass arrests routinely took place. In March 1961, CND’s annual conference reaffirmed its commitment to legal methods, but it also congratulated the DAC and Committee of 100 on their demonstrations. The Conference stated that the three different forms of protest should be seen as ‘three techniques in a united attack on preparations for nuclear war.’ In other words, it was recognised that these diverse methods were all valid parts of the process of campaigning against nuclear weapons. This remains CND’s position today.

In the summer of 1961, the Committee announced a new round of mass civil disobedience, in opposition to the actual arrival of the first US Polaris submarine in Holy Loch. The protests coincided with the erection of the Berlin Wall; it was a time of greatly heightened international tension. There was a massive sit-down protest in London in September, as well as more action at Holy Loch itself. In advance of this, Russell, Lady Russell and many other members of the Committee of 100 were arrested and charged with inciting civil disobedience, under the Defence of the Realm Act of 1361. Russell made a powerful speech from the dock, arguing that civil disobedience was a last resort: ‘Patriotism and humanity alike urged us to see some way of saving our country and the world.’

Both Russell and Lady Russell were sentenced to two months in prison, but this was reduced on medical grounds to one week each. Russell was almost 90 years of age at this point and served his term in Brixton Prison, where he had spent time as a conscientious objector during World War I. Russell’s imprisonment raised the profile of the anti-nuclear movement enormously, achieving exactly the type of publicity that Russell had hoped for. Russell’s age and the fact that he was regarded as one of the great philosophers of the 20th century only added to the impact of his stand. When the planned protest took place in London, it attracted over 12,000 people, in spite of the fact that the police had banned the sit-down under the Public Order Act. The ban contributed to the scale of participation, as people also came out to protest in defence of their civil liberties and to protest the draconian treatment of the Russells.

Following this massive mobilisation, the Committee decided to turn its attention to military bases. Seven protests were planned for December for bases and in town centres. The government’s response to this was brutal as it set out to intimidate the movement. The Committee’s six employees were all arrested prior to the demonstrations and given relatively lengthy jail sentences – the men receiving sentences of 18 months and the one woman 12 months. The turnout at these occasions fell to 7,000, influenced by the government’s hard line and threat of prison. Local Committees were set up around the country, but it was hard to mobilise significant numbers outside London. Support for the Committee gradually began to wane, and it was not helped by occasional activities, by groups within the Committee, which seemed to be divisive. On one occasion breakaway civil disobedience at the end of an Aldermaston March caused division and confusion; another breakaway march organised by libertarians and anarchists – the so-called ‘Spies for Peace’ – had a similar effect.

Canon Collins spoke sharply about anarchist interventions when he resigned as CND chair in 1964: ‘There ought to be a complete repudiation of neo-Tolstoian anarchy within CND. Indeed, it should be made abundantly clear to any whose main concern is not nuclear disarmament but disruption of the body politic that they are not wanted either within CND or at its demonstrations.’ In January 1963, Russell resigned as president of the Committee of 100, depriving the Committee of much of its profile and significance, and support dropped away. Even many of the Committee’s supporters felt that it had lost its effectiveness. As one leading Committee member said, as early as the end of 1961, ‘We have become a public spectacle, a group isolated from the general body of public opinion and feeling, a rowdy show to be televised and reported in the press for the interest and amusement of a majority who are not with us.’ Canon Collins also reflected on the Committee of 100 in his resignation statement: ‘Not all publicity is publicity for good. Over against whatever of value has emerged as a result of the function of the Committee of 100 must be placed the dissensions, the quarrels and the disruption of unity within the nuclear disarmament movement which have entered.’ After leaving CND, Canon Collins went on to play a major role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

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