The British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland Campaign (BWNIC) is now a near forgotten footnote to the war in Ireland. Most people will remember the Troops Out Movement but BWNIC differed in that, though the group contained people who would have wanted a “32 County Socialist Republic”, it felt that it really was up to the Irish to determine their own future. The main issue was to withdraw the troops so that they could.

BWNIC had its roots in the pacifist movement and came to prominence following some court cases around the leaflet “Some Information for Discontented Soldiers”. Supporters of BWNIC had been leafleting serving soldiers giving them information on their rights of conscientious objection. Many soldiers were unhappy about the war in the Six Counties and there was a steady trickle of deserters.

cover of peace news 1975

14 BWNIC supporters were arrested for Incitement to Disaffection and their trial became one of those long political trials that blighted the 1970s. The defendants argued that they were not trying to disaffect soldiers but to assist those already disaffected. Most of those arrested were in the libertarian/Peace News milieu rather than supporters of physical force nationalism.

Together with others in Aberdeenshire and elsewhere I was a footnote to a footnote, also arrested but our future liberty depended on the outcome of the BWNIC test case in London. As the front cover of Peace News suggests, the trial was also something of a culture clash. The first quote was from Tenebris Light responding to being asked whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty, the second being the judge. The magazine cover was turned into a poster, without the masthead, that was widely circulated, not least by fly posting.

Though it was a long trial I think that the jury had come to a not guilty verdict very early on. The secondary cases were dropped. The affair fatally damaged BWNIC though as few people had the energy to rebuild the campaign. It did, however, become a little easier for soldiers who had developed a conscientious objection to war to get out the army so some progress was made.

A further footnote is that the police nationally always wondered where the SIDS leaflets that were cropping up all over the country came from. Who printed them? All I can say is that had the policeman who turned up at one remote Aberdeenshire farmhouse been more observant, when dealing with the matter of someone riding a motorbike without a helmet, he might have had a big promotion.

Thanks to Bill Hetherington and Albert Beale (two of the BWNIC 14) for sourcing the original ‘Peace News’ cover.

Ross Bradshaw

4 Comments

  1. This brings back many memories. I was in the dock beside Bill Hetherington and Albert Beale, along with the other defendants. The quotation above is from an exchange between the Judge, Neil McKinnon; and Tenebris Light (charged under his given name: Michael Westcott).

    BWNIC, unlike the Troops Out Movement (TOM), sprang from the radical peace movement, centred around Peace News and mostly being members of the Peace Pledge Union. We started from a position of “No military solution”, unlike TOM, whose ideology was mainly socialist and Marxist, particularly SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and IMG (International Marxist Group), who were always unwilling to condemn the futile violence of the IRA.

    • Paul,

      Just seen your tweet as a former member of the Troops Out Movement I can say both the SWP and IMG you mentioned did more harm than anything by trying to take over the TOM on various occasions and in fact it contained many disillusioned ex members of both of these groups and others who saw the British Left as using their manipulative skills to really reduce the TOM’s campaigning work eg the TOM split into two at one point in the late 1970s’ before re-forming again, I remember the TOM in the 1970s and 1980s’ as containing people of various leftish persuasions and none at all: I think you also have to take account of the British state violence towards the Catholic community in Northern Ireland eg massacres like Bloody Sunday, Ballymurphy, New Lodge and Springhill for instance (plus the hundreds of other deaths of just not Catholic Civilians alone, but also counting the many Protestant civilians killed by state forces) as well as the intelligence’s community’s support and even their involvement in the founding of the Loyalist paramilitary groups and management of them eg the UVF, UDA, LVF over the decades, this was what animated people to join the TOM.

      But in saying that I had a lot of respect for the BWNIC people, let’s face it many Irish and some English people were also framed up and falsely imprisoned in Northern Ireland and here in England eg the Birmingham 6, the Maguire 7, the Guildford 4, plus other individuals here and there.

      Mike Dixon

  2. Sally Baker

    Just found this. Tenebris Light has had a number of health challenges over the past five years but is in good spirits. I’m going to print the peace news cover for him. Good to find a record of those times.

  3. Pingback: General inciting mutiny against Corbyn liable to prosecution – Written by UNDERCOVER1 | winstonclose

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