In the winter of 1963, a small group of British libertarian socialists set out to catalyse public awareness of the very real prospect of nuclear war. They were members of the Committee of 100, the radical wing of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and their mounting frustration with the apparent futility of conventional protest tactics led them to undertake an unprecedented direct action. Over two freezing afternoons in February, they traveled to the village of Warren Row in Berkshire, where they located, infiltrated, and documented the contents of Regional Seat of Government 6, one of a chain of secret bunkers intended to govern the country in the event of nuclear war. A few weeks later, in April, they publicized their findings in an anonymous pamphlet, Danger! Official Secrets, exposing the haphazard nature of government planning for nuclear conflict. On Saturday 13th April, several hundred protestors broke away from the annual Aldermaston peace march to surround the site of RSG6, feeding the flames of what had already become a firestorm of incendiary headlines.

That small group of activists called themselves the Spies for Peace. At the time, fearing lengthy jail sentences, they did not identify themselves and none were ever arrested or prosecuted. Over time, a few of the group did emerge publicly: Nicolas Walter, Ruth Walter, Ken Weller, and Mike Lesser, all of whom have now died.

Cover image of the Spies for Peace pamphlet Danger! Official Secret, 1963

Now, on the 60th anniversary of these events, one more Spy for Peace has come forward. Nic Ralph grew up in North London, joined the Socialist Labour League as a teenager, and eventually moved into the Committee of 100 and the libertarian socialist group Solidarity. He is joined in this conversation by History Workshop Journal‘s Andrew Whitehead and Marybeth Hamilton and by oral historian Sam Carroll, whose interviews with several anonymised Spies for Peace formed the heart of a revelatory article published in HWJ in 2010, and who Nic suggested could both provide an historian’s perspective and represent the voices who could not be there.

Sam Carroll’s 2010 article, “Danger Official Secrets: Discretion and Disclosure in the Committee of 100” in History Workshop Journal 69 will be freely available for the first three months after this podcast drops. You can access it here.

One Comment

  1. I vividly recall “Spies for Peace broadcasts on the tv band after BBC TV shut down for the night at 11pm. I would have been about 15 years old. My brother was on the ‘63 Aldermaston march and went to RSG-6 at Wargrave, near Reading. I have searched for the site on Google Earth, but can’t find it. The photograph is very much as my brother described it. There were supposed to be an antenna array nearby that served the RSG. He described how the approaches to the RSG were camouflaged, and how there were gates that protected a road that disappeared mysteriously into the earth behind it, how as marchers were pushed down a slope by more marchers coming up behind them, the police panicked and started kicking and assaulting the young people as they tumbled down the slope, he saw a man pushing a pram who was running just ahead of pursuing police, and was flinging documents out in all directions, trying to get rid of them all before he was tackled. My brother grabbed one or two copies and hid them about his person. He brought them home, and as he drifted to the political right, l inherited them. Over the years l was able to study them, with the names of the folk invited to avoid incineration, their telephone numbers in the RSG, and a plan of the carious levels of the RSG. There was also a list of the other 13 RSGs scattered around the country. Unfortunately l left these with a Rhodesian engineer friend l worked with on a Hong Kong ship, l think in 1970, and lost touch with him.l regret losing them. I would love to be able to replace them. ls that possible? Unlike my brother, l stayed on the political left, drifting in and out of human rights and socialist work. You cannot imagine what those Roneo’d sheets did to that boy’s imagination. I think we need to return to the anxiety and feart which my whole generation, with never a day free of nuclear terror, has felt since then.

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