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.
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.