An interview with Jenny Maxwell on the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima

Interview with Jenny Maxwell, long term CND campaigner

This August is the 75th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on Japan in 1945. To mark this we have an interview with Jenny Maxwell, a long time campaigner for CND, by Alice Maxwell of Lamlash. For more events that are taking place around Scotland on 6 – 9th August please see the SCND webpage. The featured image shows Jenny on a march at Aldermaston in 2008.

My mother, Jenny Maxwell, has spent many years campaigning for CND. She agreed to be interviewed for The Voice about her activity while making crab-apple jelly in her Herefordshire kitchen.

When did you join CND?

I joined in 1980, at the time when Cruise Missiles were coming to the American base at Greenham Common. There were lots of demonstrations against Cruise at the time, and after my first demonstration I decided to join CND.

Did you visit Greenham Common?

We used to take the women food, and take their rubbish to the tip. Once I took my mother – a respectable bridge-playing lady. She got out of the car and said loudly “That bloody fence, that wasn’t what your father fought the war for”.

What work did you do for CND?

I was treasurer for West Midlands CND for 18 years, and in 1990 I also became National Treasurer. At the time CND was technically bankrupt so I had to set up a finance group to come up with policies and systems to rescue CND.

What was the most memorable event during your time with West Midlands CND?

We wrote to the cellist, Paul Tortelier, and asked if he would do a fundraising concert for CND. He replied “I don’t know what CDN stands for, but if it is for peace I will do it.” With members and friends of the CBSO [City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra], he played the Elgar Cello Concerto and the concert was an amazing success – it was sold out two weeks before the event. We hosted Tortelier and his wife in our house in Birmingham. He was a wonderful presence, and absolutely epitomised the power of good.

Have you been to Faslane?

I have been to the Faslane peace camp several times. We found the Scottish police very friendly. I also offered car support for a walk from Faslane to Fylingdales in North Yorkshire, home of an American early warning system. One night, we stayed at The Binns – the home of Tam Dayell.

The walk from Faslane to Fylingdales in 2001. This was the last day and taken in Whitby. Bruce Kent (ex chairman of CND) is standing next to Jenny on the left.

How did you protest against the Iraq War?

By 2003 I was a Vice-Chair of National CND. A huge demonstration was jointly organised between CND, The Muslim Association of Britain and Stop The War Coalition. We organised a march from Embankment to Hyde Park , and I carried the banner at the front, with others including Green MP Caroline Lucas, and Tam Dayell.

What was your involvement with NukeWatch?

Nukewatch was set up in the late 1980s to monitor nuclear convoys, which carry live nuclear warheads between Faslane and Berkshire. At first the convoys drove past people’s front doors, now they are mostly on motorways. Nukewatch is hoping to expand, and start monitoring the Faslane nuclear submarines in the Clyde. I have often followed nuclear convoys, and have also monitored trains taking spent nuclear fuel from power stations in the South West to the Sellafield reprocessing plant. Initially the trains came through the centre of Birmingham at 1 am, then the time was changed to 4pm – right in the middle of the Birmingham rush hour.

Did you represent CND in foreign countries?

I gave a speech in the Potsdamer Platz, which had been divided by the Berlin wall, and which peace campaigners wanted to turn into a peace garden. Unfortunately, Mercedes Benz has turned it into its Headquarters.
The Japanese equivalent of CND invited delegates from America, Germany, UK and the Phillipines to its Peace Council’s National Conference at Nagoya. The latter three countries have American bases on their soil, as does Nagoya. One day everyone from the conference had a protest at the base, encircling it. The Japanese way of doing things was terribly formal and male dominated -there was no discussion, just speeches, and the conference appeared to be pre-ordained. This was quite different to the way CND decides its policies, using debates and votes. I had to pretend to be a vegetarian to avoid having to eat raw fish!

Can you tell us about your trip to Russia?

I went to Russia during the time of Peristroika and Glasnost on an international Peace Cruise down the river Dnieper. We stopped at major towns along the way, and were free to speak to locals as we pleased, but unfortunately I do not speak Russian. We visited a village set up for evacuees of Chernobyl which bizarrely had electricity but no water supply.

Could you tell us about The Chernobyl Children’s Project?

My trip to Russia inspired me to support this project, which provides holidays and respite in the UK for children affected by the Chernobyl disaster. These children mostly have cancer and thyroid problems.

How do you remember Hiroshima Day?

Whilst on the Peace Cruise in Russia I read “After Blenheim” by Robert Southey. This year I am supporting a friend from Knighton, Powys, who is fasting between 6th August (Hiroshima day) and 9th August (Nagasaki day).

Forty years later, are you still a member of CND?

I was recently made an honorary member of CND. Now Hereford Peace Council is my priority, and I am also a member of the Green Party.

You have done a massive amount for CND, what benefits has your work had for you?

I have met many interesting people, made lasting friendships, and visited numerous places I would not otherwise have seen. But my most abiding memories are the encounters with Paul Tortelier.

What’s your favourite dessert?

Summer pudding, made with fruit from my garden, and lots of cream.

Extract from After Blenheim by Robert Sothey; whereby two children, Wilhelmine and Peterkin question their grandfather, Kaspar, on the human skulls they find in his field.

‘It was the English’ Kaspar cried,
‘Who put the French to rout;
But what they fought each other for
I could not well make out.
But everybody said quoth he
‘That twas a famous victory’

‘With fire and sword the country round
Was wasted far and wide
And many a childing mother then
And new-born baby died:
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.

‘Great praise the Duke of Marlbro’ won
And our good Prince Eugene’
‘Why, twas a very wicked thing!’
Said little Wilhelmine;
‘Nay .. nay .. my little girl’ quoth he,
‘It was a famous victory.

‘And everybody praised the Duke
Who this great fight did win’
‘But what good came of it at last?’
Quoth little Peterkin;
‘Why, that I cannot tell’, said he,
‘But twas a famous victory.’

With much thanks to Jenny and Alice for sharing their interview. ER.

Art work for the anniversary by Scottish artist Stewart Bremner