Hackney against the Vietnam War

Flyer courtesy of Wisconsin History Society

In May 1971 American soldiers in London handed a petition to the US Embassy expressing their opposition to the Vietnam War.

As you can see from the bottom left of the above flyer, this event was supposed to be followed by a celebrity Peace Concert. (“People Emerging Against Corrupt Establishments” was a UK newspaper “by and for GI’s with the intent to foster a more humane military. Published underground and RAF Mildenhall, England”.)

The concert apparently happened in Hackney according to Peoples Press (a newspaper “by and for the G.I.s at Fort Campbell” in Tennessee.):

From Peoples Press vol 1 number 3 June 1971

I was initially a bit sceptical that this had actually happened, but a comrade came up trumps with this from The Guardian:

Jackie Leishman, “US servicemen protest against the Vietnam war,” The Guardian (London),
1 June 1971.

The same comrade pointed me to a photo of Vanessa Redgrave at the event here.

Embed from Getty Images

“English actress Vanessa Redgrave takes part in a theatrical event in Victoria Park, London, as part of an anti-war protest, UK, 31st May 1971. (Photo by D. Morrison/Daily Express/Getty Images)”

And here is Mia Farrow:

Embed from Getty Images

American actress Mia Farrow takes part in a theatrical event in Victoria Park, London, as part of an anti-war protest, UK, 31st May 1971. (Photo by D. Morrison/Daily Express/Getty Images).

Shutterstock has an image of Mia and Vanessa together at the event with the latter wearing a P.E.A.C.E. organisation t-shirt.

Report Digital has a number of heavily copyrighted images of the event of interest:

Redgrave recalls the event in her autobiography:

In the summer of 1971 a sturdy group of U.S. airmen presented a petition to the embassy in Grosvenor Square, calling for an end to the war in Vietnam. In the afternoon we held a concert for them in Victoria Park, Hackney. Mia Farrow took part in this. Jane [Fonda] had sent me the texts of some sketches she and Donald Sutherland had used in their antiwar concerts. Gerald Scarfe, the political cartoonist, made some papier-mache heads of the president and his wife, Pat.


PAT: Dick! Dick! Who are all those nasty men on the lawn waving cards at us? Can’t you do something?

NIXON: I don’t know what I can do, Pat.

PAT: Send in the army and clear them off my lawn!

NIXON: Pat, they are the army.

Victoria Park was jointly run by Hackney and Tower Hamlets until 1994, when it unfortunately escaped our clutches for our Easterly neighbours. Any memories from the Peace Concert would be very welcome, please leave a comment.

The largest UK organsation opposing the war was the Trotskyist Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. The VSC was heavily inflitrated by spycops after the infamous 1968 demonstration at the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square.

From June 1967 until February 1968, the VSC national HQ was at 49 Rivington Street, EC2 – a building owned by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation that would subsequently host the Anti-University.

Hackney also had its own branch of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign in the late 1960s. Its distinctly unsinister activities included a social at the White Hart:

From Vietnam Solidarity Campaign Bulletin 18 (1968)

Veteran socialist feminist Sheila Rowbotham has her own recollections of the mundane work being done at the time:

My own Vietnam Solidarity efforts that January in Hackney were not exactly at the cutting edge, being rather the revolutionary equivalent of ‘doing my bit’. The saga of the jumble sale for East London VSC was continuing. At the eleventh hour, with jumble bursting out of my bedroom, I discovered the Trotskyist secretary had considered himself too much the grand revolutionary to book a hall for the jumble sale.

Suspecting sabotage and hardly able to move around in my room for boxes, I defiantly stuck up the notices in the newsagent’s anyway: ‘Victory to the Vietcong Jumble Sale, 12 Montague Road.’ Sure enough, the tough gangs of elderly women who were regulars at all the local jumble sales were in the door, down the corridor past the `Dialectics of Liberation’ poster on the wall and bargaining fiercely. Then off they went, like the proverbial greased lightning, leaving sad little piles of debris in their wake.

The momentum of the jumble sale went with them. A few lost Hackney souls, bemused and aimless, were left ambling around my bedroom, evidently disorientated at finding themselves in a house. Indeed, one Caribbean man, who must have decided the solution to this oddness was that we were an extension of Mr Archie’s business next door, propositioned Mary and me. I steered him past the ‘Victory to the Vietcong’ posters and out through the front door.

Sheila Rowbotham – Promise of a Dream: Remembering the Sixties

(It is probably worth mentioning that not all opponents of the war were quite so gung ho about supporting the Vietnamese regime. Bob Potter’s Vietnam: Whose Victory? published by the libertarian socialist Solidarity group is a good example of principled opposition to the ruling class in both the USA and Vietnam at the time.)

I’m sure a lot of Hackney residents attended the many large demonstrations against the war. I would be interested in hearing about any Hackney protests or solidarity work, so please do leave a comment below if you have memories of them.

The Vietnam War finally ended in 1975. From the 1970s onwards thousands of Vietnamese people displaced by the conflict and the regime that followed it resettled in the UK. Hackney hosts one of Britain’s largest Vietnamese populations. Hackney Archives is in the process of documenting the history of the Vietnamese community here.

1 thought on “Hackney against the Vietnam War

  1. Pingback: A Radical History of Hackney Parks | The Radical History of Hackney

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