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.

A Conscientious Objector in Hackney in 1945

Tony Gibson was a registered conscientious objector during World War two. He worked initially at an ambulance station in London before heading off for agricultural work in South Wales. Tony made his way back to London in March 1945 (about six months before the end of the war):

“Then I got my cards from South Wales and obtained employment as a carpenter in a firm repairing the bomb-blasted houses in Hackney, East London.

Here again pacifist and anarchist contacts stood me in good stead, for the building firm belonged to pacifists, and most of its workers were Conscientious Objectors of one kind or another – Christian pacifists, members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, anarchists, fringe Trotskyists, and a few deserters from the forces who lived precarious lives without proper identity documents. When inspectors came round, the foreman told these latter characters to make themselves scarce for a while, since they didn’t appear on the firm’s books.

We even had one genuine Fascist, a mild little man who admired Mussolini (who had recently been killed). This fellow had a bad time in arguments with his work-mates, and was threatened with violence to drive him off the job, until a brawny young socialist declared that he would be his protector: ‘A man is entitled to his opinions, however daft'”

Tony Gibson – Burgess Hill School: A Personal Account
Photo of a bomb damaged housing in Ferncliff Road, Dalston courtesy of Hackney Archives

I thought this was a really interesting insight into the various strands of radical thought that were floating around in Hackney during the war. Anarchists are often seen as a chaotic destructive force, but this is a good example of one rebuilding people’s homes after they’d been destroyed by the Luftwaffe. This ties in with the hundreds of anarchist squatters in Hackney who would repair and redecorate derelict houses after the war right up to the 1990s.

Tony Gibson

Tony’s account above is the preamble to a longer piece about his work as a handyman at Burgess Hill Free School in Hampstead which was set up on anarchist-ish principles. This was published in the anarchist journal The Raven in 1987 and can be read on Libcom.

Whilst working as a labourer in Hackney, Gibson was also one of the temporary editorial team of the anarchist newspaper War Commentary, when most of the regular staff were imprisoned in 1945. He went on to some prominence in the field of psychology and remained an anarchist until his death in 2001. Libcom has also republished a Guardian obituary for him with more details of his life.

Flashing the peace sign in Finsbury Park


I have mixed feelings about blue (and other colour) plaques.

On the one hand, they are a handy resource for local historians and can highlight hidden aspects of buildings and places to passersby.

On the other hand they generally promote a point of view where history is made by individuals rather than groups, movements and so on.

Furthermore their official status tends to favour respectable (or very old) radicals. So Stoke Newington boasts a placard for peace poet Anna Laetitia Barbauld at 113 Church Street, but there isn’t one at 359 Amhurst Road, site of the infamous police raid that lead to the Stoke Newington 8 trial.

But also… most of the statues and monuments in London are for bastions of the establishment and not those fighting against it. So maybe the more modern plaques can balance things out?

Despite all that I was intrigued to see this tweet from the Council recently:


Not least because I’d assumed that Blackstock Road was well outside the borough, but it turns out the eastern side of the street is Hackney and the western side is the badlands of Islington. Which means the site of the new plaque is the furthest Western point in Hackney:


Who Was Gerald Holtom? And what was he doing in Hackney?


Gerald Holtom 1918-1985

Holtom graduated from the Royal College of Art shortly before becoming a conscientious objector during World War Two. In 1958 he was invited to design artwork for use on the first Aldermaston March, organised by the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War (DAC).

There are various conflicting stories about the artwork’s creation but most people seem to agree that Holtom actually designed the logo at his home in Twickenham (and not in Hackney as per the Council tweet above).

It was a composite of the semaphore for the letters N and D (Nuclear Disarmament):


On the evening of 21 February 1958 Holtom presented the logo to a meeting of DAC at the offices of Peace News* at 3 Blackstock Road. The group accepted the logo and it had its first outing at the Aldermaston march on 4-7 April:


Holtom’s logo on the first Aldermaston march, 1958.

Direct Action in Aldermaston

The four day march from Trafalgar Square to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Aldermaston attracted several thousands.

It’s worth noting that DAC have been described as the “direct action wing” the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (which had also formed in 1957) with some overlap in membership. Alan Lovell describes how DAC’s work in Aldermaston did not stop with the march:

Some months after the march, the Committee returned to Aldermaston for an eight-week picket. The aim of the picket was to make people in the area aware of what was happening at the Aldermaston establishment, to get trade unions to black work on the establishment, and to get individual workers to leave the place.

During the eight weeks, the Committee visited trade unions, distributed leaflets and held factory gate meetings, and canvassed in the surrounding villages. As a result of these activities, five people have actually stopped work at Aldermaston ; three men who were going to apply for work at the base changed their minds ; and five lorry drivers said that they would not drive any more loads to the base.

The pickets were well received by the workers — when a new leaflet was produced the workers often stopped to ask for a copy.

DAC wound up in 1961, with most of its members getting involved with the larger Committee of 100. CND took over the organisation of the Aldermaston marches from 1959. Both of these organisations also adopted Holtom’s logo, which is now globally recognised as a symbol of peace and nuclear disarmament.

The first clip below shows some of Holtom’s original artwork and includes an interview with his daughter, Anna Scott:

The plaque in place

The campaign to get a plaque on Blackstock Road originates with this very readable article by Guardian journalist Ian Jack in 2015:

He gave his unforgettable work for nothing. Shouldn’t the designer of the peace symbol be commemorated?

As it says, the logo has proliferated so much because Holtom did not wish it to be trademarked or copyrighted.

I wasn’t able to make the plaque unveiling last weekend due to a hangover and the fact that it was absolutely pissing it down with rain. It is worth having a look for if you are passing, but you will need better eyesight than me if you want to actually read it…

NB: There is a load of guff on the internet about the symbol being anti-christian or satanic because it is supposedly either an upside down broken cross or an inverted Algiz rune, which symbolises death. As it says above, Holtom combined the semaphore letters N and D to create the logo. In a number of (non-bonkers) accounts he is described as being a Christian himself, and had originally considered using the christian cross as part of the logo (presumably the right way up!).

*Peace News was based at Blackstock Road from 1948 to 1958. It shared premises with Housmans Books which was then primarily a mailorder operation. In 1959 both organisations moved to 5 Caledonian Road where the excellent (and fully endorsed by me) Housmans Bookshop is still based today.

Hackney Heckler issue 7, March 1991


On March 31st last year 200,000 people marched through central London against the poll tax. One year on, over 10 million people haven’t paid a penny of their poll tax and many millions more have only paid a bit. Most of us see what the poll tax was meant to be — less money in our pockets! But it has come to mean much more: a focus for all our discontents — inflated prices in the shops, cuts in health, education and social services, job losses, the government, the police. and so on. . .

Last Straw
For many the poll tax is the last straw. We were promised that the 1980s were to be the “boom years”, that we would all “get richer together”. The rich did get richer — but the rest of us have seen little of this supposed “prosperity”. The 1980s were an extended con-trick. Those who believed the propaganda and bought their homes were never told about the hidden extras — rocketing interest rates, repossessions, etc. The rest of us have faced constant rent increases, while repairs stayed unrepaired! Services were supposedly made more “efficient” by privatisation — we’ve just seen less of them… apart from increased bills.

Poll tax protestors

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The fight against the poll tax shows that we don’t have to take things lying down. After a year of mass non-payment and resistance, the government is promising reforms — and they had to dump Thatcher! So a Prime Minister got the chop and they’re now talking of change. But we’ve still got the poll tax, a Prime Minister, and a Gulf War — there’s lots more needs changing!

This March there will be another huge demonstration against the poll tax: a chance to show them that we still don’t want it — new model, old model, it’s just the same! And a chance to show them what we think about everything else they’ve thrown at us! But ordinary people are rightly cynical — just demonstrating doesn’t bring about change. We’ve got to go beyond their limits: why just stop on the Saturday? What about returning on the Sunday, going on strike on the Monday. . . the only limit is our imagination. We shouldn’t stop where they want us to — we should only stop once we’ve won!


Very soon government snoopers will be asking us to fill in the 1992 census and give them details of who we are, what we do, how old we are, and so on. What business has the government got sticking its nose into our personal affairs, and why should we help people who ride on our backs? We’re not filling the form in, and suggest you don’t either. Tell Big Brother where to get off!

Jazz FM wisely decided to sack their top DJ Giles Peterson after he had the cheek to play peace songs and mention an anti-war rally on his show: obviously the subversive was intent on undermining the war to “Free Kuwait”. Also, thank the Lord, those sensible people at the BBC have banned records like “Give Peace A Chance” and “Walk Like An Egyptian”. After all, the battle to “Free Kuwait”, where a whole 6% of the men and none of the women have the vote, means we shouldn’t take liberties with our own freedom.

There’s going to be a massive anti-war get down on Saturday 16th March at the Triangle on Farleigh Road (N16). Lined up are five bands, including One Style and Bush House, 4 DJs — and there’s a late licence to 3am. It’s only £3.50/£3.00 to get in and kick-off is at 8pm: one not to be missed! There’s also a disco/karoake night at the Rose and Crown (on Mare Street) on Friday 29th March to celebrate one year of the “Hackney Heckler”. Finally, the new “HSG Bulletin”, our theoretical and practical magazine, has just come out — send 50p to HSG, PO Box 824, London, Ni 9DL.

Anti-Fascist Action have a picket-demo against the continuing Nazi presence in Brick Lane. Meet at Whitechapel tube 10am sharp on Sunday 17th March.


The nomination for the worst boss in Hackney must undoubtedly go to Captain Ahab Muldoon of the Hackney Empire.

Over the past four years the crew of this great ship have worked, slaved, sweated and yes even cried so that his vessel stayed afloat. Conditions on board were and still are draconian, with employment rights salty to the taste. Equal Opportunities are met with a nod and a wink — aye aye captain. If the crew organised for meetings, Captain Muldoon would throw tantrums, threatening to put everyone in irons or throw them overboard. Captain Muldoon has been responsible for the loss of a number of crew members. Most resigned, three of them mangers; the rest were sacked. These crew members weren’t allowed a fair hearing, whether to voice their grievances or to defend themselves from false accusations.

On his lone quest of self-gratification and heroism Captain Muldoon forgets two important facts. Who built the Empire to what it is now? And whose money keeps it afloat? Admiral Hajira Khote (chair of Hackney Leisure Committee) along with kiss me councillor Tommy Sheppard hands out our money, £25,000 of it, with a chorus of yo ho ho and another bottle of rum. No doubt councillors drinking in the Empire after hours helps with the grant. The Hackney Empire belongs to the people of Hackney and everyone wants to see it sail on, but without a megalomaniac at the helm. If it doesn’t change captain now, then the Jolly Roger will continue to fly from its mast.


Dear Heckler I am at present squatting in the Trowbridge Estate. Although this is the first time that I have had to resort to such action, I find that there is little option when it comes to finding some-where to live.

On this estate the council are evicting squatters, and sending workers to the now empty flat to devastate it by taking out electrics, water supply, etc. How much do you think it costs to send people to do this vandalism, and who do you think is paying for it? It seems wasteful to me when a council property is squatted by people who truly want to live there, and then for that same council to evict them, making the place uninhabitable, so that nobody can live there. I charge the council with gross misuse of public funding, criminal negligence and being a pack of pompous, misunderstanding, stupidly arrogant fools.


Crowds at football matches have consistently gone down since the war, when attendances were twice as high. Ordinary fans are treated with contempt by those who run the game. The latest idea of all-seater stadiums has been around for years, the argument being that it would deter hooliganism; but this argument was totally discredited by the emergence of hooligans in seats.

Since Hillsboro’, where people were crushed to death when overcrowded into a small area of terracing by the police, they argue that seats will be safer. They weren’t saying this after Bradford, where people in the seats died in a fire a few years ago. Most people prefer to stand, but the people who run the game want more money from fewer fans, for football to go up-market, pricing out ordinary fans who don’t want to sit down in uncomfortable seats and pay more.

Spurs built more seats and executive boxes, bought top players like Gazza and Lineker — everything to please the experts, and are going bust! Ordinary fans are allowed no say in the way football is run, and the people running football are ruining it. Crowds are likely to decrease further while the game is run by an out-of-touch rich minority.


On 16th January war started in the Gulf. It is impossible to know how many people have been slaughtered but it is definitely tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands. Parts of Iraq and Kuwait have been reduced to rubble. The human costs of this war can only grow, despite all their promises of a short war. Saddam Hussein received military aid from the western powers throughout the 70s and 80s. This was because he was acting in their interests in keeping the lid of working class struggle in the Gulf. But when Saddam invaded Kuwait the world’s most hated copper, America, put its foot down and got up a large army under the UN banner to show Saddam who his boss was.

The Home-front
In Britain the government has been using the war to turn the screw on us, the working class. 7,500 hospital beds have been set aside for war-wounded from a Health Service which already has a two year waiting list for essential operations. It’s not that we’d begrudge the young squaddies a hospital bed, but why can’t they commandeer private hospitals? In Hackney 150 empty council flats have been set aside for families to visit injured soldiers in London hospitals while Hackney Council prepares to evict hundreds of families in the borough in an attack on “squatters”. We give our blood in their war and they still want more.

Sabotage the war effort

The best way we can support our boys and girls in the Gulf is to stop the war. (World War One ground to a halt as a result of uprisings in Russia, Hungary, Germany, Ireland, Britain and elsewhere.) We can organise against the war drive in our work-places and on the streets. We must speak out against the false patriotism that sends our relatives and friends to their graves in a bosses’ war. All our lives we are offered empty choices: in this case the Iraqi ruling class or that of the West.

There’s a different choice — a war to end all wars — THE CLASS WAR!!

In the interests of popular participation in the democratic process the Hackney Poll Tax Office have informed us of the home addresses and phone numbers of the directors of Rayner Ferrar & Co, the bailiffs firm used by Hackney Council: David Westley lives at 51 Ladygate Lane, Ruislip, Middlesex, HA4 (tel 0895 632983) and Anthony Downsett lives at 44 The Spinney, Chesham, Bucks (tel 0494 771335). Thanks for the in-formation!

The Poll Tax Office also inform us that the council are very worried that even more people aren’t going to pay next year either. People are seeing that the only way to stop it is not to pay it. You know it makes sense, as they say! The next national demonstration against the poll tax is going to be on Saturday 23rd March, starting from the Embankment at noon. It should be a good chance to show the council and the government that they can stuff the poll tax where it belongs — in the dustbin of history. Another present from the council (on top of the poll tax) is that come April rents are going up. Considering the state most council places are in, they’ve got a nerve charging rent at all, let alone putting it up. As Hamlet would have said (had he lived in a council place in Hackney) “to pay or not to pay, that is the question”.

Sabotage the war effort

Hackney Heckler is a bi-monthly, free news-sheet produced by the HACKNEY SOLIDARITY GROUP.

We all live or work in the Borough and are sick of what we see around us. That’s the aim of the Heckler: to encourage struggle for a decent life for all. We welcome contributions, do-nations, reports and help with distribution (we currently get rid of 10,000).

What’s happening on your estate? Which councillors are corrupt? Who’s the worst boss in Hackney?

Write to us at Hackney Heckler, PO Box 824. London, Ni 9DL. Our next issue will be May 1991.


What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and a social worker? It’s easier to get your kids back from a Rottweiler.

But what’s the difference between a bogus social worker and a real one? You get more visits from a bogus social worker.

Social Services is one of the main areas that have been cut back due to cuts in funding from Westminster but we don’t think this is a major tragedy. The only job social workers do in Hackney is “child protection”, commonly known as kid snatching. Do they focus on children because they are genuinely concerned about their welfare? The main reason why the state “protects” children is because they are the next generation of workers and they need them to do crap jobs. Social workers are supposed to help people suffering from mental distress, elderly people and disabled people. But what can they offer with so little money from Hackney council? The best they can manage is a home help, meals on wheels and “a little rest” down Hackney Hospital.

No begging
We can do without begging at Social Services and explaining our needs in front of the waiting-room audience. We don’t need social workers gently tapping on our doors telling us how to run our lives. Social workers usually haven’t got a clue how we live.

What we need is decent homes with affordable rents and the right to live there as long as we choose. We need enough money not just to survive but to enjoy life. We need to be able to live in the type of families we want, not just Oxo cube families.

We do need control of our lives and support from each other so if something goes wrong, we can get some help to sort it out. Social workers are just another way the state divides us by telling us society is all right, it’s us who are the problem. This is not true. Social workers think that anyone who doesn’t live in a “normal” family is deviant even though 54% of the British population don’t live in “nuclear” families.

Anti-social workers only work on the symptoms of living in this society and do not want to change it. This “Caring Profession” is really a CONTROLLING profession.

PDF version available here.