Russell E. Hershey,
INT: How did the coal shortage actually affect you, and where were you, that coal was a massive, massive problem?
DB: It affected me, vitally, very little, because I spent my time downstairs during the week, with the family, and we husbanded very carefully the use of coal. The farmer, the man of the house, had a supply for the furnace, for sterilizing his milk bottles, which was only a supply for that, and he was very careful not to use it for the home fire. It must have been much worse in other areas, because in towns there were youngsters going along with prams and heaven knows what to collect coke from some of the gas places. It was, I know, a case of... perhaps not death, but a lot of really cold illness because of it.
INT: Do you remember any people who suffered from it yourself? Were you aware of people suffering from the winter that year, or not?
DB: Immediately, no, because where we lived at the moment we were...apart from being around the corner from the pub, we were not exactly near other people, and we only got the reports as time went on. I think, in a way, the country areas probably suffered less than the towns.
INT: Now at the time that this was going on, '46-'47, there was another phenomenon, that America, as an atomic power, has used two nuclear weapons in Japan. Do you remember afterwards... the Bikini A-bomb tests and that whole period? And what did you think about it?
DB: I think, from the very beginning, non-scientists like me were very wary of this new bomb. I didn't, for some years, see any result... of the use of the bomb at Hiroshima, 'cause it was some years before there was a film of that released. But I think, from the very beginning, those of us who didn't understand the joy of the scientists in having produced something, were a bit worried as to where it was going. There were voices speaking against it from the very beginning, and certainly the tests were regarded very warily by quite a lot of people.
INT: Did you have any thoughts about America and the Soviet Union at this time? When were you aware that, "Hang on, there's such a thing as the Cold War - they're really at each other's throat"? When did that start?
DB: I think it was incipient from the beginning, that one knew that America was obviously going to be a big world power now, from now on, and aware of it; and that the attitude of America ... going back to before the war, their attitude to their own people - some of the trials there and things - had meant that they were totally opposed to the ideology of the Soviet Union, and they took their total opposition to the stage of wanting to oppose it in every way they could, not just sort of let it happen. I think the Soviet Union itself was very busy licking its own wounds, because it had suffered so badly. But also, it was very... anxious not to be trodden on again by anybody, so its attitude was possibly not always the most co-operative.
INT: I'll move you right on now. In 1958, there was a march against nuclear weapons. Were you there? If so, why, and what was it like?
DB: Well, early in the 1950s - I can't give an exact date to it - the Scientific Union, to which Headley belonged, had obtained possession of a film on Hiroshima. That film was such a shock that one appreciated this was no longer a question of fighting a war with a bomb: it was an almost world change. And from that time onwards, both of us were totally opposed to the idea of the atomic bomb. I think the other thing that struck us about it was that if there had to be, as the military folk claimed - though we know now this was an untrue claim - if there had to be a use of the bomb on Hiroshima to put an end to the war against Japan, well, there was absolutely no reason why it should be duplicated two days later, just to try out another sort of bomb, to see if that was going to be any better or any worse. So we had always been involved in a way. Headley belonged to an organization called Science for Peace, sponsored again by the Scientific Workers' Union, and from the very beginning, when there was any talk of demonstration during the thing, we felt involved. We belonged, at an early stage, to a small local group, and when the demonstration was called to go out to Aldermaston, we went into London to be part of it. We didn't go on beyond most of the first day...
INT: All right, let me stick with the first day. Here you are, you're in Trafalgar Square. What was it actually like? What sort of people were there? Were you surprised at the numbers? What was the mood?
DB: First of all... was it Trafalgar Square? Trafalgar Square, they always finished.
INT: ... The other way. All right, but you're in London. I thought they did start at Trafalgar Square, but anyway...
DB: I'm not sure.
INT: Well, anyway, you're in London, you're with this crowd of 'Ban the Bomb'ers. What was it like? Who were they, what were they like...?
DB: Well, first of all one noticed the folk at the head of it; one knew by sight folk like James Callaghan, Michael Foot, and Canon Collins - one recognized these people. One also looked around, and (from one's own?) locality saw a lot of faces one knew. I mean, we came that time from outer London, southeast, but we knew folk from Greenwich, we knew folk from Lewisham, and it was interesting to see the people who were turning out. We were not alone, nor was our age group alone. There were not only a lot of younger folk - particularly those, of course, who were barefooted and oddly dressed according to the time, who were the ones who got the pictures in the papers - but also a generation older than ourselves, so that there was no doubt about the fact that this was a complete cross-section of people who had come up there to give their opinion... and to show it quite bluntly. There was no, of course, attempt by the press to pat them on the back; there was no attempt by the police either. But that's what I remember about that first day. As I say, we had a reason for not continuing further that time. Our third son was stillborn in September of that year, and... incidentally, that is one of the reasons why the whole question of the effect of atmospheric tests has stayed with me, because I know from a fact that of the youngsters born at that time, an unusual proportion ended up with leukemia of one sort or another when they got in their late teens. I knew of one family where the lad had it from 18, until he died at 22, and his parents reported with horror on the number of the ones of his own age when they went to visit him. So yes, I have a mixture of feelings about that.
DB: Well, it was a cross-section, wasn't it? At that time, of course, we found that on successive Aldermaston marches, that on the whole the ITN news was liable to be a bit fuller than the BBC n. Also, the whole question of counting the number of people who turned out was really quite ridiculous, because you could have, as we did on occasions, have an official counter at the entrance to Trafalgar Square, checking numbers as they got in there, and there'd be an officipolice counter too. Now they would more or less agree; but the figure that appeared in the newspapers the next day would be two thirds that. So that we
started to have a nice, healthy skepticism about the whole approach of media to the matter. I think, in a way, CND grew in despite of the media approach to it. That was the general media... there was.
INT: Did you believe, and if so why, that you might actually see a nuclear war break out between Russia and America and Europe? Was this really a serious fear? How serious a fear was it? I mean, it's one thing to be against the bomb as an idea, but did you really think, "Yes, these powers could get at each other and blast us to smithereens"?
DB: I think my own reaction was that most of the weapons which were developed, if not all of them - unless they were internationally banned, like poison gas after the First World War - had been used, however horrific they might have appeared. So one did have the feeling that, well, the scientists have made it, it's there and available - somebody is going to want to use it. Quite frankly, to some extent that's my opinion still today. I can imagine a situation in which a country would be sufficiently mad to make use of nuclear tactical weapons, which is one of the reasons why this movement at the moment, which is outside your script - sorry - on the question of an international ban on nuclear weapons, which you may or may not know about, and it is now before the World Court for a World Court decision on it.
INT: I do indeed, I do indeed know about it. But let's carry on this business. You think that a nuclear was is likely... If a war, nuclear war had broken out, what was your expectation about what would happen to you and to your family, and indeed to the country at that time? What were your feelings?
DB: Well, personally, our reaction to... the Government advice on the subject was so farcical that... if it hadn't been a serious matter, we would have laughed it out of court. But we did seriously accept the fact that if a nuclear bomb was used in the London area, the effect was going to be so massive, over such a geographical area, that even people living miles out would have repercussions. And we were quite serious in our expectation that this could happen. Incidentally, the advice issued by the Government I have at home somewhere: the sensible thing to do... you know, when the bomb had fallen, then all those people, the wounded, who are capable of moving, should line up to be treated, that... what was to happen to the people who weren't capable of moving, I don't think they told you. But it really was such a fantastic, unimaginative thing, that... yes, I seriously think we were worried about it. I remember the very cold feeling I had at the time of Cuba, because I was still up making chutney when the family had gone to bed, and I heard, close on the midnight or thereabouts, the American President's statement reported on the situation over the Russian missiles which were going to be delivered to Cuba. And I can remember the sort of cold chill that went over me at the thought. Incidentally, I did think that CND had proved its worth for the very publicity it had given in... before then, to the whole question of possible nuclear warfare, and that the fact that people knew sufficiently about it to talk about it to some extent, was entirely due to CND, and certainly not due to any official information from governments or whatever.