Frida Knight leads 2,000 anti-nuclear weapons protestors through Cambridge. 1980

Summary

40 years after breaking out of a nazi prison camp, Frida Knight/Stewart organised a protest against nuclear weapons in Cambridge. 2,000 people joined her.

In 70 year old Frida Knight (pictured below in old age) led a protest against the stationing of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles in the UK. Born Frida Stewart in Cambridge in 1910, she lived an incredibly varied and exciting life, returning to Cambridge in 1970 after her husband retired from academia.  The article is transcribed from this digitised image scanned by Mike Petty from the Cambridgeshire Collection.

Frida Knight in old age

 

“More than 2,000 people marched through Cambridge on Saturday in protest at plans to site Cruise missiles in East Anglia. The march, the biggest demonstration in Cambridge for years, was followed by a debate between the MP for Cambridgeshire [now South Cambs], Defence Secretary Mr Francis Pym, and the Methodist peer and prominent peace campaigner, Lord Soper.

“Protesters, who packed Great St Mary’s Church for the debate, heard Mr Pym declare they all shared a common aim: world peace. The question was how to achieve it. My Pym who stressed that no decision had been made on bases for Cruise Missiles, said that for years Britain had been a prime target and the missiles would make no difference.

Spending

“”We have to secure the safety of the realm” Mr Pym told the audience. And he added: “These weapons exist not to be used. In the West our strategy is one of deterrence. It is defensive. But in the East it is not the same. It is conducted on an offensive basis.”

“Mr Pym said the Soviet Union put an eighth of its national economic effort into military spending each year. But he said negotiations were going on to seek a reduction in arms spending for, he said, detente and disarmament were crucial to the defence programme.

“”The Americans had undertaken to withdraw 1,000 warheads and when the Cruise missiles came in they would withdraw a further warhead for every missile. But this reduction has not been responded to by the Soviet Union – let alone matched”, added Mr Pym.

Questioned about risks of an accident, Mr Pym said the safety standards operated in this country were the highest in the world. “A nuclear-free world is our objective. These weapons are a deterrent to preserve our peace, a deterrent to preserve our liberty”.

“But Lord Soper stressed the only answer was disarmament. “I believe the only answer to the condition under which we live in this era of mass violence is total disarmament.” He continued to criticise the “computerised madness” of modern weapons and said: “These missiles which are not covered by SALT [Strategic Arms Limitations Talks], fly at low speed – 600 miles an hour. They have a high accurace and are undetectable as they fly at 50-100 yards above ground level – below radar cover. If a mistake has been made a bomber can come back home. What happens if a mistake is made now?”

“He condemned the Cruise missiles programme as “part of the gobbldygook of complete human madness. This missile programme is a stupid and dangerous mistake. And this monster of a mistake is based on calculated foolishness. Cruise missiles are offensive, not defensive. We are in danger of consuming ourselves unless we take heed of the time when we may well produce an irreversible situation and I believe we do not have much time left.”

“He complained that the public was being kept in the dark over what was really happening in the arms race and hit out at the way people were stirred up to think of the enemy “as rats and dogs”. “I remember the days before 1939 and I did not think I would live to hear the same kind of wicked dangerous rubbish being talked today about the standing of the enemy.” And the 77 year old peer said that after living through both world wars he did not want to see it happen all over again. “Disarmament cannot come through the exercise of violence”.

“Earlier, demonstrators from all over East Anglia and as far away as Grimsby & Sheffield joined the peaceful, two mile march through Cambridge. Shoppers in the city centre watched protesters, who included political and religious groups such as Quakers and 14 Japanese Buddhist monks.

“The marchers carried placards and banners, models of a missile and a nuclear submarine and a model dragon labelled “Mr Pym’s vision of the Russians”. The march was organised by the Cambridge Council Against Missile Bases, with the support of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and East Anglia Against Missiles Campaign.

“And the protesters including pensioners and children in push-chairs, outnumbered a similar demonstration in Oxford on the same day. Police accompanied the march and Supt Harry Gelthorpe said afterwards he was well pleased with the way it had gone.

“And the secretary of the Cambridge Council Against Missile Bases, Mrs Frida Knight, said “I was pleased with the way the march went. I only wish Mr Pym had seen it and seen the strength of feeling people have about this. This does not just affect East Anglia but it affects the whole country. We are against this programme because it risks the safety of ourselves and our children. I don’t think people realise quite what is involved. These weapons have two to three warheads, each one twice the size of the Hiroshima bomb.” Throughout the day, visitors packed the Round Church Hall for an exhibition , discussion and films, organised by the Cambridge Peace Group”.

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