Obituary: Bill Hetherington: 25 January 1934 – 5 November 2023

IssueDecember 2023 - January 2024
Bill Hetherington at a WRI council gathering, Oxford, 2000. Photo: INNATE
Comment by Peace Pledge Union

Bill Hetherington, who was at the centre of pacifist activism in the UK for more than half a century, has died at the age of 89, after playing key roles in the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) and in War Resisters’ International, of which the PPU is the British section.

Bill took part in many nonviolent direct actions from the 1960s onwards, at military bases and events.

He spent time in prison in 1975 as one of the BWNIC 14, people tried for ‘incitement to disaffection’ for handing out leaflets to British armed forces personnel advising them on how they could leave the military. He was imprisoned after being accused of breaking his bail conditions. (All 14 were acquitted.)

Bill was arrested in many places across Europe, in countries on both sides of the Cold War, while supporting local pacifists. He is thought to have been the only person from any country to have taken part in every one of the 11 International Nonviolent Marches for Demilitarisation which took place around Europe – ‘East’ as well as ‘West’ – from 1976 to 1986.

Born in 1934 – the same year that the Peace Pledge was founded – Bill later attributed his pacifist attitudes partly to his experience of the Second World War as a child in Birmingham. He spoke often of his memories of losing neighbours in the Blitz, including a seven-year-old called Barbara, who was in his class at school.

‘One day we happened to be chatting during playtime,’ he explained when interviewed in 2017. ‘And then the next day she wasn’t there. Her house had had a direct hit by a bomb. She was dead. Her elder sister was blinded. This is the human cost of war.’

After being conscripted to the navy for two years during the 1950s, Bill’s hostility to war grew stronger. He later signed the pledge renouncing all war and became a member of the Peace Pledge Union. He was also involved with the Committee of 100.

Bill served on the PPU’s national council for a record-breaking 50 years before standing down in 2022 for health reasons, at the age of 88. In later years, he was particularly renowned for his extensive and detailed knowledge of peace movement history.

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