I heard of the death of John Bickersteth in January with regret. He was one of the signatories of the 1980s Just Defence Charter who reaffirmed support for Just Defence and agreed to be placed on the Civilisation 3000 mailing list in 2009.
Looking back over the message in which he asked for the purpose of the website made me realise how poorly the undertaking given to him had been carried out in recent years.
John Bickersteth was an actively ecumenical Anglican clergyman who served as the Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1975 to 1986, and Clerk of the Closet from 1979-1989.
His earlier military service is documented here and in the archives of the Imperial War Museum. He also edited The Bickersteth Diaries,1914-1918, which were compiled from 11 volumes written by his grandmother Ella. They tell the story of his three uncles who fought in the trenches and whose letters brought the horrors of the First World War vividly to life.
JUST DEFENCE CHARTER
As those who seek to contribute to our national security in Parliament or other positions in public and professional life, the signatories of this Charter agree:
- The defence of our country and of our way of life must be strong and effective. This is the right of the British people and nothing less will enjoy their support.
- Defence policy must be for defence only, and clearly seen as non-provocative to others. Modern technology, which has changed so much of our industrial and social life, has also transformed the nature of warfare. Conventional defence can now become doubly powerful to deny success to an aggressor through the intelligent use of new and cost-effective technology.
- A non-provocative doctrine of ‘defence only’, will reduce international tension and substitute policies of political detente for those of political confrontation.
- Those who are clearly non-provocative in their policies will be best placed to stabilise any crisis and prevent it escalating into major conflict either through fear or misunderstanding.
- Since weapons of mass destruction are, by their nature, threatening and provocative, British defence policy should not depend on the use of nuclear weapons. To this end Britain should phase out the storage or operation of such weapons.
- The early reduction to a strict minimum of strategic nuclear weapons confined to the two superpowers would be a major and welcome step towards creating the conditions of detente and mutual security which will allow for the ultimate elimination of all such weapons.
- World security depends on the progressive reduction of all offensive weaponry, whether nuclear or non-nuclear. A ‘Just Defence’ policy for Britain would be a significant contribution to that end; and we should seek to persuade other countries with whom we are allied or associated to adopt a similar policy.
- ‘Just Defence’ must accord with the principles of international justice, as defined in the Charter of the United Nations and the judgments of the International Court of Justice.
- Non-provocative defence and progressive disarmament could release very large resources for the support of social, educational, and health services, and the relief of poverty and hunger in the Third World.
We, the signatories, look forward to the emergence of a new consensus on Defence Policy in Britain whereby – whatever the differences in their detailed proposals – all political parties will construct their policies within the framework of the principles of ‘Just Defence,.
Published by ‘Just Defence’: 7 Pound Place, Eltham, London SE9 5DN. (Address no longer in use)
John Bickersteth retired in 1987 to dedicate more time to environmental issues and became involved in the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. He organised the Creation Festival at Salisbury Cathedral in 1990 that championed conservation and waste reduction and campaigned to ban straw-burning by farmers because of carbon emissions and spoke about the issue in the House of Lords. (left, at Glastonbury)
In 2007 he campaigned to banish plastic bags in Tisbury, a Wiltshire village, thought to be the first place in the West to bringing in such a rule to try to reduce plastic waste. Residents agreed to use their own bags when shopping from 1 January 2008. He told BBC News: “The breakthrough came when the Co-op said they’d play ball and I think it’s catching on, although it won’t happen overnight.” He said he wanted to preserve the earth and was delighted to have convinced the traders to help him.
He later joined the protest against the Newbury bypass in the mid-1990s, alongside “Swampy”, who tried to block construction of the trunk road by building tunnels, voicing his disapproval of a project that would lead to the destruction of woodland.
The best memorial which could be given here is to reactivate the undertaking given to him – unwittingly overlooked in recent years.