‘He was tough, clear, unwavering’: anti-nuclear campaigner Bruce Kent dies aged 92

Friday, 17th June — By Dan Carrier

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Bruce Kent

WHEN the Cold War was heating up due to the aggressive stances of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Bruce Kent provided a respected voice of reason against nuclear proliferation.

Bruce, who died last week aged 92, was the general secretary of CND, its life president and a globally renowned peace campaigner.

And it was Bruce who, as NATO and the Warsaw Pact rattled sabres, helped CND become the mass movement it had been when it was formed in the 1950s. On his watch, he saw membership soar into the hundreds of thousands.

The Catholic priest’s calm and careful reasoning made him an inspiration for those on the left, and a hated figure – though one hard to criticise due to his clerical clothing – for those on the right.

Tributes to Bruce have been paid from those who knew him, and those who were inspired by his unwavering commitment against state aggression and violence.

Ann Pettitt was a founding member of the Women For Life On Earth group, who in 1981 walked from Cardiff to Greenham Common in Berkshire to protest against the cruise missiles being deployed there.

Her work, along with others, made Greenham a household name in the UK.

She recalled how supportive Bruce was to bring the issue of US missiles on British soil not only to the public’s attention, but to make it one of the key political issues of the decade.

She told the New Journal: “Bruce was a massive figure in the anti-nuclear movement and always solid as a rock.
“He made the cruise missile issue a permanent thorn in the side of the Thatcher government and he was a vital, tireless rallying point for progressive movements.”

Bruce left the church in 1986 – his peace work considered incompatible with his clerical duties. He would say he had not resigned but instead retired; he never, however, retired from fighting the insanity of the so-called nuclear deterrent.

In 1988 he married a fellow peace campaigner, Valerie Flessati.

This year, he took to the podium once more in Trafalgar Square to speak about the war in Ukraine.

John Rees, who helped organise the rally, told the New Journal: “He was a magnificent campaigner against nuclear weapons and war.

“Tough, clear, unwavering and an impassioned speaker. We need more like him. It seems impossible that we won’t hear from him again.”

Others recalled how Bruce’s views on peace, pacifism and enlightenment was a reflection on how he carried out his individual relationships.

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone told the New Journal: “Bruce was the nicest guy I ever met. He really was.

“He was such a pleasure to work with. He never said anything unpleasant about anybody. He was here to make a better world.

“He would never want to be called a politician – he was too good for that. He was there to serve the global population and to fight the awful threat of self-imposed mass extinction.”

Bruce was born in 1939 and grew up in Hampstead. His interest in Catholicism came via his mother Molly, who was a believer, while his father Kenneth was not.

After studying law at Oxford, he found the calling to priesthood strong.

He was ordained in 1958 and five years later was appointed the secretary to the Catholic head in the UK, Cardinal John Heenan.

During the 1960s, he stepped up his public work, joining CND, The Campaign Against Arms Trade and War On Want, sometimes to the embarrassment of conservative colleagues.

His views on birth control went against that of the Vatican, and he was further drawn to speaking out against injustices after visiting west Africa and watching UK- and US-supplied armies commit atrocities.

He took the church to task after a chaplain blessed a Polaris nuclear submarine heading on a maiden voyage – an
idea incompatible, he said, with Christ’s teachings.

Bruce held clerical posts at the University of London in Bloomsbury in the 1960s and was priest for St Aloysius Church in Somers Town from 1977.

While university chaplain, he was inspired by students, becoming a popular figure for those of all denominations and none.

Later, after becoming the general secretary of CND, he joined the congregation of St John’s Church in Duncan Terrace, The Angel, where he would lead mass.

Bruce was a renowned public speaker, at home talking to rallies of thousands in Hyde Park or explaining engagingly his views to small groups of primary school pupils.

His warm, non-judgemental approach and steely determination to stop humans murdering one another remains a beacon of hope for today’s peace movements.

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