Dr Jane Grubb is 85 and lives in Clifton. She has spent most of her adult life as a peace campaigner. As a practising physician she was active in the campaign group Medact, which she still strongly supports. She is a member of Charter 88, of the United Nations Association, and of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, as well as a campaigner for Restorative Justice and for prison reform.
Margaret Monica Jones, a long-time activist in the region says of her: “Those who know Jane marvel at her energy. She’s an example to all those of us who are still in our fifties and are already slowing down a bit! She has been a totally dedicated campaigner with Bristol CND over the years. She was on the scene decades before I even knew activism existed. If she feels something needs changing, she never gives up till it’s done. For me, she’s a role model for integrity and commitment. She puts her energies where her conviction is. She doesn’t just talk the talk – she walks it.”
Q: Where did your desire to get involved come from?
A: Well, my father was very left-wing, he was a communist and was involved in activism and encouraged my sister and myself to always question things. Also, because my mother was taken ill when I was small, we were brought up by relatives and they were often quite surprising and unconventional! I didn’t go to school until I was nine and I was on my own a lot so I read all the time. I was quite a serious-minded child!
How did your childhood shape your world-view?
I was terribly frightened about war as a child. My father fought in the First World War, he was actually a WWI poet, and he lost an eye and obviously that made a deep impression on me. What I gleaned from his descriptions of the trenches was just the total wrongness of sending off all those young men to die. I used to think I couldn’t bear it if there was another war like that.
How have you been trying to make a difference?
For years now I’ve belonged to various organisations which work for peace and I try to support them in any way I can and take part in demonstrations. I am constantly writing letters, to MPs and what-have-you.
When I heard that Bristol CND were holding a demonstration at Aldermaston (at the Atomic Weapons Establishment against the building of new facilities for replacing of Trident nuclear weapons) on a day which happened to be my birthday, I thought “Oh well, maybe that’s a good way of marking my 85th”.
A friend was able to drive me on that morning – I remember we had to leave at 5am, which was rather a pain – but, it was quite fun.
Is there a spiritual dimension to your activism?
I joined The Society of Friends when I was in my teens. A friend suggested that I might be interested to see what Quakers did, so I went along and took to it at once. There was an atmosphere of such respect for everybody and they were always questioning things. At the time the Spanish civil war was starting and so there were a lot of questions going round about who was right and wrong. To find that there were churches which didn’t go along with government policy was very encouraging.
What are your feelings on the wars and conflicts we’re involved in today?
It seems to be much more profitable for the powers that be, particularly in the West, to engineer situations so that a lot of arms can be sold. Of course it’s then much easier to decide to have conflict instead of working out peaceful solutions. I suppose we are also afraid to be without the things we are used to having – without oil, without enough food and so on. Our government think they’ve got to protect us from that, they think we’d sooner go to war than go a bit short of things.
What inspires you?
Hearing of other people who have done brave or surprising things and stood out from the crowd, people who haven’t been self-conscious or afraid of being thought different or peculiar. When I was about 12 I was taken to hear a doctor called Albert Schweitzer give a lecture about his work with lepers in Africa – that certainly inspired me to do medicine. From that point of view, of trying to help people to get better or get through life more comfortably, I find that inspiring.
What’s been your biggest achievement?
I’m always glad when I am able to bring people together in some way, for the purpose of achieving something. For example, I’ve been involved in groups which have bought together people working in different ways with children, like health and social services and education and people from the criminal justice system.
What do your friends and family think of your actions?
My daughter always says “Don’t get arrested mum!”. I never have, as yet anyway. I remember when my son was 15 and he was arrested after having been on a march. I wasn’t with him, but when I went to the court hearing the magistrate was very cross with me. He thought I was a very bad mother, because when he said “Surely you’re ashamed that your son would do such an anti-social thing such as sit down in the road and get arrested?”. I said “Oh no, I think it’s great”.
What keeps you going?
The dishonesty and hypocrisy of our government and our Ministry of Defence is what makes me unable to stop. They have just admitted they are actually researching new nuclear weapons there, but have been saying they weren’t for quite a long time, even though they were quite obviously constructing these scientific research buildings which could only be used for that sort of research. It beggars belief how they can do that and then expect countries like North Korea and Iraq not to want to also have a part in this game.
Do you ever think ‘I’ve had enough”?
Well yes, I do sometimes and I’m beginning to say “Sorry, I’m not going on that particular march” because I just can’t do it and I get too tired. But I still feel guilty if I don’t try to do something, I really feel I ought to – even if it’s just writing a letter to somebody.
It would be great if more people felt they could make a difference. It’s sad, I’m sure a lot of people feel very cynical now and believe that nobody takes any notice of us and so they think “What’s the point?”.
What would you say to people who think that?
However little you do to make a difference, it’s worth it! It’s a very unfair world now, it’s shaming really, and if we’re going to be able to give a better, more peaceful and fairer world to our children, we can’t let up. I’m not overly optimistic really, but at the same time I find it very hard to be gloomy because I don’t have that kind of temperament. The future will be better if we continue to work hard for it.
Even if you feel that what you do doesn’t make a difference to the world, I find that if you do something active you will feel better afterwards! My advice would be to find a local organisation or group of people to join with, it’s much better to be with like-minded people if you can. You can make new friends that way too and that’s always encouraging. I have made so many good friends through my activism – I couldn’t imagine what life would have been like without that support.
What has life taught you?
Firstly to always try to have an independent slant on things and not be afraid to say it. And secondly, to try to reflect and decide what is the right thing to do rather than plunging into things completely without thought. On the other hand though, there is a place for spontaneity too – I never really did know whether one should act on impulse or stop and think, I’m still working it out!
Bristol and West Region CND: 0117 946 6885 www.medact.org
Interview by Fiona McClymont
First published issue 48 (Spring 2007)
Disclaimer – details were correct at time of going to press, but may now have changed. Please make your own checks.