Special Branch

The Special Branch, or somesuch organization, I never bothered exactly who, stopped me at Larne as I got off the ferry. That happened every time I went to Londonderry (Derry) to visit peace movement friends*, but on this occasion it wasn’t just the usual perfunctory check. They took me into a mobile “office” remarkably like a shipping container, where they questioned me at length about my Russian relatives. I told them exactly what I’d told the Atomic Energy Authority security people when I got the scholarship with them: “A great aunt stayed with my family for a couple of weeks when I was a child; apart from that, I’ve never met any of them, and I’ve never corresponded with any of them. My grandmother, my father, and one sister sometimes do.”

They then locked me in the office and left me. For four hours. Finally they let me out just after midnight. I’d had a lift arranged with a lorry driver I’d met on the ferry, but of course he’d gone hours before. Midnight wasn’t a good time to start hitch-hiking in Northern Ireland in the mid-70s. I walked to Carrickfergus (12 bloody miles) and woke up some friends.

After I got back to England I discovered that a Russian cousin of my father’s and his wife were staying with my parents. Special Branch presumably knew that and wondered why I wasn’t mentioning it. The reason was quite simply that I didn’t know.

* They took a special interest in Peace Movement people, and I’d probably rather drawn attention to myself on my first visit, when I’d first made friends with the Derry people. The Peace News collective had organized a pacifist conference in Derry, and we all went together in my old Landrover. About ten or eleven of us in a short wheelbase Landrover (7 seats) – with all our stuff for a weekend, and a thousand leaflets. These were not any old leaflets: they were Some Information for Discontented Soldiers. Some of our number had very recently been acquitted on a charge of Incitement to Disaffection for producing and distributing these leaflets.

The jury had accepted our argument that the leaflets were intended to inform soldiers who were already disaffected how they could escape from the army without penalty, rather than to encourage any soldiers who were not already disaffected to become so.

The prosecution – and the Judge – had nearly had apoplexy.

I’d painted the Landrover red and black for the trip, not wishing to be mistaken for military. See Off Roading for a picture of the Landrover in its special livery.