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John Hyatt - “yours for a better world”

John Hyatt, secretary of War Resisters' International from 1980-84, has died of cancer at the age of 62 in Turkey. Michael Randle who served with John on the WRI Executive in the 1970s and during John's period as secretary pays tribute to him here:

I share the sense of shock and sadness which others have expressed over the death of John Hyatt. I first met him as a young man representing the Youth Section of the Peace Pledge Union at the WRI Council meeting in Vienna in August 1968.

Nearby Czechoslovakia was experiencing what turned out to be the last days of the Prague Spring during which Dubcek and the Czechoslovak people were shrugging off authoritarian Soviet control and attempting to build ‘Socialism with a Human Face’. On the last day of the Council meeting a WRI delegation, which I think included John, travelled to Bratislava at the invitation of the Slovak Peace Committee and had a remarkably open discussion with them. Departing from the usual Moscow line of such peace committees, they warned us that, with Warsaw Pact military manoeuvres still taking place on Czechoslovakia’s borders, the danger of Soviet intervention had not passed.

Four days later, Soviet and other Warsaw Pact armies invaded.. Most of us had left Vienna by then, but John had stayed on, travelled to Bratislava, and was there when the tanks rolled into the city. In a courageous act of solidarity, he joined the thousands of citizens who thronged the streets in protest and defiance.

The following month WRI sent international teams to Moscow, Warsaw, Budapest and Sofia who displayed banners and distributed leaflets protesting against the invasion and expressing solidarity with the nonviolent resistance of Czech and Slovak citizens. The leaflets also drew parallels with the US invasion of Vietnam and called for the dismantling of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. John at the Peace Pledge Union was involved in publicizing the event and personally delivered a PPU statement about the action to newspapers and other media outlets.

John was involved in peace activities for the rest of his working life. As youth secretary of the PPU, he was able to pass on his considerable knowledge of pacifist writing to other young activists, producing a bibliography on Pacifism published by Housmans in 1972, and founding the series of PPU publications Studies in Nonviolence.

In 1973, he returned from the Philadelphia Life Center / Movement for a New Society, to join Peace News. In 1974 he was one of the 14 members of the British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland campaign charged with “conspiracy to incite disaffection” for possessing the BWNIC leaflet explaining how British soldiers could refuse to serve in Northern Ireland - this charge carried a possible life sentence. Fortunately, after an 11-week trial, the jury did not follow the judge's advice but accepted the defendants' argument that their actions were justified and returned a verdict of Not Guilty. In addition, John – along with three others – was charged with “aiding and abetting” two AWOL British soldiers go to Sweden to which he pleaded “guilty” and was fined.

John left Peace News after the BWNIC trial and worked at Housman’s bookshop. During this period he served on the Executive Committee of WRI and, in 1980, when the office returned to London from Brussels, WRI chair Myrtle Solomon convinced him to become WRI secretary. He served in that role until nearly the end of 1984. Later, after Myrtle's death in 1987, he took over the administration of the Lansbury House Trust fund, set up to support the educational side of WRI’s work.

While John’s convictions were very much in the tradition of anarcho-pacifism, he was never narrowly sectarian. I remember at a WRI study conference in the late 1970s in Prades in the south of France that he became impatient with what he saw the rigid ideological stance of some anarchist participants and said he preferred to define himself instead as a ‘guerrilla anarchist’. I took him to mean by this that, while holding on to basic anarchist principles, he wanted to be open and flexible on how they were interpreted in practice.

But politics aside, I remember John as a personal friend and the number of occasions when he and his partner, Liz Chapple made me welcome in their home in London when I was on my way to WRI meetings and we enjoyed together the real ales which he took pride in stocking. His death will be a particularly heavy blow to Liz and their son Matthew, and our sympathy must be with them at this time.

Michael Randle