Obituary: Peggie Preston: An advocate of peace, aid and development

When I came across this obituary of Peggie Preston, what struck was she had lived the type of life which should have ensured her a prominent obituary in the national press, instead of her becoming an after thought in the Guardians ‘Other Lives’ section. The one place were class prejudice still rules supreme in all its arrogance is on the Obituary Pages of the British Press. Few working class people appear on these pages whether it be in the Times, Guardian, Independent or Telegraph, although to be fair the latter is more liberal than most as they always have space for the odd non commissioned officer who committed heroic deeds when serving in the military and rightly so.

However in the main the obituary pages are overwhelmingly made up of the so called great and good, people who come from the ‘right type of background’ with a sprinkling of authors and artists etc who had made their peace with the British establishment. Of course there are exceptions but they are few and far between. In many ways that most of the broadsheets recently carried an obituary of Andrew Glyn [Eton and Oxbridge] is an example of this class prejudice, for I doubt very much if a revolutionary Marxist from a working class background would have found themselves on the obituary pages.


Peggie Preston
Jonathan Fryer and Denis Herbstein

Rather as the camp followers of old traipsed around Europe tending to the needs of weary armies, so the veteran peace campaigner and occupational therapist Peggie Preston, who has died aged 84, ministered to those suffering in conflicts.
I first met her in Saigon, in the summer of 1969, when she was living in hiding (her visa having expired) at a children’s home at Phu Mi. She spent five years in south Vietnam, at the height of the war, with a British medical team, living with local people and working for local rates. She was useful to journalists, as she had excellent contacts among radical Buddhist monks and other government opponents, but she also knew how to harangue. She burned with fury against injustice and the might of what she called US imperialism. Though a Quaker, she did not think that silence was always appropriate.

Peggie had been born in Assam, the daughter of a tea planter, but from the age of four she had grown up with an aunt in Dollar, Clackmannanshire. As a young woman in the second world war, she served in the WAAF, spending six years as a bomber command radio-operator at Coningsby, Lincolnshire. But henceforth, her life was devoted to the intertwined causes of peace, aid and development. Before Vietnam, she had been in South Africa, treating victims of apartheid. Working at the huge Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, she dealt with casualties of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. She identified with the cause of oppressed peoples, including, later, Palestinians.

In early 1991, Peggie Preston was among peacemakers from 15 countries who pitched their tents at a pilgrims’ resting place just inside Iraq. The idea was to interpose a non-violent presence between the warring forces and so focus attention on the looming Gulf War. The American peace campaigner Kathy Kelly recalls an evening when “Peggie urged us to hold an event in which each of us would offer a representation of our country’s culture. It was a bit surreal as the bombers flew overhead, but I remember how grateful people were for her tenacious encouragement.” Cut off from the rest of the world, with food and water in short supply, they were reluctantly evacuated to a possibly more dangerous Baghdad. Preston returned to Iraq a decade later to view the destructive effects of international sanctions on the people of Iraq.

By now she had become the veteran among the family of peacemakers. She might almost be seen as the inverse image of the Victorian soldier Sir Garnet Wolseley, who in a long life of warring saw action in four continents. The much-travelled Peggie Preston continued her missions for peace – to Sarajevo and to Croatian-controlled Bosnia during the wars in the Balkans. She was arrested at a demonstration near Ramallah, trying to heal wounds in Palestine. After the second Gulf War she resigned from the Labour Party and destroyed her Labour party card. She could be heard on the loudspeaker at Parliament Square voicing support for the peace protester Brian Haw and spent Christmas Day 2006 there with him. A Molesworth base demonstration outside the Ministry of Defence in London led to her gaining a criminal record. “We held hands and had to kneel, but with my arthritis I couldn’t get down.” She was bound over for a year to keep the peace.

This February, aged 83, Peggie Preston hobbled along Downing Street with the mothers of soldiers killed in Iraq to hand in a petition to Tony Blair. It was her final public act.

Latterly, Peggie suffered from ill health. Painful legs made it difficult to move far from her council flat in Covent Garden. She became a habitue of the crypt cafe at St Martin-in-the-Fields, conveniently placed for demonstrations and rallies in Trafalgar Square.



Filed under aid, international-development., Obituary, Organized Rage, peace

3 responses to “Obituary: Peggie Preston: An advocate of peace, aid and development

  1. WorldbyStom

    A very interesting point you make there Mick. What I notice about the obits is the increasing number of those in the ‘creative’ area which seems to encompass broadly speaking middle and upper middle classes. That seems to me to straddle them and crowd out the sort of voices you rightly suggest should be in there. It’s a real issue, although I think the Guardian is far from the worst offender.

  2. Mick Hall


    I use the Guardian as an example because it is the newspaper that I take and in many ways love; and like any thing one has feelings for it can exasperates me no end.

    Last year I had a series of back and forth emails with a section editor and others at the paper on this very subject. They at first tried to justify and then deny their middle class bent, then wanted me to agree with them that they were far from the worse and then demanded [in a gentlemanly way] I give them an example.

    As it happened John Kelly had just died, now if anyone had an impact on life in Ireland and the UK it was Kelly and more than that he had become after leaving SF somewhat of a spokesperson for republicans who opposed Adams and co. Thus I felt he was not only a perfect example for me to use but warranted an obit it his own right.

    I went abroad for a month shortly after I sent them my suggestion about Kelly so I do not know if they finally posted an obit of john, but I doubt they did if our last exchange was anything to go by.

    They are a decent enough bunch and in truth I doubt they see that they are cutting out over 50% of the population from the obit pages, and I am certain they have no inkling that they are causing great offense to me;) They probably take the view that what possibly could a working class persons life have to offer the obituary page compared to a high court judge or a right wing tory MP;)

    There is also a wider issue here as in the current climate working class people are often dehumanized and if we were to appear more often in the obit pages it would make this just a tad more difficult to do.

    As things are it is as if we contribute very little lasting of worth to society, which if you get the chance to look at the craftsmanship which has gone into the new St Pancras International Station is total bullshit and of course always has been.

    [PS still not got up in the loft yet but have not forgotten, your recent post about the SLL etc reminded me of my promise.]

  3. El Ch�

    There is no way the bourgeois mass-media is going to advertize the Revolution. The Left requires its own mass-media. Period.

    Stop reading this crap and sifting the tea leaves looking for signs of change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s