While New Zealand’s signing of the United Nations’ Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons went largely unnoticed during the frenzy of the General Election campaign, one group of Tauranga locals made sure it wasn’t entirely forgotten.
The treaty was signed in New York on September 20 by Ambassador Craig Hawke on behalf of the New Zealand government.
The Tauranga Worship Group of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) held vigils on Chadwick Rd in Greerton each evening during the week of the signing, stationing themselves outside the library and displaying placards to passing traffic.
Among the campaigners was 87-year-old Patricia Waugh from Gate Pa who has been campaigning for nuclear disarmament for 70 years.
Patricia was nine years old and living in London when World War II started.
“We lived in a suburb of London and were subjected to bombing endlessly. I remember going to school and coming home to find that a neighbour’s house was just a pile of rubble.
“We also used to stand in the garden at night to watch the ‘doodle bugs’ overhead and say little prayers that their engines didn’t cut out, which would have meant that they were going to land near us. As I was still a child I didn’t realise the seriousness of the situation.
“The rationing, the endless hours spent in air raid shelters and the concern for family members away in the forces went on for so long.
“Looking back on those six years I wouldn’t want anyone to have to experience them and I have been a supporter of peace activities ever since.”
At the age of 17 Patricia went door-to-door in her home town of Seven Oaks in Kent collecting signatures on a petition banning the use of nuclear weapons following the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during the war.
She later joined the annual Aldermaston marches held in the 1950s and 1960s in England to protest against the use of nuclear weapons.
“From time to time over the years there have been other occasions where I thought it would be worthwhile to demonstrate.”
Patricia is surprised and disappointed that the signing of the treaty last month went largely unnoticed in New Zealand.
“At least everybody travelling through Greerton knew there was something going on.
“One of our members had written ‘Ban Nuclear Weapons – Give Us a Toot. As the cars went past the drivers tooted, gave us the thumbs up and passengers waved. Cyclists and motorbike riders joined in and even bus and van drivers. The reception was incredible. Some drivers even tooted non-stop all the way past our line of placards
“It just showed how concerned the general public is regarding the present situation in the world and how strong the desire for peace is.”
The Quakers also hold a candlelight vigil in Greerton every year on Armistice Day, November 11, to mark the end of World War I in 1918.
“We don’t ask for toots on that occasion as we consider it more of a solemn occasion to think about those who lost those lives. It’s just so that people remember the terrible loss it was,” says Patricia.
Other people in the group have also been long-time peace campaigners, including Mary Rose who travelled to Wellington this week to protest at the Defence, Industry and National Security Forum with Peace Action Wellington.
The Greerton demonstration made headlines in Japan after the group shared its photos with the Gensuikyo, the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, which organised an international ‘Peace Wave’ to mark the signing of the treaty.
“I can’t read the article unfortunately because it’s in Japanese,” laughs Patricia. “I thought it was hilarious that there was nothing here in New Zealand yet we were representing the world from Greerton.”
The Quakers meet at 10am every Sunday in the hall behind the Brian Watkins Historic House on the corner of Cameron Rd and Elizabeth St.