Barbara Smoker, Vice-President and former Secretary of The Shaw Society, died on
Tuesday, 7th April 2020 just two months short of her 97th birthday. Diagnosed with
terminal cancer two years ago, Barbara had recently published her autobiography entitled
My Godforsaken Life, Memoir of a Maverick - a vivid account of her long and eventful
life (Thornwick Press also available from Amazon).
Born into a devout Roman Catholic family, as a girl Barbara was torn between becoming
a nun or a writer. At the age of 26 she renounced Christianity and joined the ranks
of the secular humanist army. For 25 years she was President of the National Secular
Society. In her early years she described herself as an anarchist. But later she
preferred the term ‘radical liberal’. Her long life has been a blueprint for effective
campaigning against social injustice.
She joined the Royal Navy as a WREN, and from 1942 was a wireless telegraphist stationed
in Trincomalee on the coast of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. “War News” tells of how she
came to announce the news of the ending of the war in 1945, by sending an unofficial
message in Morse code to all ships. Her message was interpreted and passed on as
“official”, so she effectively stopped the war. This prompt intervention in 1945
remains one of her proudest moments: “I like to think my enterprise may have actually
saved lives” she quoted when she launched her memoir to the Society. In 1950 Barbara
ordered from the Shaw Society a copy of a reprinted Shavian tract on Creative Evolution,
was invited by Eric Batson to one of their summer rambles, and then joined the Society
– in Shaw’s own lifetime. A year later she became a Life Member – “a shrewd actuarial
move” the 95-year old commented!
Barbara made an outstanding contribution to the Shaw Society from its earliest days
- see her interview on the Shaw Institute website: She wrote many articles and
reports of meetings for The Shavian from the 1950s onwards, later becoming Editor
for several years, and General Secretary of the Society.
As one of the Society’s longest serving and most distinguished Vice-Presidents, this
great lady will be sadly missed by us all.