H is for Gerald Herbert Holtom

This is my contribution to Round Eleven of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.

Peace SymbolThe peace symbol is one of the most instantly recognisable in the world, but less so is its creator, Gerald Herbert Holtom.

Holtom was a professional artist and designer who studied at the Royal College of Art. He was born in 1914 and had been a conscientious objector during World War Two.

He was working for the Ministry of Education in 1958 when he came up with his logo for nuclear disarmament ahead of the Aldermaston March organised by the Direct Action Committee.

Holtom’s design was entirely unsolicited and presented first to his local committee in Twickenham.

Semaphore N and DHe explained that he had first drawn a white circle within a black square in which he added various versions of the Christian cross. However, the cross had unfortunate connotations as far as the movement was concerned, not least because of the Christian blessing given to the Enola Gay before it flew to Hiroshima.

Holtom allowed the arms of the cross to drop and combined the letters N and D for nuclear disarmament in semaphore, as shown above right.

Algiz as the 4th Panzer Division SymbolEric Austen, who adapted Holtom’sdesign for ceramic lapel badges, said of it that ‘the gesture of despair motif had long been associated with the death of man, and the circle with the unborn child.’

He might well have been referring to close similarity with the runic symbol Algiz which became part of the mysticism of Nazi Germany and was the symbol of the 4th Panzer Division (left) from 1943 to 1945.

Gerald Herbert Holtom

Gerald Herbert Holtom

In this inverted form, the ‘stick-man’ with arms held high came to represent ‘life’, which is what Holtom would have preferred, but his final design with arms down symbolised ‘death’.

The logo has never been copyrighted but was adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at the offices of Peace News, the pacifist magazine founded in 1936.

Holtom died in 1985 aged 71 and is buried at Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent where his gravestone bears his peace symbol.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

8 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 5th September 2012

    If we could only give peace a chance…

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Aldermaston Pudding 5th September 2012

    Often the best graphic designs are the simplest. I wore that badge on my lapel throughout my youth… and still they won’t give peace a chance. Thanks for the info – Oh Lord of The Trivia! I bow to thee.

  • rhymeswithplague 5th September 2012

    Interesting fact about the semaphore “N” and “D”….

  • Kate 5th September 2012

    Interesting history and well-researched. Kate, ABC Team

  • rose 5th September 2012

    Very interesting!

    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  • Carver 6th September 2012

    Fascinating post. I didn’t know about the history of the peace symbol.

  • George Stanford 30th October 2012

    Your “symbol of the 4th Panzer Division” is not quite right. It looks like this

    • Mr Parrot 31st October 2012

      There is some dispute over the exact symbol used by the 4th Panzer – the one I used came from Wikipedia – and whether this is true to the runic Algiz, but as I’m not an expert on either I can’t really adjudicate!


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