biograpical details on Wikipedia
BARBARA SMOKER was born
in 1923 in London into a Roman Catholic family, and had a convent
education. As a girl she was torn
between the ambitions of becoming a nun or a writer - in either case
for the greater glory of God; but with wartime service in multi-credal
Ceylon in the Women's Royal Naval Service as a wireless telegraphist
she began to re-think her religious
On 15 August 1945, on
the forenoon watch, she sent out her own signal to the ships at sea so
as to avoid unnecessary deaths through servicemen not knowing the war
against Japan was over, and it was repeated in other countries of S.E.
Back in civilian life,
she thought and read a lot about religion - and the more she thought
and read the less she found it possible to believe. In
1949 she finally renounced Christianity and joined the secular humanist
She also became active
in various social campaigns - abolition of the death penalty, nuclear
disarmament, radical alternatives to prison, the legalisation of
abortion and voluntary euthanasia, the squatting movement, and Bernard
Shaw's alphabet reform - and she served on a large number of committees.
As president of the
National Secular Society from 1971 to 1996, she represented the atheist
viewpoint in print, on lecture platforms and soap-boxes, in speaking
tours, in debates, and on radio and TV, and in 1981 gave spoken and
written evidence on religious education to the Parliamentary Select
Committee on Education and Science.
She also officiated at non-religious funerals, wedding
ceremonies, gay and lesbian commitments, and baby-namings, and trained
other secular humanists to do so.
In 1984 she undertook a
five weeks' speaking tour of the United states, and in 1990 a similar
tour of India; and. in 1998 visited India again to inaugurate a mass
She was chairman of the
Voluntary Euthanasia Society from 1981 to 1985, and compiled a book on
that subject (Peter Owen, 1985). Her other
books include Humanism, for use in secondary schools (Ward Lock
Educational, 1973), with revised updated editions (National Secular
Society 1984, British Humanist Association 1998 and South Place Ethical
Society 2005); a book of satirical verse, Good God! (1977); and
a collection of her articles, Freethoughts (2002). She also
scripted a playlet, Atheism on a Soap-Box, which was both
cassetted and published (1985).
Her pamphlet Eggs
Are Not People was distributed to all MPs in 1985 to dissuade them
from voting for a ban on embryo research; and in 1986 a letter she had
drafted on the dangers of segregating children in religious schools was
endorsed by 22 distinguished signatories and published in the Guardian
On 27 May 1989, standing with a homemade banner proclaiming "Free
Speech" beside the route of the big Muslim march that demanded the
death of author Salman Rushdie, she survived a physical assault by a
surge of demonstrators.
In 1985 she recorded a radio talk, "Why I am an Atheist", for
the BBC World Service, and in 1999 featured in the BBC1 TV documentary "Living
With the Enemy", for which she spent a week with a group of
fundamentalist Christians. She also took part in the 2005 BBC Radio 4
programme "Losing My Religion", a portion of her interview
being selected for "Pick of the Week".
The International Humanist and Ethical Union honoured her in the
Sorbonne in July 2005 with a "lifetime achievement" award for
Distinguished Services to Humanism.
"Distinguished Services to Humanism" See her typically modest acceptance
Smoker's books - old-fashioned printed and bound books - can be
ordered from her direct see 'Publications'.