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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 07:32 GMT 08:32 UK
Peace campaigners return to Aldermaston
By Hannah Goff
BBC News Online

On Good Friday 1958 a popular peace movement was born - thousands of people gathered in Trafalgar Square to demonstrate against Britain's first hydrogen bomb tests.

Nearly half a century later this Easter weekend, the Aldermaston march is being revived, in a bid to prevent any new nuclear weapons being developed.

The first Aldermaston march

It was the late 1950s. The Cold War was in full swing and Britain had just carried out its first H-bomb test at Christmas Island in the Pacific.

A group of pacifists had planned to sail into the area in protest at the tests, but the idea proved impractical.

So peace activist Hugh Brock had suggested a four-day Easter "pilgrimage" to a then unknown place in Berkshire - Aldermaston.

Here, he had discovered a secret atomic weapons plant was being built.

It was to become the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Research Establishment - today the guardian of Britain's nuclear arsenal.

The Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War would have been happy if 50 people had turned up, says march organiser and veteran peace campaigner Pat Arrowsmith.

What materialised surprised everyone.

Musicians marching
Musicians kept up the marchers' spirits by playing their instruments

Some 10,000 marchers turned out in Trafalgar Square waving banners, pushing children in prams and singing peace songs from sheets handed out by the organisers.

Over the next four days, they braved rain and snow to march over 50 miles to a field in Berkshire.

Those who were there remember it as a very socially mixed, musical affair.

Jazz musicians played their instruments while poets and workmen rubbed shoulders in the rain.

And when the marchers came to rest someone would reach for a guitar and play a folk song.

Memories of Hiroshima

In 1958 Pat Allen, now 75, was a young peace activist in his 20s. Now he is international worker for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

He says Hiroshima was the reason so many people marched to Aldermaston.

"I remember the day the bomb was dropped - 6 August 1945.

"The information that we had made it clear that this was a weapon that was vastly different from anything that we had ever seen before.
Organising secretary of the first Aldermaston March Pat Arrowsmith
We believe there are schemes to create a new generation of nuclear weapons
Pat Arrowsmith

"The devastation from Hiroshima was massive. People were not only suffering from normal injuries they were suffering from radiation sickness.

"It wasn't long before we discovered that radiation sickness does not go away.

"It was then that we realised there could never be another war."

As the march was to last four days, organising it was a huge logistical operation, says organising secretary and veteran peace campaigner Pat Arrowsmith.

The marchers slept in sleeping bags in church halls and in community centres as they will do this weekend.

They were given food and drink by local volunteers as they will be this Easter.


The event became an annual pilgrimage in the 1960s, with more marchers traversing the 50-mile route every year.

"People marched then because they were frightened of nuclear weapons. They were also worried about the fall-out from nuclear tests," says Ms Arrowsmith.

1958 rally
Some 10,000 people joined the 1958 rally march

"Why we are marching to Aldermaston now is because we believe there are schemes to create a new generation of nuclear weapons."

A multi-billion pound redevelopment of the site is planned.

This includes a "capability" to design a successor to Trident - Britain's nuclear deterrent - which is due for replacement in 2010.

No decision has been taken on what that successor might be and the Ministry of Defence is tight-lipped about the possibilities.

But it has confirmed Aldermaston aims to ensure it has in place the means to develop that successor when a decision is taken in the next Parliament.

The MoD insists whatever is decided will be within Britain's legal obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The treaty requires the signatories to work "in good faith" for total nuclear disarmament.

Actress Rebecca Mordan, 27, is marching to Aldermaston this weekend because she believes the demonstration can truly have an impact on what the government decides.

Original leaflets from first Aldermaston march

"This isn't like the demos for the Iraq war - that was an unstoppable course of action.

"This is a very different situation - this is one where the power of the people can prevent this very dangerous development."

The marchers are due to set off for Aldermaston from Trafalgar Square at 1300 BST on Good Friday 9 April - they are expected to arrive at the Berkshire weapons plant on Easter Monday.

Aldermaston pictures were provided to BBC News Online courtesy of BECTU History Project.

'Why I'm back to ban the bomb'
07 Apr 04  |  Berkshire
MSP guilty of Trident protest
10 Jun 03  |  Scotland


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