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Last Updated: Friday, 9 April, 2004, 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK
Still fighting the bomb, 50 years on
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News Online

Crowds in Trafalgar Square for the London to Aldermaston Easter march
Music and colourful costumes lifted the marchers' mood
There is a strong sense among people at the Good Friday nuclear disarmament rally that history is repeating itself.

Speaker after speaker tells the crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square how they had hoped never to have to battle the threat of new nuclear weapons again.

The London to Aldermaston march was started in 1958 to protest about nuclear weapons.

The fact it is being revived nearly 50 years later shows how much, in the campaigners' eyes, remains to be done.

People who went on the first four-day march as children - some now grey-haired grandparents - wonder how many times they must fight this fight.

It is absolutely appalling to find that I am, about 45 years later, yet again on the road to Aldermaston
Veteran campaigner Pat Arrowsmith

But despite their despondency, fresh energy can be seen in the bright banners and costumes of the protesters.

Hundreds have shown up, many with backpacks strapped on ready for the 50-mile hike to Aldermaston in Berkshire, stopping in west London, Slough and Reading on the way.

Veteran campaigner Pat Arrowsmith, who went on the first march and subsequent ones through the 60s, shouts to the crowd: "It is absolutely appalling to find that I am, about 45 years later, yet again on the road to Aldermaston.

"I wish it were not so. I'm not pleased to be here. I'm not pleased from that point of view to see any of you here."

It was a very new thing to do in those days, to have a big march - it was all new and exciting
Charlotte Paterson, of Aldermaston Women's Peace Campaign

Joint organisers Slough4Peace have arranged accommodation and food in community halls but warn it will not be luxury for the footsoldiers.

Charlotte Paterson, who was one of 10,000 people to go on the first trek 44 years ago, recalls the musicians who accompanied the marchers then.

She says: "I was 10 years old when I went on the first one. I remember it being a fantastic atmosphere.

"It was a very new thing to do in those days, to have a big march - it was all new and exciting.

'Lifetime's campaigning'

"There was a tremendous determination about stopping nuclear weapons, which was again quite a new issue for most of us.

"My brother and sister were older than me and were allowed to stay the night but I wasn't allowed to.

"That was the start of a lifetime of campaigning against nuclear weapons."

A member of the Aldermaston Women's Peace Campaign, the 54-year-old from Bristol still joins the group's monthly protest camp outside the plant's high fence.

The first Aldermaston march
Some 10,000 people joined the 1958 rally march to Aldermaston

"I think we are much more effective now because we are much more sophisticated now in our knowledge of nuclear weapons," she says.

"We know what happens when you drop one, like in Hiroshima, but we also know about the problems of making them - the low level radiation and its effects on health and the pollution that they release into the air and the water.

"So even if we never use a nuclear weapon again, just making them can be very dangerous."

Student CND member Peter Leary, 24, is one of a younger generation who shares these fears.

We are not going to go away until Aldermaston has closed down
Charlotte Paterson

He says: "I think if these new weapons go ahead, it's going to make it more likely than at any point probably since the Second World War that nuclear weapons will actually be used in conflict."

On Easter Monday, the marchers are expected to arrive, footsore and weary, in Aldermaston for a "surround the base" demonstration outside the plant.

Hundreds of people will link hands around the six-mile fence in a human chain.

Ms Paterson says: "We are all going to make a huge noise, shout as loud as we can, blow our whistles.

"We are going to let them know we are there and we are not going to go away until Aldermaston has closed down."

As performers Theatre of War declare as they hug each other at the end of their pre-march show: "These are the only arms we need."

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


SEE ALSO:
'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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