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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 April 2004, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
'Why I'm back to ban the bomb'
Rene Henry (now Gill) and then fiancé David Gill on the first Aldermaston march
Rene Gill (right): "My feet ached, I got blisters, I longed to stop"
Rene Gill (née Henry), 71, a part-time teacher from Oxford, was a 25-year-old postgraduate student when she and fiancé David marched together on the first Aldermaston protest.

Nearly 50 years later, the couple, who are now married with three children and five grandchildren, are taking part in a revival of the historic 50-mile march to the Berkshire village.

Campaigners set off from London on Good Friday to protest against the development of what they call a new generation of nuclear weapons.

It was a paper on a notice board at college that alerted me to the plan to march from London to Aldermaston, where Britain's nuclear bombs were being made.

I'd earlier read an article by JB Priestley arguing that Britain was ideally suited to lead the world away from the nuclear holocaust.

I spent the first night under a grand piano in somebody's house in west London

Compared to the USA and USSR, he maintained that our arsenal was insignificant and we could well afford to get rid of it without affecting the "balance of terror".

I was completely convinced and so were millions of others.

It was Good Friday 1958 when my fiancé David and I gathered with a few other students on the steps of University College London and walked to Trafalgar Square, which was packed.

After listening to speeches from Priestley, Canon Collins, Michael Foot and others, we set out on the long and gruelling march.
David and Rene Gill
David and Rene Gill gave speeches as part of this year's march set off

We had breaks at the Albert Memorial and Turnham Green and spent the first night under a grand piano in somebody's house in west London.

When we woke up the next morning, it was snowing - the worst Easter weather in living memory.

As we marched along the Great West Road to Maidenhead, we were cheered along by bands playing jazz at the road side, or by singing Oh When The Saints Go Marching In.

My feet ached, I got blisters, I longed to stop - as we did, eventually.

All the accommodation the Quakers in Maidenhead had prepared was full, so some of us were taken back to Slough, where we slept in the Methodist church.

Then it was on to Reading, where we were fed and taken to a primary school for the night.

There was some hostility from bystanders along the way, especially in Reading

One had to bend down to reach the little wash basins and sitting on one of the tiny children's toilets was like sitting on a crocus.

There was some hostility from bystanders along the way, especially in Reading, but in general people looked at us with astonishment and sometimes clapped and smiled.

Even hostile tabloid newspapers grudgingly admired us for turning out in such awful weather - it was cold and the snow gave way to rain.

Our banners, mostly home-made, read: "Ban the bloody bomb!", "Use H-bomb money to feed the world's starving kids!", "Reading says no!".

At last, very tired, very footsore, we got to the village of Aldermaston and walked past the huge base and its grim security fence until we got to the locked gates, a motley, weary, shabby crowd.

Route of the Aldermaston march
Marchers set off on Good Friday and expect to arrive on Easter Monday

Later we listened to speeches, before setting off again for the comforts of civilisation.

That was the first of very many demonstrations.

David and I are marching to Aldermaston again, this time with the youth march from Oxford.

We spoke at the opening rally and are now running a tea stall for people who have marched all the way from London.

Since 1958, things have got so much worse and a new generation of nuclear bombs is being designed at Aldermaston - so-called "usable" weapons that are small enough for battlefield use.

Despite the verbiage about disarmament, India, Pakistan and Israel now have nuclear weapons, we still have ours, while George Bush is breaking the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

It seems so lunatic and expensive.

I feel so sorry for those poor sub-mariners in our Trident submarines, ready and able to destroy cities - why are they still here?

Interview by Hannah Bayman




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