Aldermaston "Nuclear Fools" demo

April 1st 2013

by Harriet Bazley

Joanna and Jill in front of coachGetting ready to set off

The weather forecast predicted "bitter easterly winds", so we took precautions: almost all our luggage for the trip consisted of spare clothing, and we dressed Everest-fashion, with multiple layers of silk and wool and thick socks in walking boots (and even a couple of spare blankets). It worked beautifully, despite all the trouble of dressing and undressing: unlike most of the people we met on the demonstration, we never got really chilled!

Protester with rainbow flag in front of road sign

The London coach stopped briefly at the "Women's Gate" when we arrived and a few people got off, but there was a general feeling that we had better stick together, so the rest of our contingent regardless of sex stayed on board the coach and were ferried a little further around the base to our allocated spot, christened the "Home Office Gate". I was surprised to see how open and taken for granted the existence of the nuclear weapons research site was; its location, far from being kept secret from putative foreign spies and 'terrorists' (people with cameras?) was not only advertised but highlighted on the local road signs.

Here a sign helpfully directs protesters to "AWE Main Gate"....

Protesters crossing the roadSetting off for the gate
Van with CND banner taped to itMobile advertising

Someone had hired a white van for the day and we glimpsed it driving round the base from time to time; it had been transformed into a motorised sandwich-board by the simple expedient of taping a large CND banner to the sides of the vehicle using duct tape.

'No Trident replacement' bannerKingston Peace Council banner
Jill and Joanna pushing banner poles into ground

Thanks to the amount of rain we have had over the last few months, we were able to get our banner to stand up by the simple expedient of thrusting the poles down into the soft ground and securing the top corners to the fence with pink knitting wool. Other groups' banners were also fastened to the fence.

Jill unfolding orange bannerJill helps with the Croydon CND banner
A blanket billows from Joanna's shoulders in the wind

We could probably have got away without using the knitting wool, but the predicted easterlies were blowing and it was very windy. It was at this point that my mother wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and remained thus for the rest of the day!

12aroundbase/jpgEncircling the base

Due to the wind and cold, after 'decorating' the fence many people decided to pick up one of the placards thoughfully provided and set off for a walk around the perimeter fence to the neighbouring gates, both to see what was happening and to keep warm. There was a more or less constant flow of people all day as they migrated from one gate to another, which had the unintended result of ringing Aldermaston around with a moving chain of CND signs - very symbolic....

A muddy puddle

It got muddy and we were glad of our boots! (But not half so muddy as it got later on.)

People trying to avoid mud
A swamp blocks the wayFoiled again

A few brave souls (wearing Wellingtons) continued on and managed to circumnavigate the site; most of us edged wider and wider around the growing swamp and then gave up when it repeatedly filled the entire path.

Food stall

Fortunately, back at the "Faith Gate" Oxford CND had provided some very welcome hot drinks!

Stop Fooling with Nuclear Weapons placard in midst of crowd

As we were drinking tea and starting on our picnic, the roving speakers turned up on schedule: a selection of celebrity speakers had been arranged to tour the various gates and address each in turn. (We were hoping to hear Bruce Kent, but he wasn't due to reach our sector until late in the afternoon, by which time our coach would have left.)

Due to problems with the amplification we couldn't actually hear much from the back, but a crowd had soon gathered.

Japanese man in costume

One feature of this demonstration was the notable Japanese contingent, who had presumably been radicalised in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Japanese style banner

Two police horses on road

Another feature was the various pairs of police horses — presumably deployed for their ability to traverse the muddy off-road perimeter, in which they left deep hoofprints, rather than in anticipation of vast unruly crowds — which patrolled around all day, or posed in a photogenic fashion to have their noses stroked.

White coffin between two peace dovesThe Alleluia awaiting resurrection

As we were leaving the Faith Gate to return to our own 'area', the ceremony of The Resurrection of the Alleluia began, in which an 'Alleluia' which had been symbolically interred at the beginning of Lent was to be restored to life from its coffin in ecumenical fashion.

But we didn't stay for this, and arrived back at the Home Office Gate just in time to hear the tail end of the same speeches all over again as the speakers' caravan preceded us on the same route!

trombone and soprano saxA lightweight plastic trombone!

It was still bitterly cold, but events at our own gate included some enterprising musicians, who played a few traditional tunes before their fingers seized up altogether.

We were fascinated by the trombone made of plastic tubing: it was naturally very much lighter to carry than the traditional brass variety, and although the tone was not as good as that of a normal instrument we were assured that it was virtually unbreakable. And of course the advantage of a trombone in this sort of weather is that it can be played in thick gloves since there are no keys to press.

ALison Williams with UN flagAlison Williams flies the flag

Seated resolutely in front of the gate we found Alison Williams of Merton UNA, a long-standing supporter of our Vigil for Peace (which has been running without a break since September 2001). She had brought along a large United Nations flag and a book to read but agreed to pose for a photo....

Satsuki Goto
38Satsuki/jpgSatsuki talks to Alison, Joanna and Dave Esbester

We were also glad to meet another Wimbledon activist with whom my mother had been in e-mail contact, Satsuki Goto. We hope to see her at some of our local CND events now that we know each other!

Conservatory showroom across the road from high fenceTurn left for double glazing, right for nuclear warheads...

Since we have been frustrated by the swamps blocking our way after the Faith Gate, we decided to set off walking in the other direction, back towards the "Women's Gate" at which we had first arrived. It seemed considerably longer on foot than it had done in the coach.

As before, I was fascinated to see just how much 'normal' life went on in the immediate vicinity of the Atomic Weapons Establishment. A flourishing greenhouse and conservatory business existed opposite the three layers of barbed-wire-topped perimeter fencing, while had we so wished we could have bid on three acres of vacant land next door (and set up a peace camp?)

The main Aldermaston buildings resembled a post-war factory complex, with lots of piping, some big square blocks and just the occasional radiation warning symbol. There was also a mysterious section of anti-erosion-style pebble cage near the Women's Gate, which we thought was possibly some kind of barrier against car bombs, although it wasn't clear why it was required at that gate only.

Cold War-era buildingsLots of piping

Modern Orion Laser

In contrast, the new £100 million Orion Laser facility was very obvious.

Pink knitted scarf on fence

We instantly recognised a section of the Wool Against Weapons seven-mile pink scarf pinned onto the fence. In fact Jaine Rose, the organiser — with her distinctive pink hair — was very active throughout the day and the eye-catching novelty project garnered lots of attention, proving the value of the idea.

Joanna knittingOur contribution!

'Domestic Extremists at Work' banner

At the Women's Gate we found a rather chilly choir singing protest songs, but the main activity was taking place down in a sheltered little dell below the gate, where camp fires and home-made cakes had been established and tea was being served to all and sundry. The three Somali women who had travelled from London with us were huddled eagerly round the flames; they said they had never been so cold!

Women in hijab sitting round fire A selection of cakes

However, since we were supposed to be gathering at our coach for the return journey by 2·15pm we weren't able to stay long at this gate but felt we ought to be hurrying back, given the length of the walk (20–30 minutes). As we arrived back we heard the scheduled noise-making taking place for two o'clock, but hurried to take down our various banners and help clear up the site.

Joanna talking to another protesterSaying goodbye
People untying banners from fenceTime to take down the banners
Placards on the groundStacking up placards to load back into the coach
Joanna knotting wool onto fenceWe left the pink wool to decorate the fence


It was time to go home.

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