During the 1990s you became very involved in the campaigns around Trident missiles and eventually the campaign around replacing them?
Well I organised a trip to Faslane, where the Trident submarines are based on the Clyde, from Exeter.
What did you do there?
Marching past the base, making speeches at the main gate. There have been a lot of blockades at Faslane but on that occasion there wasn’t a blockade.
Arrest at Aldermaston
In 2000 I invited Angie Zelter, who runs the Trident Ploughshares campaign, which aims at taking non-violent direct action against Trident. I invited her to come and speak in Exeter. And she was so impressive ‒ she was inviting people to come and join the blockade at Aldermaston ‒ that I did go with four others to join in this blockade.
What were they aiming to do?
Well, to stop people going to work at the base. Aldermaston is where the nuclear missiles are actually made ‒ the warheads, not the missiles. The warheads are made at Aldermaston in Berkshire, the missiles are actually made in the United States, then they’re put on submarines which are based at Faslane. Anyway, the aim was to stop people going to work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, and they start work at half past six in the morning. We slept at Douai Abbey which was two or three miles away and got there before half past six, joined ourselves together and lay down in the road in front of the main gate, to stop people coming to work.
How did you feel?
I had never done anything like that before, though I’d been to a lot of demonstrations outside bases. I can remember the policeman in charge saying he really didn’t want to arrest us ‒ “Please go away”. And we were cleared off the road by the police, then we ran back and I think I felt a bit frightened. Anyway I did go back and I was arrested and dragged off the road, taken to a police van, then to a police station some distance from Aldermaston. I think the Reading police station was full up because there were an awful lot of people, so they had to use this other police station which was quite a way away. I can’t remember the name of the place now. Anyway I was searched and they took away my money and all my belongings and put me in a police cell. And you have to take your shoes off before you go in a cell, in case you might strangle yourself with the laces! And I can remember the door clanging, and I realised what people mean by talking about being banged up. But I was given a piece of paper saying I was entitled to a blanket and a pencil and paper and food. They did offer us a choice of food. I asked for the blanket and the pencil and paper. The place was wall-to-wall concrete. I couldn’t see you could possibly hang yourself, even if you wanted to. There wasn’t anything to attach your bootlaces to.
I spent my time writing an account of this for the Exeter CND newsletter. I was left for some hours, but finally let out. The policewoman that let me out of the cell said, “Was I the one who wrote for the Exeter CND newsletter?” I was very surprised that she should know that. I was hauled before some senior police person, and she was up on some sort of platform and I was down below, obviously meant to feel very small, and at a distance. I said “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. I’ll have to come a bit nearer.” Anyway she told me I was being released on police bail, and that I would have to attend Newbury Magistrates Court. After which I was let out, and people at Aldermaston had organised a system of cars to come and fetch people who were let out. I was met and taken back to Aldermaston. My friends were very pleased to see me.
I was kept dangling, so to speak, for some months, and then I was told I had to attend Newbury Magistrates Court at 11 o’clock in the morning. I was living in Exminster by that time, but I couldn’t possibly get to Newbury by 11 o’clock in the morning. I was wondering how on earth I was going to do it, but eventually after about three months I received a letter saying that the Public Prosecutor had decided it was not in the public interest to prosecute me. I think really the authorities were getting a bit tired of old women standing up in court saying why they were lying in the road at nuclear bases. But I must say this: being arrested gave me more publicity than anything else I’ve done in the peace movement. I was very surprised when I went down to the village shop to see a big placard outside ‒ newspaper placard ‒ saying “Exminster Gran arrested”! People had seen me driving round the village with CND stickers for years and had never discussed the matter, but after this they all wanted to talk about it.
How old were you when you were arrested?
Was that the reason you decided to be arrested – because it would attract more publicity?
No, I think it was because I was very impressed with Angie Zelter. I felt she needed support. I was quite surprised at the amount of publicity it did attract.
Exeter Peace shop and the Iraq War
In the 1990s we had the first Gulf War, then in 2003 the Iraq War.
Yes, I haven’t said that I moved to Exminster in 1986, from East Cornwall and the Tavistock area. And I obviously joined Exeter CND, which was much larger than the Tavistock group, and quite soon became the secretary there.
Can you explain how the CND campaign developed in connection with the Wars? And talk about the Exeter peace shop?
Well, Exeter CND had opened a peace shop quite early in the 1980s, before I moved there.
What is a peace shop?
Well, our basic aim was to give people information about the peace movement. But I mean the shop is still running. It sells peaceful goods, a lot of peaceful toys in particular, and campaigning materials, T-shirts and banners and mugs and badges and posters and it also carries a lot of information about peace issues and the environmental issues as well. And petitions, and on the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 the peace shop became the centre of the peace movement in Exeter. We worked very closely with the Stop the War coalition. And there was so much opposition to the Iraq War, our little shop became full of TV crews and the phone constantly going with journalists wanting information. And we actually ran twenty coaches to the big demonstration in London on the eve of the Iraq War. We sold the coach tickets at the peace shop.
Twenty coaches from Exeter?
Twenty coaches from Exeter, yes. It was very hard work.
What part did Exeter Quakers play in the peace movement at that time?
Well, a lot of them did go on the coaches.
Was there any other peace work going on in that period?
I didn’t actually go to that London demonstration because some people who couldn’t take coaches to London asked me if we could have a demonstration in Exeter. So I decided there were so many people going to London that I would organise a demonstration in Exeter High Street, which I did.
This wasn’t an anti-nuclear demonstration, so how does it link up to CND?
No, well CND has always worked closely with the Stop the War Coalition and also the Muslim Association of Britain, and it isn’t simply an anti-nuclear movement. It is an anti-war movement and there is always a danger that nuclear weapons will be used in these wars of course. In fact Geoff Hoon, who was defence secretary at the time, actually spoke about the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Saddam Hussein.
Changing public opinion
Your long experience of peace work – has it been worthwhile? Has it been effective?
Well we did get the cruise missiles out of Greenham eventually. In fact Greenham Common is back to common land, and we are working for an international convention to abolish all nuclear weapons. And I feel more hopeful now about the possibility of that than I have done for the last twenty years. We held a lot of street demonstrations in Exeter, giving out leaflets and collecting signatures, and I spoke in several schools and colleges. Younger people than me have been speaking in schools. I think it has had an effect on public opinion. I have seen a change in public opinion. People used to say to me, “Nuclear weapons have kept the peace for forty years.” You don’t hear that any more, and I saw in today’s paper... a poll conducted by the Independent newspaper yesterday reported that 58 per cent of the people polled think we should get rid of Trident. So I think we are gradually changing public opinion. And I think in the long run the government will have to listen to public opinion.