a maze of words leading to …?

Molesworth 1

The cruise-missiles context:

The arrival of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles at Greenham Common airbase (Berkshire, England) led to huge protests and a long-running women’s peace camp around the base perimeter. This attracted world-wide attention.

Less well-known, the Conservative government planned to allow the installation of additional cruise missiles at Molesworth airbase (Cambridgeshire), which at the time was disused and unfenced.

The organisers of the Glastonbury Green Gatherings – myself included – thus decided to stage our next event at this airbase, on the airfield itself, before any missile-preparation construction work could begin.

The Gathering:

The Molesworth Green Gathering began in the late summer. Like our other Green Gatherings, it involved camping, entertainments, discussion groups, food stalls and so on. It was billed as a week-long gathering, but in reality we had planned for a permanent settlement to grow out of the event … and to this end had arranged for the Forestry Commission to innocently deliver a large number of logs for construction purposes.

Responding to our call for support and involvement, one group of people arrived with a huge black bull called Dharmaraj. Harnessed to a plough, this bovine monster began to carve a nearby chunk of the airfield into long, furrowed strips.

A single Ministry of Defence (MoD) policeman had then arrived to see what was going on, since nothing more active than sheep-grazing had happened on this base since the end of World War II.

Once a week or so, for the past several decades, an MoD patrol had made a bored circuit in their land-rover, checking that the 876 sheep which had been there last week were still there this week and had not been eaten by any escaped tiger (or perhaps even a leopard) which might be, you never know, out there somewhere. For added spice they usually detoured by a caravan which was sited towards the eastern perimeter, checking that the “rabbit-catcher” – a rather sinister figure who was wont to brandish a shotgun at the drop of a hat – was still living his solitary life and had not yet blown his brains out, nor those of anyone else, rabbits excepted.

On that particular day, however, a rather different experience was in store for our security-conscious friend. Already startled by the sight of children playing on brightly-painted wooden swingboats, and already shocked by the scale of our encampment and the sound of nails being hammered as wooden buildings went up, the man from the ministry was nothing short of amazed to see a harnessed bull actually ploughing up his base. For a long moment he stared, open-mouthed, unable to credit his senses …..

So a large and substantial “peace village” had quickly mushroomed. Moving far beyond a mere camp, alongside the wooden buildings it included a windmill, a well, and over ten acres under the plough. We even built a multi-faith stone chapel – named Eirene, the Greek word for peace – and this became officially consecrated ground, blessed by the (then) Bishop of Huntingdon, the Right Reverend Dr. Gordon Roe.

The Convoy:

Our Gathering was attended by Greenies and peaceniks and locals and Quakers and travellers of various kinds – one big happy family, as they say. Yet despite this promising start, it was surely tempting providence to believe that things would continue on such an even keel. And so it proved, for advance elements of “The Convoy” [see Medieval Brigands – Encyclopaedia Vol. XIII] arrived soon thereafter.

Now peace-campaigners, whether camping or otherwise, are supposed to be civilised, non-violent and highly motivated – the loose secular equivalent of a nun or saint. However, many a Convoy-ite is just trying to escape the hassles of urbanised, mass society. They want to move freely from place to place, as and when and where it suits them. They also want to get drunk, get stoned, weld sculptures out of scrap metal and generally leave the rest of society to “fuck off and die”.

Well, live and let live is what I say. Convoy attitudes are quite understandable and it takes all sorts to make a world. Even so, it does not take all sorts to make a campaigning peace village. Indeed, there are some sorts you can easily do without, if you catch my drift.

As far as The Convoy were concerned, “Molesworth Green Village” (as we named it) was little more than a good winter park-up, a place to party and hang out with their trucks and buses and dogs and tat. The politics of the situation were deemed largely irrelevant. Most Convoy “members” cared little for the aims and wishes of the settlement’s guiding lights and founders – all organisers are fascist pigs after all – and even less for the sensibilities of locals in the nearby houses of Molesworth village itself.

Bluntly put, the presence of The Convoy was a gift from the gods to local Tories, and a PR disaster movie – in slow-motion – for both local and national peace groups. Dealing with press liaison, I did my best, but even Goebbels would have been hard-pressed.

The local post office, run by a frail, elderly couple, came under siege from tanked-up drongos convinced that their social security cheques were being deliberately hidden behind the counter. Donations intended for peace campaigning sometimes went on Red Leb and Special Brew. The new majority voted to drop the name “Molesworth Green Village” – thus breaking the crafted link to both Green politics and the anti-Cruise campaign – in favour of “Rainbow Fields Village”, a politically vague name with hallucinogenic overtones.

Simmering feuds within The Convoy soon erupted. On one occasion a couple of particularly chaotic “Chaotics”[1] stole a mechanical digger and, in the middle of night, proceeded to drunkenly pulverise as much of the settlement as possible. Several caravans were reduced to matchsticks before they were stopped, though miraculously there were few injuries.

All this was grist to the mill for Ratepayers Against Molesworth Settlements – R.A.M.S – a local group of Tory hard-nuts who were so fanatical in their support for British nuclear weapons that they even opposed multilateral disarmament.

And so life degenerated until, on the full moon night of February 5th, the Rainbow Fields Village at Molesworth was suddenly erased by the military in what the Daily Telegraph described as “the Sappers biggest operation since the Rhine Crossing in 1944.” I kid you not.

The Empire strikes back:

Searchlights pierced the darkness from several directions. The air was rent by loud-hailers and a military ultimatum was issued: pack up and leave now, before the encampment is razed to ground.

Army engineers began erecting a razor-wire security fence. Several tipis and benders, plus the wooden school building, were torched by defiant Rainbow-ites, unwilling to dismantle them on command. Army land-rovers raced about, occasionally catching in their headlights the startled figures who’d emerged – naked, dripping wet and blinking – from the night’s Sweat Lodge. It was like Privates on Parade meets Apocalypse Now!

Black smoke swirled into the sky from several points, fires burned, conches blew and children scattered like leaves in the chill winter wind. There were yet more searchlights, their dazzle amplified by glittering reflections from the packed snow. There were Alsatian dogs and thousands of soldiers.

The (then) Defence Secretary, Michael Heseltine, flew in at dawn by helicopter, a victorious Caesar come to view the parade of captured slaves. The newspaper headlines the following day led with “Tarzan’s Triumph”[2]. And it’s not just rumour – “Mad Mike” was actually wearing a flak jacket. Sensibly, however, he did not arrive until after Tornado fighters had strafed the main runway and knocked out all our anti-aircraft guns. Eirene escaped the shelling and laser-guided bombs, but was later demolished with bulldozers anyway.

But in the end:

Nuclear-tipped cruise missiles never arrived at Molesworth …

* * * * * * * * * *

[1] The ‘Chaotics’ were one of several clans within The Convoy at that time. Most of the others had equally soothing names – ‘The Mutants’, for example, who wore the slogan ‘Mutant’ across their clothing and were described by the Daily Mail as, ‘a dishevelled and dangerous-looking crowd’.

[2] “Tarzan” is Michael Heseltine’s popular nick-name.

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