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Upper Heyford peace campaigners return after 30 years
EMOTIONS ran high as hundreds of protesters staged blockades, marches and set up a permanent peace camp in Oxfordshire to oppose the real possibility of nuclear war.
It was 1982, the height of the Cold War.
Yesterday, some of the original campaigners returned to the former US Air Force Base at Upper Heyford, near Bicester, which is now about to be redeveloped for housing.
Nigel Anstee-Algar, 64, who lives in East Oxford, lived at the camp between 1983 and 1985 and was arrested, bound over to keep the peace and fined after gripping the link fence during a protest.
He said: “The summers were lovely and idyllic and warm, but winters were miserable, cold and damp.
“I believe we did make a difference.”
Exactly three decades ago, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) set up its camp in Portway bridleway just metres from where thundering F1-11 jets took off.
The protesters were banned from local pubs, had their camp removed by police and took part in marches from Oxford to the base.
The biggest demonstration was a blockade around the base just before the General Election in 1983 which involved about 4,000 people and led to 752 arrests.
But yesterday the former activists were allowed behind the security fences of the former base, and into the Barley Mow Pub, in Somerton Road, Upper Heyford, where they were previously banned.
Adrian Sinclair, 50, had just finished his studies in Oxford when he joined protesters, and helped organise the blockade, travelling around the country to recruit people.
The father of two, who now works for a community radio station in Leeds, said: “It was a very romantic notion at times of being up here, round a campfire, but the other side was the other side of the fence where the F1-11s were.
“A lot of the people locally and over the fence disagreed violently with what we were doing so it was quite emotional coming back.
“Although we cut a few fences, I had never really been in the place so the idea of being able to have a trip round is quite bizarre.”
Londoner Mark Brett, 55, spent about four years living at the camp, on and off. He said: “There was quite a lot of activity, arrests and prison sentences and I remember doing a week in Oxford prison.
“They wanted to bind us to keep the peace but we were being honest and saying that keeping the peace in the wider sense was what we were arrested for.
“It was very much worth it because it raised awareness.”
Brin Price, 52, from York, also picked up a criminal record for his actions at the camp, although he never served time.
He said: “We were committed to non-violent direct action and we thought we could change the world.
“I think change did happen, not perhaps the radical change we wanted but there has been a certain amount of nuclear disarmament due to the pressure of the mass movement.”
The base was closed on January 1, 1994.
The group had maintained a presence at the base into the late-1980s.