RAINBOW FIELDS IS HOME
The Rainbow Village at Molesworth, August 1984 to February 1985
Paperback, 222 pages including archive illustrations
Published November 2013
Last chapter originally published as a booklet – The Last Night of Rainbow Fields at Molesworth (1985)
Special price for copies bought from this website £7.00
RAINBOW FIELDS IS HOME
RAF Molesworth, in Cambridgeshire, was intended to be the second cruise missile base in the UK, after Greenham Common. In August 1984, part of this unfenced world war two airfield was occupied by a mixed group of Green activists, travellers, Quakers, anarchists and peace campers.
The occupation, and the ‘Rainbow Village’ that it became, remained on MoD land for nearly six months. Eventually it was brought to an end by a massive operation involving police, soldiers, and Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine in his flak jacket.
The experience of living at Molesworth during that winter was physically, emotionally and politically intense. The climax, the eviction that took place overnight on February 5th/6th 1985, was perhaps the most dramatic occurrence in all the peace and anti-nuclear campaigns of the 1980s.
This book, written in the immediate aftermath of the events it describes, has now finally been published nearly thirty years later. As a statement of resistance to the nuclear state, and of life lived on the political edge, it has a freshness and a relevance that still stand today.
I still remember so clearly the Wednesday lunchtime after the eviction, February 6th. As we drove away from Molesworth airbase we had the radio on in the truck and we could hear the news. Parliament was in uproar, over us and the way we had been treated. Michael Heseltine was defending his actions and those of the Ministry of Defence, saying that the behaviour of an “unrepresentative minority” could not be allowed to interrupt the construction of the base; elsewhere he even suggested that “lives may have been lost” if the authorities had not acted swiftly and decisively, and in a TV interview he implied, deliberately, that we had threatened “violent” tactics. For Her Majesty’s Opposition, Denzil Davies said that the use of such tactics as Heseltine had employed against us was outrageous, since we were a group mostly of “Quakers, with a long tradition of honourable protest against the weapons of war.”
Whatever we were, that Wednesday lunchtime we’d been ejected into a world which we had left several months before, which seems to have no room for us, and where we no longer belong anyway. The comments on the radio, from the House of Commons, whether sympathetic or not, were false. The newspaper stories the following day were the same. They were not reality; they were political statements relating to some round of political gamesmanship which had nothing to do with us, with our real lives, which we’d lived together by then through most of the winter; or with our own real feelings. Reality was a convoy of battered vehicles full of tired people being shepherded into a layby off the A1 near Bedford.
Four of us had left in Brig’s truck; Brig, myself, David and his girl friend Sheena. On the way we peeled off from the convoy up a slip road, heading for David’s flat in St Ives. A police motorcyclist shadowed us for several miles, staying with us till he was satisfied I suppose that we were not heading back for Molesworth. We stopped off in Huntingdon to pick up some food, and walking through the shopping centre was bizarre; it had the unreality of an hallucination. We’d just been in the middle of a civil war, with squads of soldiers all over the place, mud, barbed wire entanglements, searchlights, fire and smoke. As we left, the police were setting up road blocks behind us. Here, people were going about their daily business, ten miles away, as if nothing had happened. True I was suffering from exhaustion and from shock; but on top of that, the contrast was too much to take in and I had trouble walking steadily or talking coherently. This world was no longer the real world – it was a strange illusion created by politicians and press and TV advertising.
That evening, David’s telephone never stopped ringing as people from all over the country were wanting to find out what had really happened, what could they do, should they come to Molesworth? It soon became obvious that we had, intentionally or otherwise, started something big. The Peace Movement was receiving millions of pounds worth of free publicity, whilst CND had already got a mailing into the post calling for a “sustained and continued campaign … it is essential that all groups convene urgent meetings of all members and supporters”; whilst the police response, involving several different forces and continued co-operation with the army, was being removed entirely from any kind of control by the Cambridgeshire Police Authority -in a way which so alarmed one Labour County Councillor that she told the ‘Cambridge Evening News’: “I have been talking to some Chilean exiles who told me this is just the way the police started taking over their country”. And one public house near Brington, down the road from Molesworth, was hanging out Union Jack flags, with the landlady proclaiming “liberation day …”. She had organised a petition against us the week before; and it was said to have been the most successful petition in history, since the authorities had responded within days by deploying close on 1,000 policemen, a company of infantry, and a large detachment of Royal Engineers. The overnight construction of the perimeter fence was their biggest operation since the crossing of the Rhine in 1944. Michael Heseltine had appeared in his extraordinary flack jacket; the culmination of three months planning at the Ministry of Defence, which began with the survey when the first Rainbow Villagers were arrested. And also, the first really interesting event had occurred in the political career of the hitherto unnoticeable local constituency MP, John Major.
Some time that night, I reached a state of emotional and physical exhaustion where I just lay down and dissolved into tears. My father had died only two days before, and the grief of that had compounded with the raw pain and injustice of being moved on by the British Army. I’d been up all last night and half of this one and still people were endlessly ringing up, as if trying to wring out the last drop of life from us. Sheena held me as I lay face down on a spare mattress, which is where I must have fallen asleep. Next day I went on to the family funeral still dressed in my mud-caked jacket and Afghan socks. Over those next few days, the myths about Rainbow Fields were getting further and further from the truth; we had soon become “150 Quaker families” and we’d been “established for three and a half years” – or conversely, no more than a dozen of us were “genuine peace protesters”, we were mostly “thieves and layabouts”. And in every version, we were a “Peace Camp” (or, according to the ‘Express’, ‘Sun’ and ‘Star’, a “Peace” Camp).
The Rainbow Villagers regrouped and moved to a car park beside the reservoir at Grafham Water near Huntingdon. The police beat up one young man, Mel, on his way in, and charged him with assault. The local pub suddenly banned people with long hair who’d been living in the area for years. The ‘Observer’ printed a picture of a nun, who had just been “evicted from Molesworth”; the ‘Sunday Times’ interviewed a retired Major – now a member of ex-services CND – who told them that this was “Heseltine’s blitz-kreig and our Dunkirk” but that “we would be back”. In some way everyone responded loudly to the Village and its eviction, but to what they wanted to believe about us, rather than to the truth.
What really happened at Rainbow Fields was different. It included elements of all these versions: though in fact it was the satirical TV programme ‘Spitting Image’ which came nearest to what we really were: “A hundred ageing hippies and a dog”. But even this is only another label. All winter we’d had problems with people – CND members, travellers, ecologists, the press, whoever, coming along with expectations of what we were and what we ought to be doing, and finding that we were different, that we weren’t doing what they thought we ought to be doing as well as we might be. But Rainbow Fields remained, and still remains, uniquely itself. And living there gave me one great gift amongst all others: the ability to be myself, truly, more than ever before.