A short personal account of militant opposition to a fascist National Front demonstration against the local American Nuclear base and against immigration.
6. Bury St. Edmunds National Front demonstration, 1986
This was a watershed for me because I ran away at a critical moment. I was deeply ashamed of that for years, but I eventually realised that we all make mistakes and the point is to learn from them, and not do it again.
The NF were having a march through the town allegedly to protest against the local American Nuclear base and against immigration. Presumably they wanted more British nuclear bombs instead of American. This was ironic because all the lefties and anarchists in Britain were also against the American nuclear bases, but for different reasons!
We took three minibuses of anti-fascists from London, and others arrived from all over England, plus there was some local opposition to the NF in Bury.
The fun started when some of our lot found a few fascists arriving at Bury St. Edmunds train station. They got battered and one of our Liverpool comrades managed to nick the watch of Derek Holland, then an NF bigwig, before he hit the floor. This caused us some amusement afterwards about the stereotyping of scousers!
While we walked back to the town centre the police arrived in vans, blocked the road, and searched us one-by-one. Various of our comrades had screwdrivers, stanley knives and suchlike on them. It was comical to hear the coppers with strong Suffolk accents say “Why is this spanner (for example) inside your jacket?” The reply would always be “I use it at work”. Then the cop would say “OK, off you go”. So nobody got arrested there for having an offensive weapon, even though this was a weekend and we all lived about 100 miles away!
Later the NF march got underway. A certain DAM comrade, being mad or brave, went alone to abuse them, so I went along to help him if he needed it although I was secretly hoping he would come back to the main group of anti-fascists. The march came by and my comrade methodically counted how many marchers were on it. After he had a total (about 65 I think) he started taunting them at the top of his voice “65 ha, ha!”, “You can only get 65? Pathetic!” “Call yourselves the representatives of England with only 65 people? You tossers!” etc. etc. I was standing next to him wishing he would shut up as I was convinced we were going to die. But my comrade really was a brave man with an excellent tactic, because his lone abuse really humiliated the fascists who were undoubtedly embarrassed that there really were only 65 of them. (When I say ‘…was a brave man…’ the operative word is was. A few years later, thanks to heroin, he threw away a brilliant mind and a body as strong as an ox.)
Later, as the NF march proceeded through the town the main group of anti-fascists started to attack. Half a dozen of us went into a building site just as the march was passing and lobbed loads of bricks over at them. Some hit cops too. The fascists started to pick up some of the bricks that we had thrown and hurled them back at us . So the sky was filled with bricks and other building materials going in all directions. It was pandemonium. At this point a contingent of anti-fascists attacked the back of the march and managed to get one of their banners. The mayhem went on for a bit longer, but the police started to get a wee bit upset, so all the anti-fascists went back to the town centre to regroup.
We hung about the town centre until late afternoon. About 10 of us were in a fish and chip shop when we realised that a group of fascists were coming down the road intent on revenge. Some of our lot immediately started grabbing various iron implements etc that were lying about at some roadworks just outside the chip shop. I’m ashamed to say that myself and a few others just ran away, instead of making a stand. The battle apparently raged outside the chip shop with the anti-fascists eventually winning. Meanwhile one of the members of Red Action and myself ran into another nazi in the market place. I ripped off a bit of wood from a pallet and was swinging it at the nazi skinhead. The Red Action member by my side grabbed a small stepladder from one of the market traders and swung that at the nazi once or twice, then he threw it at the nazi. This was a mistake because the nazi just caught the stepladder and started to chase us with it! Again we ran away. I ran so fast I pulled muscles in both my legs. I was very subdued for the rest of the evening and the trip home because I was so ashamed of my cowardice.
The only light relief came when our three minibuses were heading out of town on the way back to London. The first minibus overtook a skinhead (Nicky Crane I believe) who was walking along the pavement with a couple of skinhead mates. Crane realised the minibus contained anti-fascists and he started shouting abuse and doing cocky “V” signs, blissfully unaware that another minibus was approaching him from behind. Meanwhile a certain person in the second minibus leaned out with an iron bar wrapped in masking tape to make it look like wood. While still doing “V” signs at the first minibus the iron bar hit the skinhead beautifully on the back of the head, like a Tom and Jerry cartoon. His legs went like a rag doll’s. We had a perfect view of the whole episode from the third minibus.