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OUR STORY







In April 1991, we at PARC (Pembrokeshire Against the Radar) saw the press statement that all local campaigns dream of: we had defeated the over-the-horizon radar, planned for then St. Davids Airfield, an extension of the MOD’s Cawdor Barracks army base.

Perhaps amongst the most spirited local British campaigns of the 90s, PARC followed an age-old, classic formula: a people-first grassroots campaign, with a St David versus Goliath story that could capture the imagination of audiences for miles around.

As the small Dewisland peninsula on the tip of Pembrokeshire gears itself up for round two, what led to the original campaign becoming such a resounding success, and bringing down the radar?

Original PARC members, in what looks like an early rockband promo

The story began in a meeting between just four households in Whitchurch, a small village standing directly in front of the disused airfield where the MOD was planning to build the OTHR (over-the-horizon radar).

Where did these brave residents hear of the news of their radar, however? Such projects, not dissimilarly to today, are often snuck out with little fanfare. In 1989 it was in a small newspaper in Edinburgh that news of the radar ambition broke, the local Conservative MP, Nicholas Bennett, claiming he’d had no knowledge of the proposal, on the basis, he said, that the MOD had informed the wrong MP about it. Sure Nick.

Galvanising quickly around the formidable writing skills of one starling novelist, the late Rosemary Hawley-Jarman of Whitchurch, PARC set itself to the long mission of writing letters to MPs.

But not just to a few local ones. Showing the ambition that would make PARC the campaign it was, PARC began by contacting—by hand—every single MP in the United Kingdom, hundreds of councillors, MPs, clergymen, scientists and even US senators.

As the local word spread, the first of two famous public meetings were called in Solva Memorial Hall, where Roger Coghill, a scientist commissioned by PARC to investigate the potential radiation impact of the huge 135 ft over-the-horizon radar tower array, gave a speech that PARC campaigners say was a major moment.

An artist's impression of the original proposed radar array

When local residents heard of the level of radiation, and of the fact much of the surrounding population would have had to be evacuated in order to create a sufficient buffer zone, there was not a voice left in the house in favour.

Facing pressure that was quickly beginning to mount, the MP for Pembrokeshire, Nicholas Bennett, was forced to table questions in Parliament. He organised a second meeting with local residents, with key speaker Alan Clark (the Minister of Defence Procurement), and one that would become legend—though not for the reasons he’d hoped!

Hoping to pacify the local community, Bennett was dismayed when, as the quivering Minister walked in, an entire community, all of them bearing 'NO' placards, stared at him in perfect silence until he took his seat at the front of St Davids City Hall:

The historic 'NO radar' meeting

The Minister’s suggestion that a few trees might be planted to hide the 135 ft high radar towers didn’t help, as the room erupted with laughter—and funnily enough, as if like clockwork, the MOD has tried to use the exact same comic suggestion that a bit of tree screening might help cover up 2024’s proposed monstrous own goal of a radar farm—on p. 85 of its very scoping report!

The spirit amongst the people was beginning to ignite, by May 1990, through the infectiousness of a community coming together and the paper-thin weakness of the MOD’s arguments—and, that month, the fundraising got off to a vibrant—and surprising—start.

‘Rock Against Radar’ events in Mathry Village Hall, Twr-y-Felin in St Davids, and the County Hotel in Haverfordwest shook the walls. A massive car boot sale for PARC in Whitchurch brought dozens to the tiny village, jumble sales and coffee and cakes in St Davids City Hall sprang up, and residents took to long sponsored walks along the Ffos y Mynach…

PARC posters

One of the zaniest ideas, inspired by Australians, was a dry-river boat race in Whitchurch. It involved a large group of adults, in full fancy dress, trying to fit into two-person cardboard boats, and then running around a disused military airfield as fast as they could, without falling over. PARC weren’t quite sure what the vicar made of it at first, but by the end, by all reports, even they couldn't stop him!

The 'Goodship Lollypop', right, raises her sails

Many miles away from Pembrokeshire and in the twilight hours of a London night, however, Pembrokeshire’s MP Nicholas Bennett could be spotted, in a late night session in the House of Commons far from what he believed were the eyes of his constituents, seeming to support the radar before Parliament—in stark contrast to the undecided and unbiased tone he had calculatedly struck in the pages of local media.

Little did he know, however, that PARC had shown up in London that day—and they were listening to every word.

In the local paper The Western Telegraph, which for PARC had become nicknamed ‘The Radar Times,’ the county heard a searing account of Bennett’s hypocrisy, in what would turn out to be a major downwards turning point in his popularity amidst an issue that was sailing closer and closer to the hearts of Pembrokeshire people.

That same pressure began to show in a major event, organised by Plaid Cymru, where a 2000-strong procession and rally (Gorymdaith a Rali), made up of people from all over Wales, marched from St Davids Cathedral (after a blessing in Trinity Chapel) to the proposed airfield radar site. The rally kicked off with none other than famous Welsh patriot Dafydd Iwan singing ‘Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nghadau’, a man now known amongst even the younger generations for writing what has firmly become the official sporting anthem of Wales. Ry’n ni yma o hyd—we are still here, indeed, and Dafydd's voice with us!

Credit: @WXM_Lager

Dr Dafydd Elis Thomas, President of Plaid, and then-Councillor Nick Ainger—the man who would, likely without coincidence, later become the Labour MP for Pembrokeshire on perhaps the strength of his very stance—spoke at the huge rally, and morale was surging.

PARC’s early secretarial efforts were beginning to pay off, as news of the campaign was beginning to spread, and the pressure on decision-makers beginning to mount with it. PARC had received messages of support from a huge array of sources, including Neil Kinnock, the Leader of the Opposition; three Euro MPs; the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales; Dyfed and Preseli Councils; Mid-Glamorgan County Council; Haverfordwest, Fishguard and Goodwick Town Councils; CND Cymru; Friends of the Earth; Nuclear Free Zones Welsh Forum; the Paris Welsh Society; the Welsh Chapel Association; the Archbishop of Wales; the Bishop of St Asaphs; the Bishop of Bangor; the Bishop of Salisbury; five members of the House of Lords; 30 MPs; 7 local Community Councils; the Council for National Parks; and St Davids Peninsula Tourist Association.

It was a time not far away, of course, from the collapse of the Cold War, an era of posturing by the world’s then military superpowers. The futility of the war-that-never-was had rightly shown leaders that nothing was to be gained by spending money neither side had on weapons neither side would ever believe it was in their interests to use.

A radar tracking station at Krasnoyarsk in southern Siberia was amongst the first to be dismantled in May 1990 as a gesture of peace, prior to a summit that would come with President Bush of the United States.

We in PARC, of course, hope that our leaders can see that history proves that nothing about the futility and waste of taxpayers’ hard-won pounds in pursuit of wars no-one intends to start has changed in the last three decades.

Artists like John Knapp-Fisher were taking to the airfield to paint the view of the iconic Carn Penberi and Carn Llidi mountains to fundraise for PARC in protest. The clergy organised an all-denomination pilgrimage from Whitchurch church along the Pilgrim’s Way to St Davids Cathedral. The farming community brought a tractor to pull a PARC float from the Rugby Club for St Davids carnival, all the young sporting PARC’s iconic t-shirts and merch.

Artists at work for the airfield anti-radar art sale

Bennett's dread, as a petition of over 20,000 hand-written signatures signed in local shops in Dewisland arrived at the government's door, however, was turning faster and faster into panic.

As his party scrambled to counter what had been an unexpected level of resistance from what seemed to the US and the MOD in their mistakenness like just some sparse and sleepy coastal region, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in desperation, visited Haverfordwest in order to try to stem the flow from Bennett’s rapidly nosediving support base, followed days after by the Minister for the Armed Forces, Archie Hamilton.

Hamilton, not gifted with an ability to read the room of public sentiment in Pembrokeshire, said, facing the TV media, that the proposed over-the-horizon radar ‘had to go somewhere’, and that the site in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park would not be ‘quite as awful as people make it out to be.’

The Thatcher government learned, that day, never to send an Etonian to do a local man's job—but perhaps, more pertinently in the case of the defiant Pembrokeshire people, never to send a politician to do a politician’s job either!

A lesson our current MP Henry Tuffnell, if he values his job in the light of the lessons offered by a Bennett who would ultimately go on to lose his seat in Pembrokeshire, would be doing very well to keep in mind.

Early satire. National Parks residents everywhere will relate!

The campaign, meanwhile, through the many simple but sustained and determined efforts of PARC, had become international. By January 1991 Americans with contacts in Congress were lobbying. The Bishop of Massachusetts had written a strong letter of support to the Archbishop of Wales, followed by a sympathetic letter from congressman Martin Sabo, with a contact in the MOD’s PR Department quoted as saying, ‘If the yanks pull out, the thing falls.’

And after refusing to ever even allow the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) to come to light, the Minister for Defence Procurement, on April 26th 1991, weary from a year of unrelenting pressure from the people, politicians of all colours and increasing sections of the media, released a press statement stating, in reference to the OTHR planned for St Davids, ‘we have been reviewing our equipment and have decided not to proceed with this project.’

After Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, a local authority whose jurisdiction surrounds the proposed DARC site, said in a letter sent to PARC on the 9th of May 1991 that they ‘welcome the decision’, the Parks honoured PARC with an award for its role in protecting the health, landscape, tourism, environment and security of the Pembrokeshire coast.

We hope the Authority, the Council, MPs of every stripe, campaign groups, and above all people of every political creed, race, religion, gender, sexuality, level of ability and age will get behind PARC once more, to see off the radar—and this time for good.

Join us in PARC Against DARC. Let’s make DARC history—one more time!

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