IT ENDED much as it had begun - a small group of women huddled under a tarpaulin singing songs for peace while proudly brandishing a set of bolt cutters.
The protesters of Greenham Common yesterday packed their bags and towed away their last caravan 19 years to the day when 36 women arrived at the American air base in Berkshire to demand the removal of nuclear cruise missiles.
Each of the "peace women" had walked for 10 days from their homes in South Wales to set up, on 5 September, 1981, what eventually became one of the focal points for the Cold War disarmament movement.
Images were flashed across the world of the 30,000 women who then surrounded the 1,200-acre base in December 1982 and from then fought a running battle with the authorities by repeatedly breaking into the site, chaining themselves to fences and blocking the missile convoys as they left to go on their manoeuvres.
Such was the groundswell of popular opposition caused by the Greenham women and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament that the 501st Tactical Missile Squadron of the United States Air Force flew its 96 cruise missiles back to America exactly 10 years after the Berkshire demonstrations began.
The celebrations yesterday were dominated by nostalgia rather than the roar of fear and anger of September 1981.
The peace songs became a rendition of the greatest hits of the daily performances held outside the 10ft barbed wire fences in the mid-Eighties, while the bolt cutters - "the sacred instruments of our work" - had been brought along to be auctioned to protest veterans and members of the media. The proceeds will be used to fund a memorial on the site.
For Sarah Hipperson, the sprightly and iron-willed 72-year-old former nurse who joined the protests in 1983 and was one of the three last women to remain on the site, it was a day of quiet satisfaction. Sitting in the caravan which had been her home for the past three years outside the old main gates to the base - now a business park - she said: "It would be a sad day in many ways but for the fact that we achieved what we set out to do - Greenham is the only nuclear base in Europe converted to peaceful use.
"We can look back and feel quietly satisfied at something which started from the instincts of a small group of women and became a symbol and gathering point for world peace."
A few quiet tears were shed as, shortly before 3pm, the peace camp caravan was gently hoisted into the air by a crane then driven away - ironically into the base from which its inhabitants were barred for so long.
The caravan, along with three intact missile silos and the base control tower, are earmarked for use in a museum of Greenham's history. The site and its surrounding heathland were restored to local council ownership three years ago and are now home to …