Tributes paid to Worthing peace campaigner

Worthing peace protester Hazel Rennie has died at the age of 88.

Hazel Rennie heading to the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in the 1980s
Hazel Rennie heading to the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in the 1980s

Hazel was well known in the town for her defiant stance, including a number of terms in jail for trespass at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire.

The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was established in September 1981 to protest about the British government allowing American cruise missiles to be sited at the base. The first blockade was in May 1982, with 250 women protesting, and the camp remained active for 19 years.

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Hazel was jailed four times in four years as a middle-aged grandmother, for refusing to pay fines for trespass.

“There is no way I am going to pay for doing these things,” she said at the time. “I don’t feel guilty in any way.”

She was among a group of women who invaded the military base during a visit of 98 international war correspondents in 1987. Hazel felt it was important to draw their attention to the women’s feelings, saying cruise missiles were not things to ‘show off like horses’.

It was the first time she saw the launcher raised and she described it as ‘horrifying’, saying it made her feel sick.

Being in the camp meant Hazel did not see her husband and grown-up family of four often.

Daughter Ruth Worley said: “We were all supportive of her. She was always passionate.

“Dad was in the RAF and we travelled the world as children. She wanted to keep the family together.”

Worthing Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom was also supportive and provided costly sleeping bag covers.

Hazel was granted honorary life membership by Worthing CND in September 1988 for her dedication to the peace movement. She remained at the camp until it was disbanded in 2000.

Ruth said: “Her life was quite amazing. It was all about peace for everybody.

“Mum was really concerned about everybody losing their rights to roam and not be able to protest. It was about Greenham but it was about protecting our rights, too, so it was bigger than that.”

Good friend Joy Hurcombe knew Hazel at Worthing CND and said she took lots of direct action against cruise missiles.

“There was a wonderful moment when she and others lay in the road to stop the traffic in Arundel Road,” she said.

“It was terribly scary. Her intention was always to challenge.”

Hazel was also heavily involved with Worthing Against War, which formed in 2002 to protest at the Iraq War.

She wrote a play putting Tony Blair on trial and it was performed at a Peace Day at the Friends Meeting House, with Hazel in the role of the judge.

Joy said: “She was a great communicator. She led a ‘Weapons Inspection Tour’ of Worthing, asking if anyone knew where Saddam Hussein had hidden his weapons. Humour was often used by Hazel to speak out against the madness of war.”

Hazel was committed to looking after Worthing Labour Hall and was a strong voice against the Trident nuclear weapons system at Labour Party meetings.

“There was the Tony Benn came to speak and she was asked to say one of her wonderful poems,” Joy recalled.

Hazel wrote letters appealing for the release of prisoners detained in Guantanamo Bay and Joy strongly believes it was her eloquent letter to Gordon Brown that was instrumental in bringing Brighton resident Omar Deghayes home.

Joy said: “She had the privilege of meeting him in person in 2008 and he thanked her for her letters. She also wrote many letters calling for the release of Shaker Aamer and was delighted when he was released last year.

“Hazel’s words for her placards for marches and vigils summed up everything she stood for, ‘war achieves nothing’.”

Hazel would take Easter eggs to the women’s refuge in Worthing every year and in later life, she volunteered with Home-Start Worthing, washing up to help families in need.

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