A 30 year reunion was held on Saturday, 24th October 1998 for those who were at Essex University during the Academic Years 1967/8 and 1968/9, and who considered it to have been a positive experience worth celebrating. Over 120 people came and shared a wonderful, memorable evening. Friendships were renewed.

Jack Straw quote

Three intriguingly related events

You ask for some Memories - I have many as I was Secretary of the Essex University Students Union at the time of the Occupation. Colin Rogers was President, along with Janet Steele, Ian Brody, et al. Alastair Blunt was the Treasurer (what happened to him?)

Many people will recall the specific events of May 1968 so I will not cover those, but I wonder if anyone will recall three intriguingly related events: one the previous year, one in 1968, and another in 1969?

In 1967, the hierarchy of Essex University, in its infinite wisdom, chose to award an Honorary Degree to the then-Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, as well as one to the Chairman of the CBI. Neither of these choices went down well amongst us as you can imagine! On the evening of this Investiture at Colchester Town Hall, about 80 students gathered outside to protest. For some bizarre reason, the local constabulary decided to expand their police force that night to include soldiers from the Army Camp in Colchester. Needless to say these soldiers relished nothing better than a chance to sort out some long-haired scroungers from up on the Hill. They formed a very tight cordon around us and when Wilson emerged and tried to get into his car, they kicked and shoved at the students with horrific brutality. Many students were injured, some ended up in hospital. It was a scary introduction to the reality of political protest. I remember shouting "Get out of Vietnam" at Wilson and he looked surprised. Unsurprisingly, my words in his ear did not persuade him to end his support for the US war in Vietnam.

The second interesting event was In 1968. Many students were becoming more and more disillusioned with the leadership of the National Union of Students. In particular their failure to condemn UK support for the US War in Vietnam, civil rights abuses in N. Ireland, CIA atrocities in Central America, and so on. On top of that, rumours circulated that the CIA were using the NUS as a front for various publications. At Essex we held an emergency general meeting and overwhelmingly voted to take Essex University Students Union out of the NUS. We voted to join the Radical Students Alliance instead. We didn't intend this to be a long-lasting separation; we'd rejoin the following year. It was, nevertheless, a grand gesture.

The third event led to the possibility, even to this very day, that I and about 14 other Essex students would be imprisoned in the Tower of London and maybe even executed. How come? Well, this curious circumstance arose as a result of that august institution, the British Parliament, finally waking up to the fact that many students were revolting. How strange. How odd. Perhaps a Parliamentary Select Committee should be set up to investigate why British students were revolting. Yes, and let's do something really original, and hold the meetings of this Select Committee into Student Unrest not inside the Palace of Westminster, but, for the first time ever, outside, in places where this unrest had taken place. So, in early 1969, a group of MPs arrived at Essex University, and sat down to hear evidence. The only problem was that they were not prepared to ask the right questions. As the meeting dragged on, we in the audience became more and more restless. Our concern was that the burning issues of world importance were being conveniently ignored. Forget Vietnam, just talk about student grants? Forget our university's involvement in germ warfare, just focus on student accommodation?

Even David Treisman, one of the students in the audience, became outraged and argued from the floor how ridiculous this was. The chairman told him to sit down, and ignored his point, refusing to let him speak. More of us stood to argue. The chairman panicked - I remember Anthony Bell, MP, red-faced and sweating in his pinstriped suit, grabbing up his briefcase and making a dash through the audience to escape. We did the only non-violent thing we could, and sat down in the aisles, effectively blocking the exits. This didn't last very long, maybe ten minutes. I think the University security dragged us out of the way, but the dreadful deed had been done! An attack on Parliament. Guy Fawkes had nothing on us. Names were presented to Parliament and we were accused of a serious breach of Parliamentary privilege - punishment for which was limitless, as Parliament held ultimate power in the land! I still await my fate.

If anyone from those heady days cares to contact me, I'd be delighted to hear from them. My email is: trishal58@yahoo.com

Enjoy the Essex '68 Reunion and raise a glass in my absence!

Warm regards and great memories,

Alaistair Fraser

Vietnam demo