The day we rocked Buckingham Palace
PUBLISHED: 15:21 13 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:36 07 September 2010
A TOP secret plot, a daring raid, fireworks and the date of November 5 are words that will normally conjure up the images of Guy Fawkes. But these terms could also be used alongside the name of long-time Camden Town resident Leeroy Murray, 63, who organi
Daredevil Leeroy Murray, 63, writes for the Ham&High about the night he sparked a major security alert when he sneaked into the grounds of Buckingham Palace 40 years ago.
On November the 6th, 1968, the BBC's 7am news announced a midnight raid on Buckingham Palace. My father later told me, 'lucky you weren't shot'. On reflection he was right. Here's my story
At 3am on November 5, 1968, I was one of seven young men and a woman dressed in black sitting hunched in the back of a dirty white van driving towards Buckingham Palace. It was a clear crisp night and we were driving through London from Enfield College (later to become Middlesex University). As we approached the palace the grey street lighting turned into a golden glow. The statue of Queen Victoria loomed large. Following the palace's garden wall round to the back we passed a bus shelter on our left positioned close to the palace wall. Stopping in a small back street a minute or so later three students exited the van with two large planks. Their aim was to enter the palace grounds by bridging the top of the bus shelter and the wall with the planks. We later learnt that they never made it into the grounds, their wooden board broke while crossing.
We continued our drive following the garden wall back towards Queen Victoria's majestic statue. Passing the grand gilded gates, iron railings and sentries until we reached the high wall where we stopped, just beyond the glow of lights. The van's back door opened. June, Martyn, Tony and I jumped out, pulling the ladder as we went.
We rushed across the grass, noticing as we went a municipal garbage truck stop with men hanging on the back pointing at us. We extended the ladder well beyond the wall's barbed wire upon which it rested. A rope hung from the top of the ladder down on the other side of the wall. Climbing up and over the top I clung to the rope lowering myself into the darkness of the palace gardens. The others followed. The ladder was removed by the driver and we heard the van go.
From within the darkness of the thick shrubbery hugging the wall we split into two groups. I and the girl made our way towards the palace. The others loaded with fireworks headed towards the back of the vast gardens.
After orientating ourselves, June and I followed a gravel path leading towards the back of the palace buildings. Startled by a loud bang we saw rockets spraying the night sky. Moving across the lawns running from bush to bush we stopped as flood lights lit up the whole back of the buildings. A troop of the Queen's Guards with rifles shouldered ran across the gravel path forming a wall between us and the palace.
Riveted by fear, we pulled back crawling on our stomachs under one of the bushes. We hid deep near the bush's trunk. Lying still with thumping hearts we could just about see the well lit palace courtyard. Hundreds of police were fanning out across the lawn with dogs.
Passing close by, the leashed Alsatians pulled their dog handlers. Their boots crunching on the stony pathway. Orders were being shouted, 'find them, find the bloody bastards'.
Soon, Tony and Martyn, who had let off the fireworks were being dragged back along the path close to us.
We heard: 'Ouch! Let go! Ouch, you're hurting my arm!' A harsh voice said, It'll hurt much more...how many of you are there?' And the order, 'get everyone of those bastards'.
Should we give up and run out? I thought, too scared to speak. The girl and I looked at each other with trembling fingers to lips.
The combing of the grounds continued. Our fear increased the longer we stayed. 'Shall we run out waving the flag, as a last act of defiance?' 'OK', June said.
We crawled from under the bush. Holding the flag we ran, singing the 'Marseille' towards the group of police standing on the gravel. Picked up by the spotlight's blinding light, police soon encircled us with dogs straining. Voices shouted, 'There they are, get them!' 'Get them!', 'Get the bastards!'
Tackled and brought in front of the Sergeant, he demanded: 'Who are you?' 'Students', I said. His anger showed. 'From where? I'm going to get you. I'm going to get you thrown out. Take them away'.
Held firmly we were marched past the wall of busby-headed guards, taken through a side gate and separated into waiting black Marias. Silently we sat squeezed between large mocking policemen. At Bow Street Police Station we were taken below to the holding cells.
Nervously we waited with moments of recrimination against the folly of the raid. About six hours later we were brought in front of the Sergeant. Also present was a person in civilian cloths from MI5. After questioning we were let go.
The stunt was announced on the morning BBC news. It was also reported on the inside pages of the newspapers. In The Times, a brief paragraph said, 'Rag incident at palace'. Other headlines read, 'Commandos in Rag raid on the Palace', 'Buckingham Palace raiders fire rockets in shrubbery', 'Students get a rocket after fireworks raid on Palace'.
Its news value was overshadowed by two events of greater interest: the closing results of the Nixon Humphrey US presidential race; and the marriage of pop star Peter Noone, Hermon of the Hermits.
Luckily, the college and police took no action. In today's world, such a stunt would have produced an entirely different outcome