Peace activist mourns loss of son killed in Iraq

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The prospect of war with Iraq has long since concerned the veteran peace protestor Anni Rainbow. In October 2002, she galvanized dozens to join a protest in Yorkshire which, she declared, was, "not something just for activists and campaigners but for everyone who is concerned about what we are being dragged into."

Now, Ms Rainbow is experiencing at first hand the sense of personal loss wrought by the conflict which she dreaded. She has lost her eldest son, Corporal Matthew Cornish, 29, to the conflict and is being treated in a Leeds hospital for a stroke she suffered soon after hearing of his death.

Despite disability which has confined her to a wheelchair in recent years, Ms Rainbow, has maintained Tuesday night vigils at the United States signals intelligence station at Menwith Hill near Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

With fellow protester Lindis Percy, she formed the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB) in 1992 and high-profile protests have included breaching Buckingham Palace security and climbing its gates in October 2003, ahead of a visit by the US President George Bush.

Her son's decision to sign up took him to a conflict she had passionately opposed, but Ms Rainbow has always been determined that her family should not be dragged into her crusades. In an interview soon after her son's death, which was not published because of her subsequent illness, she said that she and Cpl Cornish had discussed Iraq. "He didn't say much," she said. "He was divinely non-political, bless him. If I had the chance to speak to Tony Blair, perhaps I would just ask him: 'Why?' I suppose I might be tempted to ask him if he sleeps at night, but I don't suppose he would have much trouble answering that."

Ms Rainbow's influence on her son was evident from the moment the family moved from west Sussex to Otley, West Yorkshire, 20 years ago.

She entered him into the Otley branch of the Woodcraft Folk, the educational movement for young people which aims to build a world based on equality, friendship and peace.

She and Cpl Cornish's father, Robin, divorced some years ago and Mr Cornish has since re-married. Their son's decision to join up was evidently on the spur of the moment when he was made redundant after trying to establish a career in computers. He joined the 1st Battalion, the Light Infantry, and undertook two tours of Iraq, evidently receiving the gentlest of "grillings" from his mother each time he returned to Yorkshire.

Cpl Cornish died in a mortar attack in Basra on 1 August this year, days before he was due leave the front line. He has left a wife, Abby, and two children - Ethan, aged three, and 15-month-old Libby.

Cpl Cornish's father has no time for those who might seek to politicise his son's death. "There are people out there trying to make political gain out of this and I really object to it," he said recently. "It's not for me to criticise the decision to go to war. The Army don't get a choice. They are told to go and they do their job."

Her ex-husband's firm views are believed to have made Ms Rainbow anxious to keep her own views low-key, though they were spelt out in a message about the tragedy on the CAAB website yesterday. "Matt was killed in an illegal war - led by the US/UK governments," it stated. "Settling conflicts by violent ways is not the solution."

Ms Rainbow was due in court in Leeds this week over her latest charge of trespass at Menwith Hill. Her solicitor was granted an indefinite adjournment of the case due to her illness. Neither will she join a military service in honour of her son, to be held in Leeds on Sunday. Friends say she was dreading the idea of such militaristic tribute.

Instead, Mr Rainbow's thoughts remain confined to those given in the interview before her illness. "Heartbreaking though it may be that Matt has been killed, I can't help but think of the unnamed thousands of Iraqi and Afghanistan people who have lost their lives because of the lies of Bush and Blair," she said. "Somebody loved them, too."