It was a quintessentially British event. The march on Saturday in Central London may have been revolutionary in numbers, but, on the ground, it was a rather restrained affair.
The bulk of the people had come straight from Middle England and, as such, had no intention of doing anything embarrassing like singing or shouting or chanting.
Instead, they chatted. They drank tea. Periodically, they opened plastic containers that held hearty cheese and pickle sandwiches. And then they munched as they marched (well, shuffled) in the freezing cold for peace.
At the start, of course, no one knew what the day would hold. The train into London was standing-room only, but it was impossible to figure out if these families were going to the march or for a day out at the Natural History Museum (the rugby types going to Twickenham were much more obvious).
At 11am on the Embankment, Angela Vokes, 18, from Farnborough, on her first protest with 19 others from her sixth form, watched the beginning of what would be a river of people. "I know I am going to get emotional today," she said. "It is becoming more believable now. Tony Blair is not dealing with us. He is not listening. No one is listening."
The helicopters whirred overhead. It would have been wonderful to have been up there to see the big picture. On the ground, it was like the slightly awkward beginning of a cocktail party as people complimented each other on their banners.
The black-and-gold extravaganza that said "Bury St Edmunds Against the War" was particularly gorgeous. Three coaches holding 150 people were here from Bury. Had they been on a march before? "Not since Vietnam," one woman with a handsome haircut said.
At 11.45am, people started to move. The mood was convivial, the pace tortoise-like. Here and there you could spot the usual suspects, the anarchists who love to snarl and spit violence, but they were completely sidelined by the overwhelming garden-centre ordinariness of the crowd. It took an hour to get to Downing Street, the people moving along quietly except for shrill blasts from whistles being sold for £1 each.
Occasional attempts to get a chant going were not encouraged. As we went up Whitehall, a man whose face was painted green and who was holding a sign saying "The End is Die" started to shout "Lack-ey Blair, lack-ey Blair". People around him began to look at each other, giving that British wide-eyed look of ironic amusement. No one spoke, but we all knew: he was the loony on the bus. Marching alongside, the good people of Bridgend (they had a sign) pretended that he didn't exist.
We came to a halt just before Piccadilly Circus. So far the atmosphere had been one of stalwart good cheer, but the physical experience was not unlike that of commuting where you often find yourself shuffling along en masse. But now, as we waited, I realised that we were, in fact, queuing. It was 1.47pm, the sign gave the temperature as 2C (35F), and we were surrounded by thousands of stationary people. The only thing we needed was a banner saying "Queue Against the War".
Eventually the march stuttered forward. Arthur Meate, 70, and his wife, Ivy, said that they had come along with a church group from Enfield because "we want someone to listen to us because we don't want a war". Were they anti-American? They looked appalled at the very question. No, they said, just anti-war.
Brian Dobson, 60, from Canterbury said that the war just seems wrong. And because no one seemed to be listening, he and other "ordinary people" had to "come out for a walk". He then talked about UN resolutions, revealing a sophisticated grasp on the issues.
We linked up with the other leg of the march, coming in from Gower Street. The atmosphere quickened. An occasional roar of voices and whistles would come up from behind, a Mexican wave of sound that made you tingle at the hidden power of these people. No one yet thought it was an historic day. There was no clue as to whether the march was tens or hundreds of thousands and the word "million" seemed quite fantastical.
A magical huge kite-like puppet floated over us now. It showed, the artists said, a crying Iraqi woman. We shuffled down Piccadilly, past the sumptuous windows of Fortnum & Mason. Some protesters said they were going to nip in for a pee. Others popped in to McDonald's and Starbucks. Clearly the anti-globalisation theme was not exactly solid.
We got to Hyde Park at 2.30pm and the crowd spread out until it seemed a horde. In true British style, some people were pretending it was summer and had put out a picnic from the up-market Paxton & Whitfield (Cheesemongers since 1797) on the notoriously delicate grass. Others got out the plastic boxes for one last time.
One couple headed off to the Dorchester for tea.
The rally itself was a rather stiff affair, like a pop concert without any dancing, not least because it was so cold. But everyone stood around gamely because, by now, they knew that the power of this day lay in the numbers. The two huge television screens showed speakers such as Tony Benn, Bianca Jagger and Ken Livingstone talking about Palestine, the UN and working people. "This is the riskiest moment for Britain since Suez," Charles Kennedy said, but, then, the people in the park already knew that.
Harold Pinter provided a moment of outrageous drama when he boomed in his authoritative foghorn of a voice: "The United States is a monster out of control!"
The Rev Jesse Jackson, the American political evangelist, chanted some mystifying slogans. The crowd, on the whole, did not chant back. He then asked everyone to pray.
"Take the hand of the person standing next to you," he said. Everyone stared straight ahead and clamped their hands to their side.
Finally, just after 4.30pm, came Ms Dynamite's beautiful and at times quavering voice. "Mr Prime Minister, you are just a Prime Minister, you are not God," she sang.
It took some time to get out of the park and, as people inched along, you could see and hear the tens of thousands of marchers still coming in from Piccadilly.
But the crowd did not stick around to congratulate itself. They were cold and hungry and it was time to go home.
No one has any idea if the Prime Minister and the House of Commons will understand that, on this day, something happened in Central London.
This was not politics as usual. This was the British people saying, politely but firmly, that they want someone to listen.
For me, as a journalist, what had been a protest march became, as the day progressed, a chance to see democracy in action and that is a rare and powerful thing.
At London's anti-war march on Saturday the police based their estimate of crowd numbers of "in excess of 750,000" mainly on images from CCTV and helicopter cameras. By calculating the square footage of the area covered, and estimating one person per three sq ft, they can get an idea of numbers. They adjust this figure by comparing the density of the crowd to previous marches. The organisers of the march said the figure was closer to two million, an "educated guess" from the density of marchers and the time taken for them to clear the route.
London 1 million marchers
Speakers: the Rev Jesse Jackson, Charles Kennedy, Harold Pinter, Mo Mowlam, Tony Benn
Response: Tony Blair said: "If there are 500,000 on that march, that is still less than the number of people whose deaths Saddam has been responsible for"
Sydney 250,000 marchers, 100,000 in Adelaide, 50,000 in Brisbane
Response: John Howard, the Prime Minister, said: "I don't know that you can measure public opinion just by the number at demonstrations"
Berlin 600,000 marchers
Response: Gerhard Schröder, the Chancellor: "There is still a chance to disarm Iraq without a war"
Rome 1 million marchers
Response: Gianfranco Fini, Deputy Prime Minister, said: "This anti-Americanism and pacifism in the face of terrorism will do nothing to induce Saddam Hussein to disarm"
New York 250,000 marchers
Speakers: Desmond Tutu, Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Rosie Perez
Response: President Bush's office said: "The President is a strong advocate of freedom and democracy and one of the democratic values that we hold dear is the right of the people to peaceably assemble to express their views"
Paris 250,000 marchers
Response: Francois Hollande, head of the opposition Socialist Party, said: "The mobilisation in all the great cities of the world sends a strong message to the US Administration to show that the peoples of the world do not want a war"
Tel Aviv 3,000 Jews and Arabswww.thetimes.co.uk/E-mail this article