Evening Press feature writer STEPHEN LEWIS joins peace protesters on the biggest march in British history.

THE man with the megaphone had good news.

"I am unreliably informed that even the BBC - yes, even the BBC - are saying that one million people are on the streets of London," he joked, his voice eerily amplified.

A resounding cheer went up from the stupendous mass of people that was streaming through the gates into Hyde Park.

"I have also been unreliably informed that ITV and Sky News are saying 1.5 million people on the streets of London," megaphone went on, shouting even with his amplification to make himself heard above the swelling roar of the crowd. "You have been on the biggest demonstration in UK history!"

The cheer this time had to be heard to be believed, a physical upwelling of sound that combined klaxons, horns, whistles, shouts, and a curious ululating wail of exultation that had been passing up and down the length of the mighty marching column all afternoon.

A Mexican Wave of sound that brought the streets of the capital to a grinding halt.

If ever there was a time when the people made their voices heard, this was it. By 3pm on Saturday, Tony Blair could have been in no doubt - even if he had been up until then - just how much the British people did not want this war with Iraq.

"I have never been in anything quite like this," said 70-year-old Lawrence Gadsden, as the York Against The War contingent poured through the gates of Hyde Park, an eddy of people swallowed up, enveloped, by the flood all around. "It is rather overwhelming."

But also very uplifting, the veteran of many a CND march in the 1960s said. "One is heartened to see so many of one's fellow human beings so concerned by this."

The man with the megaphone was still shouting, putting the London demonstration into the context of the global march for peace. Sixty thousand on the streets of Oslo, he yelled. Then, to another tumultuous roar: "In Rome today, two million!"

For the York contingent, marching behind a York Against The War banner, it had already been a long day.

Twenty-one coaches and a minibus had set out from York at 8am, carrying 1,100 people from the city itself and the towns and villages around. More went independently by train.

It was not until 1pm that the coach convoy reached central London, to find it rapidly grinding to a halt.

Our coaches were unable to make it to the arranged dropping off point at Gower Street, so jammed were the capital's streets. Instead we spilled out of the coaches earlier and joined the throngs already converging on the city centre by foot.

Chris Fuller, the 46-year-old organiser of the York contingent, produced a megaphone of his own and, hastily assembling behind our lime green banner, we headed for the starting point.

"Stop the war! Feed the poor!" Chris shouted. The rest of the York group joined in gamely. "George Bush, we know you! Your daddy was a killer too!" Chris bellowed.

The group, caught up in the excitement of the moment, followed suit.

Before long, the York contingent met another, larger gathering, joining it like a tributary flowing into a larger river. Soon, the streets were filled with marchers, the river of people splitting into parallel streams to spill over into two streets, three streets side by side, all flowing in the same direction like the Ouse when it bursts its banks. Cars caught up in the flood beeped their horns uselessly with frustration: then gave up.

Approaching Piccadilly, we became aware of a wall of sound - a din which grew steadily in volume until our own river of marchers joined the still wider throng flowing along this great street. The sheer number of people was stunning: mums with prams, fathers with daughters proudly on their shoulders, elderly people, students, young men with placards standing on railings to wave and cheer as we went past. There were the Socialist Workers with their strident slogans; but there was a great mass of moderate, respectable middle England too, all marching with one common purpose: to stop war.

Dancers costumed all in black, their faces bony masks and their black-clad limbs painted with white bones so they looked like dancing skeletons, capered beside the flowing mass of people; a young man in clown costume stood atop a lamppost brandishing a handful of banana skins. "I have weapons of mass destruction!" he said, flourishing them in the faces of the passing marchers. We roared with laughter.

Several times the mighty river that filled Piccadilly from end to end almost came to a halt, forced to stop by sheer weight of numbers: a traffic jam of people.

"It's amazing, isn't it? said Hazel Gallogly, the 57-year-old treasurer of York Against The War. "It's exhilarating, exhilarating."

By the time we reached the centre of Hyde Park, it was 4pm. It was cold, the sky overcast, the great park almost wilting under the sheer weight of numbers. Then came the news that all the marchers wanted to hear. "We have almost two million people on the streets of London," boomed a voice over the loudspeakers.

It didn't matter that it was cold, we were tired, we couldn't hear any of the speakers properly from our distant place among the multitude, and none of us quite knew how we were going to get home. This was the place to be. "I feel I'm a part of history!" said Hazel.

Chris Fuller for once was almost silenced. "How did it feel to be on the biggest march in British history?" I asked him.

He was lost for words. Then: "It's humbling, in a way," he said.

An interesting choice of words. Humbled is perhaps how Tony Blair should feel in the face of such overwhelming opposition to his stance on war. And humbled is what he may become if he presses on in the teeth of such genuine popular anger.

Updated: 10:28 Monday, February 17, 2003