“A demonstration of female energy”: shared memories of Greenham | Greenham Common


FForty years ago, 36 people, mostly women, marched from Wales to RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire to protest the stockpiling of US cruise missiles on British soil and to raise awareness of the looming threat that represented the weapons.

Initially ignored, a small number chained themselves to the fence around the base and the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was born.

The camp has grown into one of the largest and longest-running women’s protests in history, attracting hundreds of thousands of women for nearly two decades.

The Guardian heard from people who were there.

Yvonne Osman, 78, Newark, Nottinghamshire

It was an experience I will never be able to forget. The high wire fence, decorated with toys, messages and ribbons, and groups of women seated around campfires chatting quietly. It was so peaceful.

We made a ring around the whole base, thousands of us holding hands; there was singing, music, drumming and women of all ages. A bus stopped and dozens of elderly women in cardigans and comfortable shoes got out and walked along the road carrying a banner saying, “Grannies Against the Bomb!”

Lottie Blunden, 48, midwife, Hunstanton, Norfolk

In 1983 I was 10, my sister seven and our brother three and for our summer vacation our mother took us on the Starwalk, from Haverhill, Suffolk, to Greenham Common.

What strikes me as I read the diary I kept is how exciting it was for all the kids. One entry reads: “Friday. It was hot. Skinheads have come. One, called Clive, was treating the goat sitting in the nettles. They wanted to participate in the walk because it says in the leaflet: “Don’t hesitate to join us even for a short time at any point along the route. But the skinheads sniffed gasoline and wore T-shirts with “I HATE PEOPLE” on them.

Jilly Hartshorn, 64, Oswestry, Shropshire

I lived in a village outside of Newbury, and there were a lot of hostile feelings about the peace camps. I belonged to the local peace group and was part of a team of women helping, bringing the campers home for a shower and hot food. I also camped there for 10 days and made it a point to invite the women I had met in my daughter’s playgroup to come visit me, have a cup of tea, see through them- same.

Roger Williams, 67, retired former soldier sent to guard Greenham Common, Midlands

I was part of the British forces sent to surround the armed American soldiers defending their plane carrying the cruise missiles. Nobody trusted each other. And yet, here, they brought us missiles to store. It was just ridiculous. As a young man, my vivid memories were of peaceful women deliberately defecating and urinating at our sight around the perimeter, as if to intimidate us.

Sarah Austin, 55, former archaeologist now working in a commercial art gallery, York

I spent various periods in Greenham between December 1983 and December 1984. I was 18 years old and very afraid of the possibility of nuclear war. Relations with British soldiers along the perimeter were mixed. An intimidating habit of the soldiers at the Watchtower was to shine their spotlight on any woman going to the bathroom.

But I also have many positive memories of contact with the military. During the day, we spent a lot of time chatting through the fence, finding common ground, which included the cause of CND.

Liz Murray, artist and scholar, London

I visited Greenham in December 1982 for the Embrace the Base Protest Weekend. There were women from all parts of the UK arriving, getting out of coaches and putting up banners. It was an amazing display of all-female collective energy. Between women who were otherwise strangers, the tacit bond that formed in resistance to a common enemy was like discovering an entirely new and united family.

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