‘A demonstration of female energy’: Greenham Common memories

People who were on the marches and at the peace camp describe their experiences

Forty years ago, 36 people, mainly women, walked from Wales to RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire to protest at the storing of US cruise missiles on British soil, and raise public awareness about the imminent threat the weapons posed.

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 grew to become one of the biggest – and longest – women’s protests in history, attracting hundreds of thousands of women over nearly two decades.

The Guardian heard from people who were there.

Yvonne Osman, 78, Newark, Nottinghamshire

It was an experience I can never forget. The high wire fence, decorated with toys and messages and ribbons, and groups of women sitting around campfires talking quietly. It was so peaceful.

We made a ring around the whole base, thousands of us, holding hands; there was singing, music, drums and women of all ages. A coach pulled up and dozens of elderly women in cardigans and sensible shoes got out and marched up the road carrying a banner saying: “Grannies against the Bomb!”

Lottie Blunden, 48, midwife, Hunstanton, Norfolk

In 1983 I was 10, my sister was seven and our brother was three and for our summer holiday our mum took us on the Star march, from Haverhill, Suffolk, to Greenham Common.

What strikes me reading the diary I kept is how exciting it was for all the children. One entry states: “Friday. It was hot. Some skinheads came. One, called Clive, milked the goat sitting in the nettles. They wanted to come on the march because it says in the leaflet: ‘Please feel free to join us for even a short time at any point along the route.’ But the skinheads sniffed petrol and wore T-shirts saying ‘I HATE PEOPLE’ on them.”

Jilly Hartshorn, 64, Oswestry, Shropshire

I lived in a village outside Newbury, and there was a lot of anti-peace camp feeling. I belonged to the local peace group and was part of a rota of women helping out, taking campers home for a shower and hot food. I also camped there for 10 days, and made a point of inviting women I’d met at my daughter’s playgroup to come and visit, have a cuppa, see for themselves.

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

I was part of the UK forces sent to surround the armed US soldiers defending their aircraft bringing in the cruise missiles. Nobody trusted each other. And yet here they were bringing missiles for us to store. It was just ridiculous. As a young man my most vivid memories were of peace women deliberately defecating and urinating in full sight of us around the perimeter, as if to intimidate us.

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

I spent various periods at Greenham between December 1983 and December 1984. I was 18 and scared to my core about the possibility of a nuclear war. Relations with the British soldiers along the perimeter were mixed. One intimidatory habit of the watchtower soldiers was to shine their searchlight at any woman going to the loo.

But I also have many positive memories of contact with the soldiers. During the day we would spend a lot of time chatting through the fence, discovering common ground, which included CND’s cause.

Liz Murray, artist and academic, London

I visited Greenham in December 1982 for the Embrace the Base weekend of protest. There were women from every part of the UK arriving, spilling out of coaches, and erecting banners. It was an amazing demonstration of collective, all-female energy. Between women that were otherwise strangers, the unspoken bond that formed in resistance to a shared foe was like discovering an entirely new and supportive family.

Contributor

Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

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