Greenham Peace Women gather to remember anti-nuclear weapons protest 40 years on
Members of the original Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp were joined by friends from inside and outside West Berkshire for an event marking the protest at its dedicated memorial garden on Saturday.
The Peace Women first made camp outside the USAF airbase, home to cruise missiles, at RAF Greenham Common in September 1981, having started as a 10-day march from Cardiff.
The Welsh contingent remained a major force at the camp throughout its 19 years on the common and Sue Lent, one of the original marchers, came to Greenham over the weekend to pay tribute to her fellow activists.
Mrs Lent said: “I hadn’t planned to do the whole 10 days, but I went on the first day.
“I had a one-year-old baby with me and pushed him all the way, but felt very welcome.
“At that time, there was a lot of fear about nuclear weapons. The Government was advising people to make bunkers that would never have protected anybody, cruise missiles were coming into Greenham Common – there was a lot of fear.
“That was very much what drove a lot of women who went on the march, worrying about the future and what was going to happen to their children.”
The group had not initially planned to stay at the common, but lack of press coverage, coupled with a desire to make a political impact, ultimately led to the establishment of the camp.
Like many members of the peace camp community, Mrs Lent did not stay on-site permanently, instead visiting regularly over the years to support the demonstration.
She said: “In the years around when the cruise missiles came in, lots of the women would stage actions, blockades, go into the base, cut the fence down...
“Many of the women were arrested, some went to prison – they went through some very hard times.
“I did come up to a lot of the actions that were up here and I was here when the first thousand women had circled the base in December ‘82.”
Côr Cochion Caerdydd, the Cardiff Reds Choir, performed a number of commemorative songs, including hymns popular with the Peace Women.
Another member of the camp community, Catherine Jones, paid tribute to the protesters, especially those who had died before the 40th anniversary.
Introducing harpist Heulwen Tara Lloyd Jones – a baby at the camp in its final years – Mrs Jones said: “To hear Heulwen playing her music here – it’s such a tribute to Greenham Women’s Peace Camp, and also a tribute to particular women.
“In particular Helen Thomas, who was killed on August 5, 1989, by a West Midlands Police horsebox as she waited to cross the road.
“Helen’s garden, and the plaque to Helen, is always here – it’s an integral part of the garden.”
Having arrived at the camp in 1982, Mrs Jones recalled taking part in a number of daring demonstrations, including the ‘black cardigans’ protest of Hallowe’en 1983, when thousands of women took bolt cutters – codenamed ‘black cardigans’ – to the fencing around the airbase, removing miles of wire.
Due to a lack of local detention space, large numbers of arrested activists were, on that night, held at Newbury Racecourse.
While proud of her involvement with the Peace Women, Mrs Jones noted tthat many participants served time in prison.
She said: “It’s wonderful to hear Sue Lent speak about the march, and all that wonderful energy that established Greenham Women’s Peace Camp.
“There was also another aspect to the years that followed.
“When I look back on those years that followed, what I remember is that, for 15 years, I was going into prison – not for 15 years, but over that period of time, I was always going to prison for non-violent direct action.
“Many of the women who lived here had a similar experience.”
Also among those Peace Women who served prison time was Mary Millington, who attended Saturday’s event and spoke several times over the course of the day, saluting her fellow protesters for their sacrifices.
Mrs Millington says that proliferation issues remained a pressing concern in 2021. “We’re also here to recognise that the work isn’t over, because we still have Trident nuclear weapons up in Scotland. They have to be resisted, we must keep that work up. Any of us who are able to must do what we can to get rid of these wretched weapons.”