The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is preparing to mark the 30th anniversary of the arrival of the first activists at the then US Air Force base of Greenham Common in Berkshire. This event heralded the start of one of the most iconic anti-nuclear protests of the Cold War and was a defining experience for a whole generation of political campaigners.
In September 1981, a group of women opposed to the decision to base US nuclear-tipped Cruise Missiles at Greenham Common and Molesworth, arrived at the end of a 120 mile march from Cardiff. Under the title 'Women for Life on Earth', the 36 women, together with male supporters, delivered a letter to the Base Commander requesting a discussion on the expected arrival of the missiles. When that was not forthcoming, the group decided to remain at the base as a peace camp. From these small beginnings, little noticed by the media, there grew a series of camps surrounding the base, the last of which persisted for 19 years.
The peace camp, which became women-only in 1982, saw thousands live in very basic conditions in all weathers with the constant threat of eviction, often brutally executed, and ongoing harassment from police, military or vigilantes. The camp organised ongoing peaceful protests against the base and Cruise missiles, ranging from decorating and cutting the perimeter fence through to blockading the roads, infiltrating the base and disabling the missile convoy vehicles. Other protests grew from the camp, such as the occasion when around 30,000 women "embraced the base" on 12th December 1982 or when four miles of fence were simultaneously taken down on October 29th 1983.
CND co-ordinated other actions with the camp such as during Easter 1983 when around 70,000 campaigners formed a 14 mile long human chain linking the nuclear warhead factories at Aldermaston and Burghfield to Greenham Common.
Kate Hudson, the General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said, "The women's peace camp at Greenham Common has rightly achieved iconic status nationally and internationally over the last three decades. Not only was it creative and innovative in terms of its campaigning methods and gender profile, it also moved and provoked new generations of women into action, many of whom have been profoundly shaped by the experience and inspiration of Greenham. The example of the camp also led to many others being established across Britain and internationally. On occasion pulling down miles of the perimeter fence and even dancing on the missile silos, the women demonstrated a determination for disarmament that even the brutality of the security services could not deter."
She continued,"In December 1982 I was one of over 30,000 women who held hands around the base at Greenham. One of my earliest experiences of the peace movement, it transformed my approach to politics and action - as it did for countless others. It is just and fitting to pay tribute to the Greenham women at this time: cruise missiles were eventually removed from Britain - and their protest played no small part in creating the conditions for that victory."
Cruise missiles - which were designed to make a 'limited' nuclear war 'winnable' within the 'European theatre were carried on trucks whose convoys were said to be able to 'melt into the countryside', making most of southern Britain and the Midlands a potential target for a counter-attack. Members of 'Cruisewatch' tracked and often disrupted the movements of the convoys, making a mockery of the claim that the missiles carrying convoys - that would often stretch to more than a quarter of a mile long - would be undetectable by the Soviet Union.
The campaigns of the camp greatly contributed to the popular demand for disarmament that led to the signing of the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces)Treaty in 1987 which mandated the removal of the Cruise missiles. The US returned the base to British control in 1992 with the common land returned to local people in 1997. The last campers departed after holding a New Year's Eve party in December 1999 with a commemorative garden opened in October 2002.