Why the Greenham Common peace camp needs to be remembered 40 years after its inception, by James Watts

‘Women Come Now’ Poster (Berkshire Record’s Office)

Amidst the disruption and uncertainty that we have started the year with, 2021 marks both the 40th anniversary of the inception of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and the 30th anniversary of the final US cruise missiles leaving Greenham Common. Thousands of women from across the world travelled to Greenham, situated 20 miles South-West of Reading, to take a stand against nuclear armament and US imperialism, as the superpower placed its cruise missiles on European soil in an effort to square up to the Soviet Union.

Despite being described as the largest demonstration in modern history, the camp has vanished from many people’s memories and it does not feature on the curriculum. Despite being a keen history student, I began my placement at the Berkshire Record Office with very little knowledge of the camp. I knew the stories of the striking miners who confronted police officers at the Battle of Orgreave in an effort to protect their livelihoods but I had not heard the stories of those who fought for global peace at Greenham.

What began as a march from Cardiff to Greenham Common had rapidly evolved into a catalyst for change.

Britain Fuels the Apartheid War, 1984 (Berkshire Record’s Office)

The camp must be remembered for sparking resistance to nuclear armament on a global scale. Peace camps soon sprung up at every US military base across Britain and Greenham activists travelled extensively, helping local communities in places such as Comiso, Italy mobilise against US cruise missiles. Fundraising marches from Greenham to the Soviet Union were also organised, enabling Greenham activists to make international connections, and actions of solidarity with communities in places such as Namibia, where the uranium for the cruise missiles was being mined, became common. The camp must also be remembered for simultaneously challenging and utilising traditional notions of femininity. The movement rejected the widespread belief that women should not become involved in political discussion whilst playing to the concept of the maternal, caring woman.

It is vital that we tell the stories of the brave women who protested everyday in spite of extreme police brutality, harsh weather conditions and tabloid smears. One way to do this would be through an interactive walk-in exhibition where the voices of Greenham women from recorded oral testimony are played in the background and visitors can follow the story through from when Women For Life on Earth first arrived at Greenham in September 1981 to when Greenham women were finally able to reclaim the land that the airbase occupied as public land in 2000. The exhibition would contain accessible descriptions of the events alongside newspaper cuttings from the Lynette Edwell Collection at the Berkshire Record Office. It would also contain pamphlets which were used to raise awareness of the international situation and how Greenham women created links with activists across the globe. This would enable us to adopt a decolonisation approach to determining archival value and choosing primary sources to display at the exhibition.

James Watts is s an undergraduate History student at the University of Reading.

Follow our commemorative campaign on Twitter through #GlobalGreenham40.

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