Local campaigner Rosy Bremer revisits her experiences as a feminist activist at Greenham Common’s Women’s Peace Camp.
I think it unlikely, if not impossible, that T.S Eliot ever lived at a women’s peace camp at the depth of its decline. Strange, because his lines in Preludes sum up exactly what it was like living through such times. It is also unlikely but possibly not beyond the realms of the imaginable (for those with well-developed powers of making stuff up) that I will ever be as good a writer as T.S Eliot.
Many a word has been written and many a broadcast hour spent on the subject of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. Many of these many words – spoken and written – have also been hotly contested, disputed and complained about for one reason or another.
It was of course a great act; a triumph of adversity on all fronts over victory (if you think of victory in military terms that is). The stated intention was that Cruise missiles should melt into the English countryside. It might’ve worked, if only Cruise missiles and the attendant end-of-all-our-days paraphanalia hadn’t been quite so big, cumbersome and easy to spot. People talk about babies needing a surprising amount of equipment for an outing but really it’s nothing compared to what a Cruise missile convoy needed for a few days’ out and about on Salisbury Plain. Less chance of that lot melting into the English countryside than of a Scotch Bonnet pepper freezing into an ice-cream.
All we needed to do was hop in a car and follow the things; then we got out of the car, walked up to the Cruise missiles and belted out rebel songs. It happened Every Single Flipping Time the nuclear things went out for one of their exercises so everyone could get right the act of doing-away-with-the-world, ‘coz that’s a heck of a thing to get wrong. Imagine the complaints if some of the world was left and you’d gone out with the specific intention of not leaving a scrap intact! Just to cheer ourselves up (as it could sometimes be a little scary being face-to-face with a whole array of killing machines looked after by people trained to kill), we liked to don satirical guises for our nocturnal Cruise-stopping manoeuvres (or actions as we called them); bogus policewomen, fake sheep and even pretend pink rabbits all played their part in arsing things up on Salisbury Plain.
I guess it’s easy to be wise after the event (as well of course as during the event). Or maybe it’s not easy to be wise, if you reckon having a thing that can stick the last ever full stop on all the books ever read or written – in order to stop someone else using their “I’m gonna kill you all” thing – is a plan that is in any way workable on land.
Sadly, it seems to be going better for the nuclear military-industrial complex with Trident submarines. Even they get regularly swum onto by peace activists; they would be swum onto a lot more if the good old Great British Public hadn’t by and large got bored with the threat of nuclear anhilation. There is sadly no evidence that those with a lust for power have lost any of their desire for hardcore heavy radioactive weaponry, more’s the pity. Well done the Green Party though for the intention to scrap Trident. Love it.
Somebody, possibly Winston Churchill, once said that history is written by the victors. It’s partly true, but all sorts of other people also get to write history. It’s rarely people actively and currently engaged in the making of history who get to write it though, as we rarely have the time, energy and resources to sit back and reflect upon the unfolding of events and our role in them. Shame, really as our stories are so much better: far more daring, wilder, more creative and more inventive than the non-engaged commentator’s imagination can encompass.
A couple of years after the last women left Greenham Common I heard a surreal item on Radio 4 (where else?) about an archealogical study of the area formally occupied by the Peace Camp. The archaeologist who struck lucky with the funding attempted to elucidate the relevance of the about-to-be-discovered crisp packets and tea-spoons in turfing off the USAF/RAF from the lovely Berkshire soil of Greenham Common. I laughed my socks off. It wasn’t the crisps that did it – it was the women; women who can still tell the tales, argue the facts and set the record straight.
Whether our stories are told or untold; whether the record is straight or a bit wonky may possibly not matter so much. What matters is that we don’t have Cruise missiles lumbering around the countryside anymore. It also very much matters that we do still have Trident slinking around our shores. Now is the time, with our wetsuits in one hand and the ballot box in the other, to do away with that underwater nuclear anachronism.
Photography by Sarah Cheverton.