Greenham Common peace camp resists eviction

The Guardian, February 4 1982

Twenty five women and children, three tepees, a dozen caravans and a communal fire were still parked on the doorstep of the American air base at Greenham Common, Berkshire, last night despite the arrival of their eviction deadline.

The women arrived at the base on September 5 last year after a 10-day march from Cardiff. Four of them, including a 60-year-old grandmother, spent the first week chained to the fence but they changed their tactics. Mrs Helen John, one of the organisers, said: “We realised the press were more interested in the bondage than the issue.”

The issue is the siting of 96 cruise nuclear missiles in underground silos at the base. The new tactic was to simply set up house outside the main gate, on the edge of the A339. After 152 freezing days and nights Newbury District Council told them to go because they were breaking bylaws.

Mrs John said: “They have also invoked some act which covers the use of common land but they’ve not mentioned the fact that the same act says you are not supposed to discharge missiles on common land either. It is all rather interesting.”

The construction of the first missile silos is clearly visible through the perimeter fence. Trucks carry excavated earth through a security gate; cranes and mobile cement-mixers shunt backwards and forwards while carpenters hammer away in the foreground. It is all non-union labour.

Mrs John, aged 44, has had to leave her home near Hereford to live in the camp. Her husband has given up his job as an electrician to look after their five children: “The cruise missiles have changed my life. If you had told me last September that I was going to spend the rest of the year protesting I’d have said you were mad. I’ve never been involved in mass protest before. Now I feel completely committed,” she said.

Students, teachers, and housewives are taking part. Men are welcomed as visitors but discouraged from becoming residents. “We are not sexist or separatists. While there is the threat of eviction we don’t want men living here. That way the council cannot suggest we are offering violent resistance.”

The women spend most of the day round the communal fire in a makeshift marquee of polythene and tarpaulin. A group of nine women and three children have just arrived from Wales to oppose the eviction.

Mr Brian Thetford, the council’s chief executive, said yesterday that the council would probably decide whether to enforce the eviction next week. The women are talking to lawyers and hoping to exploit confusion about the ownership of the land. If the police come, they plan passive resistance.