12th December 1982 Greenham Common Peace Women ‘Embrace the Base’

30,000 women join hands in peaceful protest. Beautiful.


The 12th December 1982 was cold. Not really the kind of day to be hanging about outside unless there is something you really have to do. But there was something that I and thousands of other women really, really had to do.

In 1981, the world was in the grip of the Cold War. To counter the threat posed by the Soviet Union, Thatcher’s Tory Government allowed the US to station 96 nuclear missiles at the RAF’s Greenham Common Airbase in Berkshire. Each missile carried four times as much force as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Some were horrified at the thought of such destructive power on British soil. And for 36 women from Cardiff it was too much. They marched from South Wales to the airbase to protest.

They established a Peace Camp at the gates, and were soon joined by many others. They cut perimeter fences, lay down in front of vehicles, blockaded entrances and let the world know that US missiles were not welcome.

On that chilly December day the Greenham Women had invited all-comers to join them to ‘Embrace the base’: to face the potential threat of nuclear destruction with a peaceful, loving embrace. It was a call-to-arms I, then aged 19, could not resist. And so I joined a twelve-mile-long chain of mostly women 30,000 strong. I stood hand in hand with them around the perimeter fence, singing, chanting, protesting. It was in this spirit that the Peace Camp was womanned for 19 years.

This is the way we women have always done it: sit-ins, chaining ourselves to railings, not giving up our seats on buses, standing calmly and quietly in the way of things we know to be wrong, even at the risk of arrest, beatings or being killed by passing racehorses.

Despite the women’s best efforts, in 1983 the first missiles arrived. During the 1980s the political climate thawed and by 1991 all the missiles had gone. All this time, the determined sorority dug in to continue their protest against nuclear weapons.

The bombs came and went anyway. Some might say the women made no difference. But the legacy of the Greenham women is more subtle than a slogan on a placard. The government had argued that the weapons were deployed as a deterrent. What the women exposed was that if that deterrent failed, secretly the Americans planned to fight their nuclear war in Europe and not their own territory. And most of all, they forced people to ask themselves what kind of a world do we want to live in?

So what kind of a world DO we want to live in?

In the face of climate change, dwindling natural resources and global over-population this is a question we are still asking. Today’s young women, many of who are fighting against the spiralling cost of a decent tertiary education, would do well to remember the long and proud history of women’s protest. Patience, determination and resilience, Sisters! It’s what got us the vote.

[Written by Jane Tomlinson]

This entry was posted in Dissent, Heroines. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to 12th December 1982 – Greenham Common Peace Women ‘Embrace the Base’

  1. Auntie Val says:

    Beautifully written piece, Jane. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

  2. Paul says:

    I spent a bit of time at Upper Heyford peace camp somewhere around that time. I was 16 years old, and becoming increasingly politicised. Noisy bloody places for sure. I know some people criticised the Women only stance taken by the campaigners at Greenham, but it gave it a political edge that other camps just didn’t possess somehow. Both Greenham and Upper Heyford are now derelict. The runway of Upper Heyford is used to store new cars by the looks of things. But Greenham common will be synonymous with peaceful protest for years to come.

  3. Steve says:

    I helped set up upper heyfotd peace camp with maggie and others in 1982. If any of the wonderful people who supported us Wang to get in touch that would be lovely. Email. Kimandstevepb@hotmail.com. Steve

  4. Pingback: Standing on the threshold: banning nuclear weapons — DiaNuke.org

  5. Paul Wyrd says:

    I was on the “other side” around that time. I wasn’t in the military but didn’t like the protestors getting in the way of military plans and operations…

    There is a black and white mindset from the military view I believe. I never joined up, but did a few years as an air cadet (not the same of course, but the propaganda was a prelude to the military mindset) and that really painted an us versus them/goodie versus baddie perspective; not just re the “hippies”, but mainly concerning the Nato and Warsaw Pact forces.

    It took me a long time (and still requires effort at times) to break out of that subtle and arrogant indoctrination.

    Now I can see that the military and police are laws to themselves. Possible trojan horses. Brilliant, effective and powerful, but potentially very dangerous also…

  6. Rab Simpson says:

    This is the day I was born, and funnily enough I’m a feminist (gender equality for the people who don’t know what feminism is) with a serious problem with authority!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.