A memory of Greenham by Sandra Horn
Recently, my daughter sent me the link to an
article about the women of Greenham. I had never camped there, but had visited
a few times for demonstrations and to show solidarity. I had three small
children at the time and a husband working somewhat more than full-time, and
would not have dreamed of leaving them. I remember an elderly Friend saying
words to the effect that clean clothes and brushing teeth wouldn’t matter when
the bomb went off. True, but until then, the small mundanities of life must go
on, I thought. There were women at the camp who had left families behind; there
was also some talk of women who had fled unhappy relationships. I don’t know
about that. I just know that they were all much braver then I was, to uproot
themselves and live in challenging (to say the least of it) conditions in order
to bear witness to the evil of the base and protest against it loudly,
disruptively and consistently. I honour them. I have one caveat: a young father
took his children to the creche so that his wife could be a presence with the
other women surrounding the fence. He was denied entry because he was a man.
That has always rankled. Tarring all men with the same brush is not far from
all Jews, Blacks, etc. Divisive and inhuman.
My daughter’s message with the link said ‘I’m so
proud of you,’ but all I had done didn’t amount to much compared with the peace
camp women – a few short days of joining with others to add weight of numbers
and my voice. That’s all. On one occasion we tied things that were precious to
us all along the fence – photos of loved ones, babies’ toys, bootees… to show what would be lost in a nuclear war. On
another, mirrors were hung all along it, facing inwards, to reflect the evil
back inside. There was always singing. On one Sunday morning, a bunch of
Quakers found a flat, green spot to hold Meeting for Worship. We stood in a
circle, holding hands and many of us closed our eyes. We opened them again
smartly when we started to sink into the bog! Meeting ended in gales of
laughter. One of my friends had gone to find a more conventional way of
worship, or so she hoped. She could hear familiar hymn tunes and went to join
in. She came back later rather pink in the face, to report that ‘they had
changed the words and were referring to God as She.’ Unlike our bog adventure,
she didn’t find it funny.
On the last occasion, I wasn’t with a group. A dear friend wanted to visit and hadn’t managed to up to then, so we went together. It was the day the fence came down, pulled and pushed by a vast chain of women until it was flat on the ground. The base had been breached. The women were jubilant. It was amazing and frightening and wonderful all at once. Now what?A mass invasion? No, just the demonstration of how vulnerable the place was to people determined to get in.
Diana, my friend, and I decided to walk the perimeter to see how far the destruction went. Every now and then, at long intervals, there was an armed soldier on the other side. We came across one who looked incredibly young. There were no others in sight. We smiled at him cheerily across the flattened fence. He muttered a bitter ‘Thank you.’ ‘Are you going to shoot us, then?’ we asked him, cockily. He didn’t answer. We walked on. That encounter has stuck with me all this time, by far my most vivid memory of Greenham. I’m not proud of it. My daughter’s message brought it into sharp relief once again. Predictably, I’m afraid, I wrote a poem about it. Writing does not exorcise bad feelings, but in revisiting a difficult episode and putting it into words, there is a certain measure of recognition, perhaps of late and misplaced apology.
by Abi Horn
Greenham Common flashback: breaking the fence
He was cradling it in his arms.
Cradling it like a child
held against his chest.
Cradling it as a new father might,
awkward, unsure. How to keep it safe,
keep it away from harm?
Cradling it in the crook of his arm,
his other hand cupped underneath –
not loose, for fear of dropping it,
not tight, for fear of hurt.
Cradling the dense, black gun;
his back straight, stiff, feet planted square,
his gaze flicking between us, back and forth,
as we drew level with him
across the shattered fence.
Cradling it as if it was too much,
too hard, too heavy, all at once –
as, if he could only put it down,
put the thing down and walk away,
he would. But, a soldier, he could not.
‘Are you going to shoot us, then?’ we mocked.
Cradling the black weapon, he shifted it in his arms.
Was that a threat, or could he be afraid ?
He looked so young, alone,
guarding the shattered fence
against two women, middle-aged,
facing him, defiant, jubilant
Cradling the lethal thing, he gave us no reply
(so young and so alone he was, guarding the shattered fence)
while we stood mocking, from the other side,
so sure we were of safety. We would not be shot.
We were women, this was England, after all.
We were victorious and we were many.
He with his gun, defenceless.
I wish we had not mocked the lad.