Object of the Month – Greenham Common Banner
September’s Object of the Month is our ever-popular Greenham Common Banner
The banner is from the Women’s Action for Disarmament march, which consisted of thirty-six women, from the Women for Life on Earth group, four men and several small children. The large banner includes a hand drawn map of the 110 mile route they took from Cardiff to Greenham Common, in Berkshire. The march took them ten days and ended on the 5th September 1981, thirty-four years ago this month. Since then the banner has been kindly donated to the museum and now has pride of place at the top of our permanent exhibition on campaigns for nuclear disarmament, for all visitors to view.
The march led to the establishment of the Greenham Common camp which remained a prominent site throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. The thousands of individuals, mostly women, who travelled to the camp over the years, opposed the British government’s decision to allow the Americans to base cruise missiles at RAF Greenham Common.
The US Air Force had been utilising the base throughout the Cold War, which saw the size and power of both sides nuclear arsenals increase dramatically, despite the devastation the weapons caused in August 1945. As the arsenals have grown, simultaneously protests against nuclear weapons have been ongoing since the 1950s. However the cruise missiles were a new addition at Greenham Common in the early 1980s and they provided a clear focus for the campaigners. The crowds gathered to challenge and undermine the military establishment.
Eventually, after nearly ten years of blockading the camp, shaking the fences and facing arrest, the cruise missiles were removed from Greenham Common in March 1991. Their withdrawal came over a year after the destruction of Berlin Wall began in November 1989, though nine months before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. The RAF site closed soon after in 1993, though the activists’ camp remained until 2000 and it persists as a prominent symbol of the disarmament movement and women’s activism to this day.
Though nuclear weapons are less prominent in the general consciousness in 2015 than they were during the Cold War, the threat they pose remains huge, and consequently many individuals and groups still campaign for disarmament today. For example, protest activity around Aldermaston, where Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment is based, has been ongoing since the First Easter March in 1958. Information about both the Aldermaston and Greenham Common marches can be found our museum’s permanent display, and we have a further ongoing exhibit about women’s activism for visitors to enjoy.
Written by Sophie Campbell. Sophie volunteered at the museum over the summer between finishing an Undergraduate History Degree at Lancaster University and beginning a MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Leeds.