30 November 1983 – 24 April 1984
I was already very interested in politics, both national and international, and my diary from 1983-1984 is a blend of normal teenage interests and more unusual entries, such as on 19th November 1983: ‘Andropov is sinking fast, he hasn’t been seen in public since August. Is he alive or is he dead? Things have really been getting tough for Yasser Arafat this week. He has retreated to Tripoli with the remnants of his supporters.’
Thursday 24th November 1983
I have started a file on murders in Northern Ireland – on Sunday three people were killed while at church (Prot.) I hope that I won’t have to add to it very often!
My faith in human nature has been restored somewhat by news from Palestine. The Israelites have exchanged almost 5000 Lebanese prisoners for six of their soldiers! Long live the individual!
Literally hundreds have been arrested, this last week for protesting about Cruise. Both at Greenham and in London. About 80 were arrested yesterday in Bonn for civil disobedience as well! Norway (Tory gov.) supported Cruise and Pershing II by only one vote, as the Tory gov. threatened to resign! The West German opposition is totally opposed to the new bombs, but was unable to stop the gov. passing a pro-Nuke resolution.
Somebody had some sextuplets (all girls!) at the weekend – who are the first surviving in Britain.
It has been absolutely freezing for the last few days – the water on my window froze into ridges the other day! Now it has got slightly warmer – and wet.’
Sunday 11th December 1983
I went to Greenham Common today with some women from Rugby. We assembled behind ‘Texas’ Homecare shop, off Corporation Street at 8.45 am and arrived at our destination at about 11 am, after stopping at the Little Chef in Newbury for a cup of coffee.
When we got there I went around with Marion, Anne and Francoise (whom I hadn’t met before). First we headed for the main gate (from Orange Gate), speaking to a very pleasant camper on the way. She had been camping outside the Orange Gate for three months in a ‘bender’. This interesting construction consists of saplings bent over to make a sort of frame, over which sheets of plastic, etc. are draped. The floor is covered in plastic inside and the bender is insulated with blankets. Near to ground-level there is a gap serving as a door.
We ate lunch near to the main entrance and at 1 o’clock the hourly ‘noise’ started. Every hour, on the hour, everybody made a noise, either whooping, whistling, or playing an instrument.
On the way back to the Orange Gate we witnessed the pulling down of a large section of fence. The atmosphere was absolutely electric! Everyone not actually involved was either shouting or singing one of the ‘peace songs’ such as, “We are Women.” At first there were only two or three police on our side of the fence, and some squaddies on the other. When the fence came down some women scrambled over but more soldiers arrived and caught them. We saw ‘our’ camper in the thick of the fray. The police were really rattled. They just didn’t know how to cope with hundreds of women singing, and others yanking at the fence! Some were quite decent about pulling women off the fence, and helping them up if they fell over – however I saw one pull a woman off and throw her into the mud. You could see from their expressions that some of the police were scared, almost! If that hadn’t been a non-violent demo there could have been a blood-bath – feelings were running so high. As we walked away four great big, burly policemen rushed past with some muddy little woman between them!
At the Orange Gate entrance we saw an ambulance arriving – it may have been for the one casualty – a policeman knocked out by a falling post!
Here I helped attack the fence. Just before five we got a whispered message to attack on the hour. Unfortunately the crowds seemed to melt away around us leaving just three of us! (me, Anne and Marion). There was a group of inspectors having a chat nearby as well as the statutory coppers. So at five we made a feeble attempt (me. Anne and Marion) and were quickly repulsed. They must have been taken in (I certainly was) and moved on so we all three were able to have a better go, a little later on. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to pull it down, but had a good go. One policeman tried to pull me off, but I hung on for what seemed like ages at the expense of my fingers, before letting go. The others did the same.
About 40,000 women turned up to mark the fourth anniversary of the decision to site Cruise in Britain by NATO.
What amazed me most was how easily the fence came down – all we had to do was to swing on it!
They had got some extra-lethal wire with razor-blades instead of barbs in great big rolls inside the fence.
One soldier was extremely uncouth and swore at Anne for throwing an apple into the hedge for the hedgehogs!
I will write more tomorrow!
Monday 12th December 1983
I learnt this morning that 64 women were arrested yesterday. They (the Daily Mail) also said that somebody whipped a horse with barbed wire. I don't believe it.
I am really glad that I went, it was very satisfying to see so many with one cause. We are now considered ‘Greenham Common Women’ for having taken part. I am proud of this – but hope that another demo will not be necessary!’
Following this visit I wrote to the Rugby Advertiser and the letter was published. I kept the clipping in my diary:
‘Last Sunday I was one of about 25 women from Rugby taking part in the demonstration at Greenham Common. We were protesting about the siting of Cruise Missiles in Britain, with the focus on those situated at Greenham.
Many of those reading this letter will have watched the shortened version of ‘The Day After’ at the weekend (the original was 4 hours 10 minutes long!) and will have been horrified by the suffering portrayed in this fictional film.
It is exactly this that CND and other anti-nuclear groups aim to prevent. We believe that the ten billion pounds spent on Cruise alone (this represents over two and a half thousand pounds for every employed person in Britain), could be put to better use in creating more jobs, providing better welfare services, etc.
Europe and the rest of the world are balanced on the edge of mass suicide in the form of nuclear war. It is not too late to revers NATO’s decision to load Britain, ‘the unsinkable aircraft carrier’, with American missiles. Act now to save yourself and future generations.
Miss J. Howard, 21 Edgecote Close, Hillmorton, Rugby. ‘
At the end of 1983 I wrote my own obituary of the year and my plans for 1984. These in full were:
- to go to Hamburg and visit Britta (my penfriend).
- Camp at Greenham Common
- Attend the National Youth CND conference in Frebuary
- Get to see parliament in session at long last!
- Join the Labour Party.
- Pass all exams (creep!)
- Make a walking tour of the Dorset Coast or somewhere equally interesting
- Die, if necessary, under the wheels of the Cruise convoy vehicles.’
On 8th January 1984 I wrote in my diary about how I was in dire financial straits (I didn't have a regular job just money from ringing church bells at weddings and from washing up glasses at the British Legion club in the village where I lived. However there weren't so many weddings in the winter and the club seemed to be fully staffed), but I was thinking ahead: ‘I’ve decided that when I’m old and Britain, at least, is nuclear-free, I’m going to call my memoirs something really corny like ‘Diary of a Peace Protestor’ or ‘How blest are the Peacemakers…’
Friday 13th January 1984
‘Last night I had part of a letter which I wrote read out on ‘Any Answers?’ radio programme. This is my “first blow for sanity” of 1984. I’m going to aim for getting something published at least once a month. The letter was about the cost of travel to the Soviet Union for Peace Protesters ‘comme moi-meme’. I was extremely angry when I wrote it – which shows! So far I have a 100% success rate with Any Questions?, the Advertiser and a 66% success rate with the Daily Mail.’
At this time two Reading men with experience in house evictions were hired by Newbury District Council in an attempt to remove camps set up by women protesters on Greenham Common. The two men, reportedly costing Newbury ratepayers £250 per week, were engaged ‘to enforce new bylaws preventing camping on common land adjoining the airbase at Greenham in Berkshire.’ This report was from the Guardian and I cut it out and stuck it in my diary. I noted that I had got into the habit of buying the Guardian whenever something happened down at Greenham (I had got sick of the biased reporting in our family paper the Daily Mail): I wrote: ‘Full time bailiffs have now been employed to eject the women. I hope that they are not successful.’
Wednesday 18th January 1984
I’m considering changing the spelling of my name to Juley as this is more original, etc. I don’t see why I should not. A certain sister of mine spells her name as Vicki, Vikky, Vicky, Viccci, etc. while she is actually called Victoria.
Greenham news appeared in the diary for Saturday 21st January 1984: ‘A woman magistrate was dismissed because she was arrested (and charged about £20) at Greenham, for Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA).
Green camp has been pulled down by the Newbury authorities. It is terrible! They took away all of the benders. I hope they will set up camp again. The Mail report shows that their spirits have not been dowsed by this set-back.
There are rumours that one of the American soldiers fired a shot at a MOD employee’s car in the base. Obviously the military have discounted this report from the Labour Shadow Defence spokesman. Will we ever know the truth?
My commitment to Greenham was growing during that winter and in February I went to stay for a few days at half term. In my diary I wrote, ‘It was so sad to go.' I had found the women so friendly and loved the atmosphere in the camp.
In March I wrote that I was “knitting squares for a blanket, for the bender which I am going to build one day! I need about two hundred – and I am on my seventeenth!” I did manage to go for the weekend of 10th and 11th March after bunking off school on Friday afternoon and wrote about the goings-on at the camp but I was struggling with the coming and going:
Pat gave me a lift to Newbury via various camps on the way, which was nice of her. I felt really glum. We stopped at the Little Chef for a cup of tea before the train came, although women from the Peace Camps were supposed to be banned. Unfortunately the train came and I caught it and got back in this house at 12.15am this morning.
I have got very bad withdrawal symptoms now, although I’m plotting my next trip down. I left a message on a loo wall in Reading asking for a lift down if anyone’s coming my way! I’m going to try my best to get a lift down if at all possible from any of Rugby Women’s Peace Group, CND or something.
Margaret was telling me about the penalties of breaking the law under the age of eighteen. There is no max borstal sentence and they could keep you in until the age of 21 years! One woman was given 60 days, whereas all 18+s were getting 14 days. If I ever get caught I’m giving a false name. I’m going to look up a postcode to an address, get a donor card (with false info) etc. and carry them with me at Greenham. I’m glad that I was told this. Margaret got £50 fine and £10 costs on Friday. They also insisted on giving her 14 days to pay. The Crown Court case is on 2nd April so I want to go down the weekend before.”
By 18th March 1984 ‘my blanket is coming on quite well. I have 56 squares now, and I need around 150 in all. I’m going to put some pockets in it, as well as knitting either “Julie, Orange Camp” or “Julie, Orange Gate” into it. I’m planning to end the knitting bit before I go to Hamburg so that I can sew it up on the ferry. ‘
Letter from American Sally 21st March 1984
The Greenham women were supportive, sending me news about Greenham and encouraging me ‘in my relative isolation’. Sally ‘and the Orange Gate Women’ wrote to me on 21st March to send ‘lots of love and support. Come back as soon as you can BUT don’t forget that the work you’re doing at home is JUST AS IMPORTANT. It really helps morale to hear that the peace movement is alive all over England and the world.’ This letter evidences the way the bailiffs’ evictions were hanging over the women at the camp: ‘Blue, Violet and Indigo have had a rough time, bailiffs have been brutal - one woman was hit near the eye by something a bailiff threw at her, police refused to deal (then a woman was nicked for throwing milk at a bailiff), and another woman was knocked into the fire – both were OK. Spirits are good there though, community and national support very strong, lots of women coming down, everyone pulling together. Jill has taken to sleeping in a Gortex (sleeping bag) at Red Gap with anybody else who she can harangue into coming along, so night watches have been pretty complete too. I rather wish we’d get evicted and get it over with for crying out loud – I’m sick of worrying about it! We’re prepared and we’ll manage fine, so don’t lose sleep over it. What’s losing a bender compared to having the whole planet evicted, after all?’
Monday 2nd April 1984
The previous Wednesday 28th March I had taken a rucksack with the bare essentials to school with me (e.g. wellies, knitting, toothbrush, sleeping bag). So directly after school instead of going home I could leave straight for Greenham. I hopped on a train and arrived at Orange Gate at about 8 o’clock. I stayed up until quite late with the night watch and then shared a damp tent (which we put up in the dark!) with a really nice woman called Christine who seemed to have pneumonia or something similar. I got into bed at about 12.15 am and was on the verge of dozing off at 12.45 am when we heard screams that the Cruise convoy had come out of Blue Gate. Within about 30 seconds I had got my coat and wellies on and was at the fire. After a short discussion we got into Jill’s car and zoomed around to Blue. (we’s me, Christine, Jill and Liz – a night watcher). Well, when we arrived at Blue we sat around the fire while Jill went off to collect others. The women there wanted to just stand and keen the convoy, their reasons for which I can appreciate now after the event. I sat there getting really tense, it felt as if a spring was being wound up inside my stomach. By about 3.30 am there were more than a hundred women, most of whom were singing in front of the gate. I went and joined them and chatted to some local supporters. Swindon CND had managed to track the convoy and were able to warn us 20 minutes before it came back.
I was standing by one edge of the gate when suddenly a load of policemen came charging at us. The first wave bundled most of the women away into a sort of police compound (subsequently known as a kettle), carrying, dragging and kicking women, then more police came, so I lent against the gate and linked my fingers through the grille. Two of them grabbed hold of me and tried to pull me off, then two more came and started yanking at me. They pulled me off and two of them carried me away. I had gone limp, then I was thrown on the floor and kicked. I was quite distressed and tried to scramble to my feet when a policeman grabbed hold of my hair and shoved me into the police compound. It was really horrible. Every woman was squashed together and I could not breathe properly. I just wept. It was so awful not being able to move at all, not even to put my hand in my pocket. Eventually the vehicles came back, I don’t know how many there were, I had my eyes closed for a lot of the time. Some woman, I think that it was Katrine, ran in front of one of the vehicles to pull a stupid face at the convoy. Annie and Judy parked their car across its way and glued up the locks, which actually stopped the convoy! I was really horrified by the police violence, they must have been really psyched up beforehand. They weren't acting like people. I went off with Anne, Jill and the night-watcher immediately afterwards then got back to Orange at around 4.45 am.’
In the morning there was a really good action at Yellow Gate, that Ginnette and Christine went to – but I alas did not! They stopped this NATO convoy from coming out of the base and pushed three lorries back in! The (peace campers') ambulance was then parked across the gate with the tyres let down and the locks glued up again and they lit a bonfire in the roadway! The police were all elsewhere, either at Stop the City, the GLC march, Liverpool or beating up a load of miners somewhere, so there weren’t enough to do anything about it. One woman was arrested but they had got the wrong woman so they let her go, but as the gate was jammed she had to climb out over the top!’
I got caught up in one of the evictions on the same day: ‘After lunch, when Ginnette and Christine had got back, we were evicted at Orange Gate. The muncher had started at Green and worked its way around as far as us by mid afternoon. We got a ten minute warning, so we managed to get all the tents down and everything from the rabbit meadow into survival bags. These we stashed in Jill’s car (an MG!), on Jill’s car, and some of us sat on a load of survival bags claiming them as our own personal property. Loads of stuff was taken from around the fire, but nothing really vital went. In a moment of panic I thought that my school bag, along with my bus pass, rail card, etc. had been munched, and went tearing around a corner to save it, fell into some brambles and gashed my hand open. They did not get hold of my bag. Some woman threw it into the back of Ginnette’s car, thank God!’
Although this video was taken some years (1990) later it gives the idea of the size of the Cruise Missile Convoy vehicles, that literally passed a few feet away from us at Blue Gate 28th March 1984.