Counter Cruise Cosmic Carnival July 1982

Greenham Festival @ Green Gate July 4th 1982

In 1982 loose plans were made for a Green Gathering at USAF Greenham Common, the proposed site for nuclear-armed Cruise missiles. It quickly became apparent, however, that there was insufficient time and energy to organise it, as well as the larger green gathering that was planned for Worthy Farm, near Glastonbury. Thus was the idea born for a free ‘bring what you expect to find’ Greenham Festival instead.

The start date was set for the Fourth of July, Independence Day, to make the point that it was the UK that was now occupied by large numbers of US military bases. It was agreed there would be no advertised finish date, in the hope that a permanent settlement might be established under cover of the festival.

The previous year a group of women had marched from Wales to Greenham and a women’s camp had been established at the main gate since September 1981. The idea was to support and extend the campaign by establishing an additional, this time ‘mixed’, camp.

The location was the Works entrance, where Fran De’Ath had been holding vigil, and providing cups of tea to the workers, and which had been labelled ‘Green Gate’.
1982 was the year the word 'green' was first used in the UK to describe a new broad  political movement that was emerging, and which embraced, in a broad informal coalition, the new social movements which had been growing since the 1960s (ecology, feminism, peace, alternative technology, animal rights, social justice de-centralisation etc) in a grassroots coming together.

What was planned as a small event changed dramatically with the arrival of a 'peace convoy' from Stonehenge Festival to USAF Greenham Common.

Convoy leaving Stonehenge to Greenham 1982

For a number of years the end of June had been the time when a convoy(s) of free festival travellers left Stonehenge, after a month of being there, and headed out around the country for the festival circuit. It had been termed 'the' convoy.

This was the context in which various folk, in 1982, spread the word that this year the convoy would be going to Greenham Common US airbase,  the first proposed site for the deployment of what was called 'first strike' Cruise missiles. Because it was believed that these new missiles could destroy the Soviet Union before they could launch their own it marked a major shift from the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) nuclear doctrine that existed before.

Brig Oubridge, Ecology Party member and one of those at Stonehenge who encouraged the convoy to Greenham, describes it as follows:-

“The Spring Equinox event attracted a lot of festival/Green Gathering types who were then also at Stonehenge for midsummer, and it was they who spread the idea of a ‘Peace Convoy’ from there to Greenham. Yes, I was one of them, but it takes a lot more than one person to spread an idea among thousands, and it wouldn’t have taken off if it did not accord with the zeitgeist and general desire to support the women in what they were doing.”

To reinforce the plan a stencil with the words 'peace convoy' was cut (possibly by a member of the Tibetan Ukrainian Mountain Troupe) and used to emblazen the sides of trucks and buses, and people's jackets. The idea was simple; to build momentum behind the idea that this year the convoy would be going to a free festival at USAF Greenham Common. This is how the ‘peace convoy’ concept was born. Festival listings and screen-printed posters were also circulated.

Thus it was that a convoy of 130 vehicles arrived at Greenham on June 30th with about 500 people on board. They took the site and formed the core of the festival that followed.

It should be said that by the mid-1980s, when Thatcherism had thrown thousands out of work, Stonehenge Free Festival had grown substantially and become quite a wild place. As Brig says:- “the previous informal non-organisation network suddenly had more than it could  comfortably handle” . After 1980 Wiltshire police’s laid-back hands-off approach changed. “They were as taken aback by the mushrooming of it as much as anyone else, and thereafter attempted a more pro-active stance, which was then resisted to the extent that police entering the site would be followed around by a large jeering crowd and made to feel uncomfortable.” 

Stonehenge Free Festival attracted thousands of people and by the end of June many felt quite distant from, and unbound by, the normal conventions of society. So the scene was set for a different kind of encounter...

On arrival at Greenham the peace convoy found Newbury District Council had dug trenches across the entrance to the site -officially the Works Entrance- and the police were there blocking the way with a van. This was swiftly dealt with. With the numbers of people available, the van, with policemen inside, was easily lifted out of the way and the trenches backfilled -the council having left the earth conveniently dumped nearby. In this way the site taken and the festival begun.

Raising the Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe tent at Greenham 1982

The local council decided, despite howls of local opposition, that it wouldn't take immediate action (which would have been legally long-winded in any case) and would wait for the festival to come to an end. Some activists, however, hoped they could persuade enough people to stay on to form a permanent peace settlement. 

Green CND, which had been formed as Ecology Party CND at the previous year's Green Gathering, and was involved in plans for the festival, had been active around Greenham Common that summer and had named the Works Entrance Green Gate, largely because of the woodland that surrounded it but also because of the large open space in front of the entrance which activists had already identified as suitable for camps and possibly a green gathering. 

When I visited the site I stayed in the back of Brig Oubridge's truck, from where he published the Greenham Free Press, a newsheet that kept everyone on site in touch with what was going on. This space was also designated Green CND's on-site office. Green CND, with newly acquired specialist section status, was the one part of CND that had good contact with elements of the new age traveller community, largely through relationships established at the green gatherings.

Most of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, however, were from more conventional backgrounds and viewed what was going on with suspicion. On July 3rd members of the settlement travelled up to London to address CND's national officers. The executive gave notional support but no funds or practical help. 

It was from Brig's truck, the next day, on July 4th, that the Declaration of Independence of the People's Peace Settlement at Greenham was published. Written as a pastiche of the original US Declaration of Independence it decried the occupation of 'the countries of Britain' "by the armed forces of a foreign power, the United States of America. An occupation for which the consent of the British people has never been sought or given."  It concluded with the rousing declaration that "we are left with no alternative but to throw off the power of both these governments (USA & UK) and to declare here at Greenham Common THE PEOPLES FREE STATE OF GREENHAM" and an invitation to 'all people who care for peace, freedom and the continuance of life to rally here in peace to oppose the forces of death and destruction.'

The Androids of Mu performing at Greenham 1982

Soon after this there was a full moon and total lunar eclipse, when the moon was due to pass through the centre of the Earth's shadow -obviously a good moment to throw a party.. A stage was erected, supplies brought in and word sent out. The moment I most remember was dawn the next morning. After a night of wildness and as the sun rose, with the moon still up, the Sisters of Mu, a powerful all female hard rock band, blasted the base at top volume. It was more than enough to send a tremor of excitement up my 24 year old spine. Anything was possible. We would win this campaign...

 It was during this night that a small hole was cut in the fence and some construction vehicles imaginatively 'decorated'. By dawn a large section of the wire fence had also been torn down.

The MOD police over-reacted, rushing in mobile searchlights and bulldozers, and tearing down about an acre of trees on the inside of the fence. It was this revengeful act against trees that then provoked some folk to take sledgehammers to the reinforced concrete fence posts surrounding the base and demolish 65 of them, bringing down another section of the perimeter fence.

The only person identified as being responsible for this action was Kevin Hutton of the tipi community in Wales, who later received eight months for the ‘offence’. Others rumoured to have taken part included members of the Tibetan Ukrainian Mountain Troupe (TUMT), Britain's surreal answer to America's Merry Pranksters, who were touring festivals in a collection of psychedelically painted old buses.

 For many years we had debated whether physical damage to property should be seen as 'violent' and whether we, as a nonviolent movement, should eschew such tactics. This action, however, was spontaneous and was undertaken in response to the MOD's eco-vandalism. Whether the action broke a taboo will be debated but from this point on holes in the fence, damage, decoration of the fence and incursions into the base became common features of the campaign.

The next day, on the 9th, six people were arrested, at random, for the action, and a seventh for obstruction, in an over the top raid by some 400 police, no doubt responding to a request from the Americans to 'do something'. The police claimed they had photographic evidence but only one of those arrested had actually taken part in the action. Most were arrested at random.

On Monday July 12th those arrested appeared in Newbury Magistrates Court where six were remanded in custody and the one charged with obstruction conditionally discharged. The 'Greenham Seven' then became the object of a support campaign, organised by Brig, to raise funds for legal costs and fines.

On Friday 16th the Seven (with the addition of a separate criminal damage case) again appeared in court. Three were given bail immediately and four got it after an appeal by Lord Gifford QC. At the Green Gathering later that month the support campaign raised money, via the newsheet Green Hum, to cover anticipated fines.

All seven later appeared in court, synchronistically on Hiroshima Day August 6th, where they were fined and released.

The whole episode apparently quite spooked the US Embassy who complained to CND that they were being attacked with petrol bombs (totally untrue) and bows and arrows!.. Did the tipis remind them of something?.. Rather predictably, however, CND responded that the action had nothing to do with them. Joan Ruddock, chair of CND, was quoted in Radiator magazine as saying that 'the position of CND is now not so clear because of the events occurring since our last meeting.'

One peace settler,  quoted in the Radiator, said he 'found it appalling that no one CND representative has come to this site to see and feel what is really going on here. Disappointment hardly seems the appropriate word to describe my feelings...'

July 18th was the day the convoy moved on, with other festivals beckoning. Around 150 people remained but dreams of a permanent settlement were fading.

It was also the day when the News of the World (circulation 4 million plus) published its notorious 'Sex and Drugs at the Peace Camp' story - interestingly the only national media outlet to report at all on what was happening. 

The Greenham Festival had a few signs openly advertising illegal drugs, in a way that was actually quite usual at free festivals at the time. It was, however, also a gift to anyone who wanted to smear the festival/peace movement. On cue the NoW reporter appeared. His report was a masterpiece of fabrication, with a doctored photo showing more drug signs than there actually were, and beginning with a statement that  'Anything goes at a sex and drugs hippy colony' and 'in the evening there are orgies round the campfire'. In calling the ‘festival’ a ‘peace camp’ the paper was trying to smear all peace camps in the same way tabloids later called all new age travellers a ‘peace convoy’ in an attempt, by implication, to smear the peace movement as a whole.

Alternating mud and dust, compounded by a lack of external support and the lure of the Green Gathering saw the rest drift away during the following week and by the 26th there were just ten people left. They too soon left. Over at the Green Gathering Brig was publishing the last editions of the Greenham Free Press and raising funds for the Greenham Seven fines. Greenham Festival had ended and hopes of a permanent settlement postponed for another day.

For the vast majority of those who came from Stonehenge the Counter Cruise Cosmic Carnival was, as Brig says, “never going to be anything other than a passing stop on the annual d-i-y free festival circuit as an alternative to the previous favourite of Inglestone Common.”  For many of the women at the main gate camp the festival, or the controversy it brought, was counter-productive.

For Green activists Greenham Festival was an invaluable dry run for the occupation of USAF Molesworth, the second Cruise missile base, two years later. All the same ingredients were there; a squatted site, travellers taking the site, the attempt to create a permanent settlement, nonviolent direct action, media silence, a smear campaign and CND ambivalence.

The difference, of course, was that by the time we got to Molesworth we knew what we were doing and were successful in our goal of opening a new front in the campaign and creating a massive eviction that led the news across all media, generated a debate in Parliament and embarrassed the Defence Secretary, Michael Hesseltine.

Ultimately, of course, nuclear-armed Cruise deployment was stopped and the Cold War came to an end. We were successful.

Chris Waite shot material at Stonehenge and the Greenham Festival in 1982 using an 8mm film camera. You can see his video here on Vimeo. The convoy departure from Stonehenge starts around 2 mins in and the Greenham segment is from about 4:30 including shots of the demolished fence.

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