Greenham women keep the faith

LITTLE had been heard of the anti-nuclear women of Greenham Common since the last cruise missile was withdrawn and the base decommissioned two years ago. Until last week, that is.

Then, three current residents of Blue Gate and Green Gate camps joined banner-waving protesters who climbed into the grounds of Buckingham Palace to publicise nuclear weapons testing in the homelands of the Western Shoshone Indian tribe in Nevada.

It was a striking reminder that the three women's camps which used to attract 50,000 campaigners to the Berkshire airfield in the Eighties are still in existence.

Their presence outside the fences had appeared even more redundant when the Ministry of Defence announced earlier this year that it planned to sell off parts of the empty 800-acre base and restore public access to the common. But Yvonne Eyre, one of the Buckingham Palace trio, argues that the camps are as relevant now as when they were set up in 1981.

'I have no confidence in Clinton saying he will end nuclear testing - I will only be satisfied when nuclear weapons are abolished,' she said, as a chill wind fluttered a banner on the fence. Ms Eyre came to Greenham in 1984 for two weeks, and stayed for two years. She has been back on and off ever since.

As well as adopting the Shoshone's cause, she actively opposes nuclear testing in the Pacific and British nuclear warhead convoys, and has visited former Yugoslavia to assist women there. In dolphin-patterned leggings, Dr Marten's boots and sporting the deep tan of someone who spends much time outdoors, she said: 'Some people say why don't we go home now cruise is gone, but where do you go when this is your home?'

Home to the dozen or so women of Blue Gate camp is half a dozen tents, two or three battered vehicles, and a pair of sofas arranged around a wood fire beneath a canopy of plastic sheeting. Over at Yellow Gate the two caravans which comprise the camp had been pushed back into place after an eviction by Newbury District Council.

Katrina Howse, a permanent resident at Yellow Gate since August 1982, is seeking a judicial review to prevent the council from ordering the caravans off permanently. Yellow Gate has few links with the other two camps but, like Ms Eyre, Ms Howse believes a sense of responsibility grew among Greenham women which could not be ignored once cruise had gone.

Her time is spent orchestrating non-violent direct action to disrupt Trident submarine warheads travelling from the nearby atomic weapons establishment at Burghfield to Faslane naval base in Scotland. She has served 18 prison terms as a result.

'People who don't understand why we are still here have no idea of the responsibility you take on when you start working against nuclear weapons,' she said. 'You can't just throw that down, it's a lifetime commitment.'

Few local people support the women. Nancy Halfhide, whose detached home is less than 100 yards from Blue Gate camp, suspects the women are still at the camps because they have nothing better to do. She said: 'We wanted to sell our house - this place is too large for me and my husband - but we can't because of the camp. They have changed the goalposts to give them a reason to stay.'