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Mothering Sunday and reflections on the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp


Mothering Sunday and reflections on the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp

Image: By ceridwen, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Dr Janet Melville-Wiseman explores how the women of the Greenham Common Peace Camp stood against NATO for the sake of their children and all children of the future.

This Sunday we celebrate mothers and mothering. Cards and flowers will be given and received and meals shared. For many this will be a welcome opportunity to thank individuals for the nurturing love and care they have provided for children. For some though, it may awaken challenging feelings about difficult mother child relationships and require tough choices about whether to join in celebrations or stay away. For others it may be a day of sadness or filled with painful memories of loss or yearning – children who have lost mothers, mothers who have lost children or women longing to be mothers. Some may experience a sense of alienation from these celebrations as their mothering is unrecognised being centred on informal care of children or their loving care of pets. Central to all of these complex relational circumstances though is the recognition that mothers and mothering are a critical part of our collective human experience.

In 1981 a group of women and their children left their homes in Wales and walked the hundred miles to Greenham Common in Berkshire to protest against the decision by NATO to allow the US to site 96 nuclear missiles there pointing at the Soviet Union. Each missile had the power of five Hiroshima bombs.  Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was seen by NATO as the best deterrent against nuclear war. However, the women disagreed and were determined to do something to end this for the sake of their children and children of the future. They embarked on a campaign of collective mothering of children everywhere.

They originally intended to generate a public debate but soon realised more was needed and so established a women only peace camp at the main gate to the site. They were driven by tangible fear and terror that there would be no survivors if the missiles were ever launched and the inevitable retaliation instigated. At the same time the government issued guidance leaflets on how to barricade yourself under your stairs should a nuclear war occur.

Word spread and mothers, grandmothers, children and young women joined as further camps were set up around the base. Creative methods were used to escalate the protest including hanging children’s clothes and toys on the perimeter fence, and crocheting large spiders’ webs with wool and entwining themselves to the fence and to each other. They also dressed up as characters in children’s stories and invaded the base and danced on the silos housing the missiles. But one of the most powerful symbolic acts was to issue a call to (link) arms and surround the base with peaceful love. 30,000 women arrived and encircled the 12 miles of the perimeter fence. 

During the next ten years the women continued to protest peacefully and to bear witness to our collective fears. Eventually they succeeded and in 1991 the last nuclear missiles went back to the US and nuclear treaties were signed to reduce proliferation.

So this Mothering Sunday let us also celebrate the determination, ingenuity, and courage of a group of women and mothers who became Greenham Women and their legacy of the transformative power of peaceful collective mothering. 

Dr Janet Melville-Wiseman is Principal Lecturer in Social Work and Chair of the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUCSWEC)

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