Helen Thomas Memorial: the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp

Plaque dedicated to Helen Thomas
Helen Wyn Thomas, aged 22

Helen Wyn Thomas was a Welsh peace activist from Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire, remembered for her work championing peace in many forms. Having worked for Cardiff Women’s Aid, Helen went on to protest against nuclear weapons at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. In 1989, aged only 22, Helen was killed after being hit by a police vehicle, her death controversially deemed an accident at inquest. 

There are many memorials dedicated to Helen, and a memorial was held onsite in 2010 at Greenham Common attended by many, including Welsh folk singer Dafydd Iwan. Helen is remembered for her efforts to promote peace and reject violence, and this is captured in the words written on the plaque dedicated to her. 

CND Cymru ‘Heddwch’ Magazine Cover, March 1981 (Temple Archives)

The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp

The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was initiated in 1981 by a group of women marching from Newport, Cardiff and the Valleys to a US military weapons base in Berkshire – the march of ‘women for life on earth’.

The march for peace from Cardiff to Greenham Common was the idea of Ann Pettitt and three other women supporters of CND Cymru. Inspired by Scandinavian women who were planning to march from Copenhagen to Paris during the summer to draw attention to the nuclear threat overshadowing their lives, the group of 4 in Wales decided to organise a similar march – Not from one large city to another, but through smaller places to Greenham Common, at that time a little-known American air base. The march was to last ten days, and cover over 110 miles. Greenham Common was the chosen destination because of the decision to house 96 nuclear cruise missiles at the base, to become operational by December 1983. Cruise missiles are weapons designed to carry nuclear bombs fifteen times as powerful as the one which destroyed Hiroshima. The march was to be a protest against the siting of cruise missiles in Britain.

The organisers envisaged a small core group of mainly women and children (35 to 50), who would walk all the way, gathering support en route. Walking, as a form of direct action, was thought to be a simple and old-fashioned way of spreading their message and meeting people to exchange ideas. The message of the march would be a call for disarmament and a plea for a peaceful world. Between 40 and 60 women joined the march from South Wales to Berkshire. But as the government ignored their requests for consultation, so the women remained and the Greenham Common peace camp became established… for 19 years it acted as a focus for many thousands of people to express their opposition to cruise missiles and all weapons of mass destruction.

Greenham has become an incredibly important part of Wales’ peace heritage story; and Helen remains one of the women’s movements most prominent figureheads.

Helen’s Tree in Wales’ National Garden of Peace