We are all poorer for the death of Helen John on 5 November, a long-time nuclear disarmament and anti-war campaigner. Many readers will recall meeting Helen at labour movement events, including lobbying successive Labour conferences.
Best known as a co-founder of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp where she lived for many years in the 1980s, Helen also set up camp at Menwith Hill, the US spy base near Harrogate, and later at RAF Waddington in Lincoln, the main operating base for UK drones. She was a dedicated direct actionist, challenging militarism and asserting her right to protest until ill health called a halt to her protests.
Her nuclear disarmament journey began in Wales when she joined a handful of mainly women marchers on a100-mile trek from Cardiff, the location of a factory that produced nuclear warhead components, to the Greenham Common airbase near Newbury in 1981. A few of the women decided to stay, and set up what later became the women’s peace camp.
Helen was one of them. A few weeks later she visited Labour Party conference to raise support. They were warmly welcomed by the many nuclear disarmers there. Helen later recalled meeting Walter Wolfgang, now Labour CND chair: ‘Walter was the very first person there to support us. I’d never met him before. He was beaming all over his face as he put £20 in my collecting tin.’
Helen inspired activists – young and old, women and men – for over three decades. A deeply committed feminist, who railed against the attacks on Greenham women. While it was acceptable for men to leave their families to go off to fight war, she said, women who left their families to fight for peace were vilified.
Her extensive and diverse experiences were brought to bear on CND, where she served first as a National Councillor and then as a Vice-Chair, 2001-4. She was present, on behalf of CND, at the founding meeting of the Stop the War Coalition in October 2001.
Helen John was an indefatigable campaigner, in North America, Europe and beyond as well as in Britain. She is remembered and mourned by thousands of activists whose lives she touched.