Hidden Cold War Women

Cold War Memories

Chapter 1

Lee Karen Stow
Please note: The online exhibitions are best viewed on desktop PC or laptop. Some images have been removed for mobile and tablet devices.
Senior Aircraftwoman (SACW) Rosemary 'Christine' Wright © Lee Karen Stow

I am an independent documentary photographer and current PhD Researcher on photography and forced displacement. Since 2007 when I met women in Sierra Leone displaced by a decade of civil war, I have devoted my practice to working alongside women affected by war and conflict.

Image: Senior Aircraftwoman (SACW) Rosemary 'Christine' Wright © Lee Karen Stow

Christine served with the RAF at Holmpton bunker and with the Royal Observer Corps (ROC) at a clifftop monitoring post on the East Yorkshire coast.

I was born in Hull in 1966. As a teenager of the 1980s, I watched news footage of women at Greenham Common linking hands around a perimeter fence and the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion. I listened to Kate Bush singing about an unborn child breathing radiation fallout through its mother's womb. Only when I began working on the Hidden: Cold War Women project did I realise fully the severity of what was happening back then, what could have happened, and what still could happen.

Image: Jayne Jones, Kay Watkins and Leonne Griggs, Hull Greenham Common Women © Lee Karen Stow

At the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, women from Hull and East Yorkshire travelled to the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in Berkshire to protest against the siting of 96 US Ground Launched Cruise Missiles at RAF Greenham Common.

Jayne Jones, Kay Watkins and Leonne Griggs, Hull Greenham Common Women © Lee Karen Stow
Snaky Lane © Lee Karen Stow

As a family we holidayed in our caravans at Easington on the East Coast and built sandcastles on the beach, unaware that a secret Cold War bunker existed four miles up the coast in the quiet village of Holmpton

Image: Snaky Lane © Lee Karen Stow

A narrow winding road leads to the former RAF Holmpton Cold War bunker. It was known by some of the women who worked at the bunker as Snaky Lane.

Only by venturing down the 'hole' at Holmpton did I learn from the bunker's owners, Sylvia and John, that women worked down here. I felt compelled to seek out and meet the women and raise awareness of this untold chapter in our local and national history, before these women and their stories are lost forever.

Image: Sylvia Swift at Homplton Bunker © Lee Karen Stow

Sylvia and husband John have been running the former RAF Holmpton Cold War bunker, now a visitor attraction, since 2015. Alongside managing the site, Sylvia has raised over £5000 for Help for Heroes through baking and coffee mornings.

Sylvia Swift at Homplton Bunker  © Lee Karen Stow
Allan Stow, Assaye Barracks in Nienburg, West Germany c. 1955

My Cold War Dad

Working on this project I learned that my Hull-born father, Allan John Stow, served as a soldier during the Cold War as part of his National Service. Allan served with the Royal Engineers, British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) and was stationed as Assaye Barracks in Nienburg, West Germany from 1955 to 1957.

Image: Allan Stow, Assaye Barracks in Nienburg, West Germany c. 1955

In Autumn 2018, I visited Nienburg and stood on the former parade ground, now a car park. I imagined my 19-year-old dad who had never been away from his terraced home in East Hull performing his drills.

Image: The former Assaye Barracks in Nienburg, West Germany © Lee Karen Stow

The former Assaye Barracks in Nienburg, West Germany © Lee Karen Stow
Cold War painting on walls of the regiment bar at Assaye Barracks in Nienburg, West Germany © Lee Karen Stow

I photographed the ruins of the barracks and the former regiment bar, its walls still painted with Cold War graffiti. I imagined the young soldiers enjoying a beer, sharing a joke, perhaps wondering what the future held for them.

Image: Cold War painting on walls of the regiment bar at Assaye Barracks in Nienburg, West Germany © Lee Karen Stow

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