Red Thirties

Hammer and Sickle Club - Oxford
Invitation to a meeting of The Hammer and Sickle Club, 15th May [1935?], Brasenose College, Oxford

The first box that I decided to look in for items relating to my grandparents’ time in Spain made me realise how much possible material I have – and also the extent to which this is probably going to be as much about their 1930s activities and politics as about the Spanish Civil War itself. The box contains stacks of letters, postcards, leaflets, magazines, etc. Some of these I have put aside for another time: Frank’s wartime letters to Elizabeth, for instance – there are probably hundreds of these, mostly from India, and a glance at a few first lines reveals that they are fairly steamy, something I am not really ready for – and stacks of alternately heart-breaking and business-like correspondence about bringing various Communist and Jewish refugees to Britain. Perhaps I will come back to these, but at the moment I have decided to try to focus on Spain, and what took my grandparents there, so from this box I will probably take some of the items about Elizabeth’s political activities at Oxford in the mid-thirties, as well as various letters that refer directly to Spain. There are also some wonderful propaganda posters from Spain, various political pamphlets, some literary magazines and a few photographs.

All to be continued; meanwhile, I was particularly amused by this letter to Elizabeth from Eileen Saville (I think – later Lafitte), possibly from 1938 (transcript below). The Hugh Faulkner referred to is probably this man (a communist doctor, involved in the Socialist Health Association which campaigned for the establishment of the NHS), and Anne Fremantle is probably this exhausting/fascinating-sounding woman.

c/o Lafitte
4, Cranleigh House,
Cranleigh St.,
London, N. W. 1.

Dear Elizabeth,

I’d give my soul to go to Spain but I can’t. Not work. I seem to have got into the Tax Inspecting business. Am now awaiting confirmation, but my mother is just recovering from a terrific operation, and if I decided to join the Dirty Reds she’d have a relapse or something. There were upheavals even last year when Janet wanted to go for a month on that M.L.F. business. I wish I could think of somebody who could go and would be efficient, but I am out of touch with nearly everybody. I have been at home for the past four months being the complete skivvy-cum-nursemaid, and only came up to town today, having packed my mother off on holiday and parked the brats in boarding schools. I must meet you if you are up in town, though I shall probably be surly and envious.

I’m glad you’ve inherited a castle. Are you going to keep Basque children in it or something?

I don’t think I’ve seen you since I became secretary to the Hon Anne Fremantle have I. It was only a temporary job, but my god what a woman. Apart from that I have only spent a summer in Edinburgh, walked round the West Highlands with a dog, taken my exam and been domestic. I was here some time ago and enquired about you. Heard you were still in Stepney but no longer with Mrs. M., and lost track of you.

Am going to see the Faulkners – you know Hugh is married? – tomorrow, and shall have to brave the curses of Mrs Miller some time soon. In fact I am setting my affairs in order. This place belongs to Paul Lafitte and his wife. Francois is living with a girl from the Post Office. He is out of work. Jane Murray has a job at the South Eastern Children’s hospital. My sister Janet met Barbara Tatham at John Miles’ place in September. What has happened to Aimée? I heard you won the strike. Pretty good. Listen, I must post this. Let me know if, where and when we can meet.



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if you have any thoughts, questions, suggestions - or (even better!) further information - about any of the topics covered on Red Thirties, then please either leave a comment or e-mail me at: Thanks for reading, Anna

4 thoughts on “Red Thirties”

  1. Introducing myself. My parents, Margot Heinemann and JD Bernal (known in our family as Desmond or Des, seldom Sage and never John) were both Cambridge Communists in the 1930s though they did not get together until the late 1940s. I am sure they, and even I know many of the people in your story. Christopher Hill was a great friend of my mother’s not only in the 1930s but for the rest of their lives, though he left the Party after 1956 and she stayed in. He was an important inspiration and mentor for her when, after a life lime of doing other things: political work, teaching, she returned to research into 17th Century History and Literature. Dr Hugh Faulkner was both their friend and their GP for many years, working at the innovative Caversham Centre in Kentish Town Steve Iliffe wrote a nice obituary of Hugh for Health Matters.

    1. Jane – thank you so much for getting in touch. I obviously know of your amazing parents (although I didn’t know about the links to Christopher Hill and Hugh Faulkner). I wonder if either of my grandparents ever met your parents? – it’s possible that they didn’t as after the Second World War Frank and Elizabeth were mostly based in Scotland and the north of England. It’s wonderful to hear from you – and to hear more about Hugh Faulkner (who I didn’t really know much about before finding this letter). One of the best things about starting this project has been finding out about people like Hugh – and about the links between the various individuals, groups and places. Please do let me know if you spot any errors – I would love to think that I might come across a reference to your parents at some point. I’ll let you know if I do!

  2. I have had wonderful watercolour painted by your Grandmother “Roof Tops” (Spain) up until recently in my studio. I had tried unsuccessfully to research the family of the artist and was obviously looking in the wrong place. So last year when a friend of mine visited from the UNITE union and knowing that your Grandmother had worked for a short time for the then Transport and General Workers Union, I thought it befitting to gift it to him. I shall contact him to let him know about your research as I think that if you see it you will see what a wonderful artist she was.

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