Ray in Spain, November 2007
I would now like to say a few words about dad’s life. These are based on my memories and so I will leave lots out that I don’t know about or have forgotten. So please interrupt me at any time to correct any mistakes, fill-in any gaps or just to add your own thoughts and memories.
I will start by asking his grandson Tom to read something written by dad about his early life.
He wrote this a couple of years ago as an exercise while learning to use a word processor. He studied at the IT Suite at the Chubb building in Wolverhampton, where Tom was an IT Trainer at the time.
Ray George – Personal Profile
Grandfather employed as a Master Baker in Malvern divorced his wife leaving her with two children. Maternal Grandfather was a Master Bricklayer.
Both Skilled working class Maternal Grandfather’s wife gave birth to 11 children 2 (twins) died.
Born 28/11/1928 – Tettenhall Wood near Wolverhampton.
Moved to New Cross area, opposite entrance to Workhouse 1932.
My father had a secure job in the Accounts department of the local newspaper whilst most of our neighbours were on and off dole for several years.
In 1935 my mother developed Familial Tremors and fainting fits and also became pregnant. Two aunts were moved in to help out.
I started school over a month late due to chronic Bronchitis.
This recurred most winters until I was 11.
At the age of eleven I sat the notorious 11+ and obtained a marginal Pass which allowed me to attend Wolverhampton Municipal Secondary School on payment of a small fee each term. At least one fellow pupil was known to be better than the rest of the class at maths and science but his family could not raise the necessary finance.
We have dad’s secondary school reports.
He was top of the class in maths but, according to the headmaster, “it is clear handwriting must improve”
It was while at secondary school that dad joined the YCL, the Young Communist League, the youth section of the Communist Party.
This was in 1943 at the age of 14. We know this because last week we got a phone call from one of his comrades from that time, Max Bennet.
Max phoned to say he couldn’t make today’s memorial because of ill-health. However he did ask us to pass on his condolences to the family. He said a few kind words about dad, that Ray was loved and respected by many. He went on to recall how they had first met in 1943 when we both joined the Young Communist League.
This was also the time that Ray met Marion, at a YCL meeting. I think mom was thirteen at the time.
I don’t know where dad got his political views from at such an early age.
He did tell me of a particular teacher at school who was a big influence. This teacher was a socialist and an admirer of the Soviet Union.
Also, dad grew up during the second world war. This was an incredibly politicising time. We were fighting against the hateful philosophy of fascism.
Our allies included the Soviet Union. After the first world war the Russian people had overthrown their ruling classes and built the world’s first workers state. In 1943 the Soviet army were starting to turn the tide against nazi Germany.
There was no way that the British people were going to allow a repeat of what happened after the first war when a “Land fit for heroes” turned out to be the depression and hunger marches of the 20s and 30s .
After the war there was the landslide Labour victory and the birth of the Welfare State. The British people had come out of the war believing another World is Possible. A World where ordinary, working people could be masters of their own fate. A World very different from the one created by the rich and powerful elites who ran the World for their own benefit, resulting in the horrors of war and in the obscene extremes of fantastic wealth for the few and grinding poverty and starvation for the millions. Dad spent much of his life making his contribution to making this Other World Possible.
Dad left school in 1945. He was a good scholar, leaving with the equivalent of 8 ‘O’ Levels. Of course, many of his fellow pupils at the Grammar School would continue on to ‘A’ Levels and university, but a working-class family at that time could never afford to support him for another five years.
In September 1945 he started his first job, at Goodyears in Wolverhampton.
His job was as a statistical clerk, using his mathematical skills.
Goodyears was a massive employer, making tyres that went around the world – in both senses. Now, 60 years on, like so much of our manufacturing base, Goodyears is gone.
He worked at Goodyears for six years, until 1951.
In those six years a number of things happened.
Dad did his National Service. I believe that NS was for two years starting at the age of 18 or 19. So dad must have done his around 1947 to 1949.
I don’t know much about his time doing NS. I don’t think he spent any time abroad.
I can remember only three things he told me:
he was in the RAF
he only went up in a plane once
and the scariest time was one bonfire night when he was on guard duty at an ammunition dump with fireworks falling out of the sky around him. The other major event during his time at Goodyears was marrying Marion on the 23rd December 1950
In October 1951 dad changed jobs to work at Ever Ready, in Park Lane. He started at £6.10 a week as a Cost and Progress Clerk.
He worked for the same company until he retired in 1989 – 38 years.
He worked his way up from office clerk to factory manager.
In 1952 his first child was born, Steven. Four years later there were 3 sons. Then, after a gap of 5 years, he completed his family with a daughter, Sally.
We are now in the 60s. Ray has a large family to support and is progressing at work.
At the same time he is politically active and secretary of the Wolverhampton North East branch of the Communist Party. This was the time when the CP was standing in every ward in local elections and vying with the Liberal Party to be the third largest party.
As dad moved into management he became less politically active. There was no way that he would progress to senior management as a prominent communist, yet he needed promotion to provide for his family. His views didn’t change though and he never left the Communist Party. He still did plenty of political work:
every local election he would get us out helping to deliver leaflets. We would go into Northicote or Low Hill and dad would get the gangs of local kids drafted into delivering the election address of the Communist Party candidate every Xmas we would be at the Morning Star Bazaar, raising funds for the daily paper of the left he was a mentor to many of the younger comrades, there always seemed a member of the Young Communist League around the house having earnest political discussions with dad and of course he was always ready to make a financial contribution to the cash-strapped Party, with money for the national appeals, and to pay for the replacement of the local branch’s worn-out duplicating machine, used for producing leaflets, posters, meeting notices etc.
Dad’s two biggest political passions were Peace and anti-racism.
He argued and campaigned against nuclear weapons all his life. We have somewhere a photo of dad pushing Sally in a pushchair on the annual Aldermaston march against nuclear weapons, the photo appeared on the front of the Express & Star. Over on the table is a photo taken a generation later on another anti-nuclear weapons demonstration, this time dad is with his grandchildren.
Dad hated racism in all its forms. He campaigned against Powell in the 60’s and the National Front in the 70’s. When he became a manager at the Ever Ready factory in Park Lane he recruited the first black workers to the factory. He ignored the warnings from fellow managers that this would cause racial conflict at the factory - he was proved right and the workforce soon became a harmonious racial mix.
In the mid 1980s dad became a prominent member of the campaign to prevent the deportation of Som Raj, an immigrant and photographer on the Express and Star. I think dad was secretary of the campaign. Som was married to a British woman and had 2 daughters born in the country. After many demonstrations and public meetings over several years the campaign was successful. And in April 2005 dad was delighted to be invited to the wedding of Som Raj’s eldest daughter, Anglika.
In the early 1980s dad was surprised by a passing remark from one of the Company directors along the lines that many of the directors had never fully trust dad, he being a lay member of the Communist Party. So, they had know all along!
After that dad was less worried about keeping his political head down. He organised the management and formed a branch of the Engineers and Managers Association (now called Prospect) a TUC-affiliated union. He was secretary of the branch until he retired and remained an active retired member afterwards.
Dad retired in 1989, three years after mom had retired.
He immediately bought a brand new campervan. He then built a brick-garage from scratch all by himself. Digging out the foundations, mixing the concrete and all the rest.
Mom and dad then spent much of the next ten years touring the UK and France - they were now holidaying big-time. He would disappear for 6 weeks at a time. In the summer this meant someone had to mow his lawns and since I lived the nearest I got the job. Still, there was some compensation. Dad had a big garden and I could take any fruit and veg. that needed harvesting. Dad loved his garden and his marrows were particularly good. If I was lucky the strawberries would ripen before they got back. But this was rare, he somehow always managed to get back just before they were ready to pick!
One of the highlights of their decade of holidays was 3 months in New Zealand from November 1995 to February 1996. Dad planned the holiday like a military operation. In New Zealand he hired a car and bought all new camping gear. At the end of the 3 months he returned the car and gave away the camping gear to a local charity. They had a wonderful time touring the two islands, meeting the local people and watching whales from a boat - something my mom had always wanted to do.
After New Zealand it became clear that mom was not well. Over the next ten years she got progressively worse as Alzheimer’s took its inevitable course. All the time dad cared for the woman he had loved for so long. When the house got too much they moved into a bungalow where it was easier to care for mom. It was there that dad met and befriended his new neighbour Ernie, who we are pleased to see here today. Ernie shares dad’s great love of gardening and helped dad with his new, now much smaller garden.
Dad was not well himself. He had developed Parkinsons Disease. It became clear that his own health was suffering as he tried the impossible task of almost single-handedly looking after someone in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. Even with the help of the family, especially Sally who went part-time to help, it became too much. He took some persuading, we all know how stubborn Ray was, but we moved mom into a nursing home for her last year. Dad would visit her every day, travelling by bus or Ring-and-Ride.
While mom was in the nursing home dad took the opportunity to take some well-deserved holidays. We, his sons and daughters, took him to various places including a weekend at Eric & Jean’s caravan in Wales, on the same site we had all camped many years before. In 2005 he spent a weekend under canvas with me and his grandson Tom, the three of us in one tent, camping at the back of the best pub in Wales. In the evenings in the pub he thrashed me and Tom at cards, after claiming he couldn’t remember how to play Russian Rummy!
After mom died dad started an IT Course at the Chubb building in Wolverhampton. After one training session dad attended a public meeting in the building to commemorate the abolition of slavery. When it came to question time dad reminded everyone that slavery still existed in the World and rather than congratulating ourselves for its abolition in Britain 200 years ago, we should be campaigning against modern slavery.
Dad got himself a new passport in September 2007 he and once again went abroad for a holiday. This time it was visiting Belinda and Rob in their home in Spain. Dad had a whale of a time, one of the highlights being a ride on the back of Rob’s motorbike - the first time he had been on a motorbike for many a year.
In September 2006 dad made his first visit to Sally and Malcolm’s smallholding in small island of Westray in Orkney. After the visit he started to consider moving up there, attracted by the quiet, the wildlife, the fishing and the chance of having a small corner of the 8 acres for his garden.
The following year he spent a three-month trial on the island and decided he would move there.
So, in May last year Ray started his last great adventure. He threw an emigration party here and off he went, with all his worldly belongings in a large van - mainly records, books, photos and plants.
Sally would now like to say a few words about dad’s time in Orkney.
When I asked dad if would like to move to Orkney he jumped at the chance.
After several heartbreaking years of caring for his wife Marion he welcomed the challenge of what he called “One last Adventure”.
And, although by the time he did eventually come up to Orkney permanently his health had deteriorated, he did have his “last adventure” and enjoyed his time up there.
Dad loved fishing and while Up North he had a number of opportunities to fish both on land and at sea, the latter being the more fruitful of the two.
Despite my attempts to “mollycoddle” him he could often be seen taking off down the beach with his rods, his trolley and his flask for a morning’s fishing.
Even in the last 6 months when he was quite frail he would still like to walk the 2 miles round-trip to the local shop for a yarn, his Radio Times and his weekly supply of cakes and biscuits.
Dad made many new friends on Westray and I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have sent messages of condolence and shared their happy memories of Ray with me. He will be very much missed by lots of people on the island.
Raymond George was a kind, generous loving man.
He touched the lives of everyone he met and I am proud to have known him and been part of his life.
Sadly my daughter Amy can’t be here today but she has written a poem for me to read about his last Xmas which we all spent at our local hotel – Cleaton House.
Morangie and Bells,
‘What the hell, whiskey is whiskey’ he stands up and yells
For 24 years I have known his as quiet,
’till this Christmas Day he sat by the fire,
A dram in one hand, a smile on his face,
He sang songs with Eric, keeping the pace,
With the other he tapped out the beat to the tune,
Sporadically laughing ‘Oh what a boom’
We decided to quiz – Girls versus Boys,
Tone was the Quiz Master – Controlling the noise,
For we were quite drunk and getting quite loud.
Especially Grandad sitting there proud,
He knew the answers to every question,
But someone had obviously forgotten to mention,
That this was a quiz where you wrote them all down,
For he’d shout out the answers and Malcolm would frown.
There are many things I will miss about you,
Happy memories and sad ones too,
Orange Plastic Cups,weird loo paper and soap,
Lemon biscuits and mixed nuts, to name but a few.
All bring me hope,
That I live to be half the person you were,
Your Spirit lives on, of that I am sure,
In the family you have raised in such a great way.
I will miss you Grandad
(Amy George 21st June 2009)
Malcolm couldn’t make it today, having pigs and chickens and geese and dogs and cats to look after. In his absence I would like to say a big thank you to Malcolm for helping to look after my dad over the last year. When he married Sally 5 years ago he can’t have bargained for having to look after an 80-year old with failing health. He has been a star, as much as any devoted son.
Malcolm writes an internet blog where he records the highs and lows of a sports writer on the Express & Star in Wolverhampton giving it all up to restore a run-down croft and raise pigs on a tiny island on the edge of Scotland. Malcolm’s latest blog is a tribute to dad. I will finish my talk with the reading of Malcolm’s tribute. I have asked Colin to read it out, because I think any of the family would having trouble finishing it off through the tears.