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Chapter 6


In March 36, having, somewhat to my surprise, passed the University entrance exam, I had preliminary interviews at Trinity College, where, by custom there were four main tutors, each responsible for the welfare and general behaviour of a proportion of the college's students between them. It transpired that my mother must have let it be known that my religion was Christian Science, so that I found myself under the jurisdiction of the senior tutor J. R. M. ( Jim ) Butler himself a devoted Christian Scientist. He was a cousin of the prominent Tory education minister; R. A. ( RAB ) Butler.

Having him as tutor proved a mixed blessing, since, if I was to remain (importantly) in his good books , it involved attending his incredibly tedious Christian Science Sunday schools , where I had to go through the motions , with all the meaningless jargon involved.

By custom at Trinity, one's first two years were spent in lodgings, so I was allotted digs in a large house on the Chesterton road owned and run, fortunately by a very amenable landlady. There were three other occupants: impeccable Etonian, Donald; scruffy Ivor, (in appearance, more tramp than student, and with highly dubious morals) and Anton Jacobs (later a successful actor). We each had a reasonable-sized ground floor room, and a separate first floor bedroom. Basics, like beds, were provided, but the living room could be furnished or decorated according to choice.

Guy Fawkes Night, 1936

The exceptional events of the evening of November 5th 1936 in Market Square, Cambridge, really set the tone for the months to come. Because of the uncertain international situation resulting from Chamberlain's vacillating leadership, the unsettling threat of war loomed large over our lives, especially because so many of us were at an age most vulnerable to conscription, and thus considerable abandon and cynicism tended to prevail.

The near-anarchy of bonfire night was no doubt driven largely by that atmosphere of abandon, exacerbated by the excessively large police presence, well equipped with truncheons and handcuffs, who made numerous arrests, mostly resulting in riotous rescue attempts.

My first successful climbing of one of the extra tall lampposts and extinguishing its light, was met by wild cheering and my being borne away to safety. Later, to my surprise, (because I had always thought of him as wholly law-abiding) Wilfred Noyce joined the fray and repeated my effort by extinguishing the last remaining extra-tall lamp to ecstatic applause, after which he himself was duly arrested. Later, however, along with several others in court, his charge was in fact, dropped. With continuing friction between us and the police, one constable entered a phone box (mobile phones being then unknown) evidently to call for reinforcements, whereupon the box was duly turned over, door downwards, effectively trapping him inside.

After the boisterous events of 5th November had quietened down, I began to get to know fellow students, the staff at the school of architecture, the university generally, and the town with its various pubs and other amenities. It proved customary once or twice a week, to attend dinner in the great hall of Trinity, surrounded by the portraits of Henry VIII, Lord Byron and others of the college's famous founders or members.

The Night Climbers of Cambridge

The 1937 Edition

The nightly 'Caravan' for photographs

In the somewhat heady university atmosphere, I was not unduly surprised, in January 37, apparently on Wilfred Noyce's recommendation, to be approached by a recent graduate of King's college, Noel Symington who, while an undergraduate, had done some roof climbing, and had evolved the idea of producing a book based largely on flashlight photos of climbers in action on University buildings, and was looking for climbers to help put his idea into practice. I had never climbed buildings in daylight, let alone in the dark, but I was intrigued by the invitation, which I accepted, and soon began to help plan operations and to enlist further volunteers.

Noel's father owned the well-established firm of Symington's Soups of Market Harborough, so sufficient funds were available to cover the quite considerable costs involved, due, particularly to the flashlight equipment required. This consisted of a terribly bulky 22 inch diameter reflector with central sockets for three bulbs, all of which burned out each time it was used, which involved a suitcase to carry all the replacement bulbs. So, our nightly caravan consisted of two or three climbers (sometimes carrying ropes), of which I was normally one, together with the photographer, the flashman, and the suitcase carrier.

Following agreement on a suitable location for a posed (preferably dramatic) position for a photograph, our highly unwieldy team members had to make their way to their appropriate positions, moving as quietly as possible in the shadows, often surmounting quite serious obstacles, such as revolving spikes, and somehow coordinate their movements as necessary until the critical moment arrived of the use of the flash and concurrent camera action.

During the twelve or so weeks, when weather and other conditions permitted our activities, with what must have been astonishingly good luck, we managed to obtain some 40 or so photos which were sufficiently good for publishing, and naturally they proved the main attraction of the book, which was published in due course by Chatto and Windus, and sold well immediately afterwards in October 37.

In spite of the difficulties of some of the climbs, we suffered no accidents although there were some narrow escapes, one of which occurred on our way up to obtain the picture: O'Hara: Senate House Pinnacle. While climbing an easy drainpipe, the man above me inadvertently put his weight too near the outer edge of a stone cornice, a 15length of which fractured and, missing my head, fell across my two forearms, and I was able to pass it down safely. We much regretted that single case of damage which was something we were always at pains to avoid.

A dummy coronation over Kings College Chapel.

In early May 1937, in connection with the coming coronation, a rash of bunting and union jacks etc, suddenly appeared in the town. Strung across the narrow streets they clashed starkly with the beautiful old college buildings, and prompted me to think of some appropriate way of mocking the whole pantomime of royalty. The idea of making use of the astonishing publicity site(above the East End of Kings Chapel facing Kings Parade, and visible all over the town) soon took shape. The remarkable pre-eminence of that publicity site is best illustrated by the reproduction of the press-cutting headed All Cambridge saw it , dated June 1963. I discussed the idea with my close climbing colleagues, O'Hara Murray, and Alec Crichton, and both were enthusiastically supportive; O'Hara agreeing to share the climbing with me, while Alec offered to help make the dummy, and with getting it to the site.

Senate House: 'The O'Hara Pinnacle'

The dummy figure of the king was formed by a boiler suit stuffed with newspaper, wearing garish checked trousers, a red, white and blue jacket, with a football bladder for a head and a cardboard crown somehow suspended above it. A six foot length of hollow curtain rod through the two arms, with a generous length of sash cord threaded through it provided the means for suspending George(as he soon became named) between the two east end pinnacles of the chapel. To add to the levity, George carried a quart bottle in one hand and some kind of lightweight tankard in the other. Being before the days of plastic, the bottle was inevitably glass, which added seriously both to the weight and to the risk of calamitous breakage.

Having already climbed to the roof level, and then up one of the pinnacles, I knew what times would be required for each stage of the operation, and was able to prepare a strict timetable for both hoisting George to roof level, and then further, in order to finish before day-break at 5am, and this time-table O'Hara and I agreed on and memorised.

At dusk on the evening of 11th May, carrying George, we left my rooms and reached Kings without arousing suspicion. We soon got George over the gates and to the usual starting point for the climb, which was the bottom of the chimney(a climbing term for a vertical cleft, say, approximately three feet wide, in which the climber can wedge himself, with his back against one side and his feet the other (see illustration) and thus make his way up the 100 feet from ground to roof,(Alec remained nearby as lookout ) while O'Hara and I made ready for the off at our agreed hour of 12. 30 am. I then made a start, carrying a 150 foot length of rope, and, in due course, reached the roof. Following my lowering the rope, O'Hara attached the end to George and I was able to start pulling him up, which, naturally had to be done slowly and with great care. Having freed the rope, I was then able to lower it back to O'Hara to tie himself on so I could offer him the usual degree of protection as he himself climbed and joined me on the roof.

St John's Main Gate: O'Hara

Trinity: Nares followed by O'Hara

We were now ready to start the final phase, so O'Hara climbed the south east pinnacle with one of George's supporting cords tied to his waist, the end of which he then attached to the pinnacle top, and then climbed back down to the roof. I then set off up the north east pinnacle with the other one of George's supporting cords tied to my waist, and the pulley in my pocket. Following my securing the pulley near to the top of the pinnacle, I passed the supporting cord from George through the pulley and threw the cord down to O'Hara, which was the signal for him to start pulling. Then, just as it was getting light and George started rising to his appointed position catastrophe struck!The pulley squeaked so loudly that I could actually see the porter and two or more bulldogs looking up and clearly able to appraise the whole situation.

The proctors , the main guardians of student discipline employed assistants, nicknamed bull-dogs(invariably ex-rugby players) specifically to chase and apprehend offenders.

Shortly before, I had taken the precaution of securing both 150 foot lengths of climbing rope and lowering them to the ground to provide for escape, by abseiling, for each of us, and we immediately made use of them, with O'Hara going first, and I following, having been delayed by the considerable difficulty of descending the pinnacle.

On reaching terra firma , I found at least two bulldogs struggling to hold down O'Hara who called out: run, Nares, I can manage! Unfortunately, having had no food or rest all night, I was unable to outrun one of the bulldogs , who dragged me from the water half way across the Cam and delivered me to the Dean, disheveled and dripping water over his beautiful oriental rugs.

A later statement at the site of our 'Dummy Coronation'

Kings Chapel: the 100 feet 'Chimney' from ground to roof

Whatever protestations of regret I may have tried to make were soon rudely interrupted by O'Hara's arrival in the clutches of at least two bulldogs.

His trousers had been so badly torn in his struggles that he was virtually bare from the waist down, and not a pretty sight. Further, in spite of my efforts to calm him, he was uttering a succession of oaths probably due to exhaustion and hunger which did little to assist our predicament. As soon as possible, we made our ways back to our respective lodgings, to await our fates.

Meanwhile the Dean had asked Wilfred Noyce to take the stairs to the roof, and then climb up and rid him of the embarrassment of George suspended over his chapel on coronation day.

In those days we were not very publicity conscious , or I would have warned the local press in advance. Therefore it remains solely to the imagination to visualise what our dummy coronation must have looked like, occupying an identical position to that of the many years later by an anti-Vietnam War banner illustrated. Wilfred of course had no option but to comply with the Dean request. As he experienced the quite severe difficulties of climbing the pinnacles, he very probably realised that it must have been I who had done the deed and he may well have regretted having to cut down the handiwork of his old climbing comrade. However, he managed to lower George carefully to the ground and then took him to his rooms, where the Kings dons gathered to inspect him, apparently with considerable interest. We learned this later from Alec who had rightly kept well clear of the fray, but, being a member of Kings, he was able to walk around freely and assess the situation generally.

As we expected, Milner White, Dean of Kings, demanded that Trinity send me down (rusticate me) for good, and that Pembroke College do the same to O'Hara Murray. However, when Jim Butler called me before him, it became evident that, although extremely angry, he was not keen to fulfil the Dean's demand in full, no doubt realising that he risked the permanent loss of one of his Christian Science Sunday School flock , and I then realised the important insurance value of my having been, at least from time to time, an attendee at those Sunday Schools. So, a compromise was arrived at in the form of rustication (dismissal) for the remainder of the current term for myself, and, in fairness, for O'Hara as well. Alec later explained that Wilfred, who was held in some esteem by the Dean, assisted nobly with pouring oil on the troubled waters, and promoting the two lesser, compromise penalties.

Nares standing on pinnacle of New Court Tower, St John's
(Used as frontispiece of Night Climbers book)

Aftermath of climbing activities

My weeks of enforced absence from Cambridge in 1937 were based largely at Tanera More, where Edwin's reaction to my disgrace was one of resignation rather than anger. To assist in mollifying him, and to gain further experience, I took an assistant's job with a small, local architectural firm. It was by no means demanding work, and I soon found myself in need of trying to create something afresh.

I had for long had a great love of Britain's countryside, and a growing distaste for the many ways in which both rural and urban environments were suffering from the absence of creative and sensitive national planning legislation. It struck me that such views were likely to be shared by many students, and that it could well be helpful if an organisation could be created to develop and give expression to those views. By having already become an individual member of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE) I knew John Arkell, its Secretary. I phoned him to explain the outlines of what I had in mind, and found him sympathetic to the possibility of CPRE becoming a parent body.

In October 37, after returning to Cambridge and normal university life, I first called on the Dean of Kings, Milner-White, to pay my respects and make further apologies. I went on to suggest that if he was to feel confident of preventing future, quite likely fatal accidents on the chapel, that it would be best to fully block the famous chimney on the chapel with masonry, rather than with spikes. He thanked me for the advice, and did in fact act on it. We then parted on quite good terms, and he, in fact, later became an enthusiastic supporter of CURB. (See below)

The C. P. R. E. and the C. U. R. B.

I then called on a friendly Geography don in Kings, Dr Darby, and outlined my proposal to him. He was immediately supportive, and together we agreed the name would have to be: The Council for the Preservation of Rural England, Cambridge University Research Branch, or CURB for short. While agreeing to be chairman, he stressed the importance of getting a big name as president, and recommended me to approach the famous historian: Professor G. M. Trevelyan. In doing so he stressed that Trevelyan had the O. M. : that is the Order of Merit which he insisted was the greatest of all honours because its membership was strictly limited and new members could only be appointed upon the death of an existing one: he was clearly recommending extreme deference in my approach to him, as if to a piece of priceless porcelain.

When in fact, shortly after, I took the plunge , and telephoned the great GMT , and outlined the project and our need for his assistance, he was immediately cooperative, and invited me to lunch. Later, over the first of many meals I enjoyed at his house, I was able to go into more detail, and he agreed with enthusiasm to become president. I found him then, and frequently later, to be (as I believe to be probably the case with many truly great men) modest, and happy to be approached, naturally with courtesy, but on equal terms , without excessive deference.

Meanwhile, Dr Darby conducted straw polls amongst his Geography students to give us some idea of the response that we might be able to expect for hopefully, around ten volunteers to man committees on national, urban and rural planning, parliamentary issues, national parks, new towns, transport and other relevant subjects. His positive results encouraged us to proceed by organising as large as possible an inaugural meeting. For that I was fortunate in soon obtaining the ready support of Clough Williams-Ellis, author of the best seller: Britain and the Beast , and renowned creator of Portmeirion(an Italianate village/hotel on the north Wales coast), and popular protagonist of the best of all that remained of the UK environment.

The highly successful, hour-long meeting, attended by over 150 people, was chaired by Professor Trevelyan. In the brief business moments, Dr Darby was endorsed as Chairman, and I as Secretary, and an encouraging number of volunteers indicated their willingness to act as committee conveners.

Happily the initial enthusiasm was maintained as it became apparent that there was very real interest in the various subjects covered by the committees which resulted in good attendances, with lively discussions and the preparation of draft reports which were often criticised and improved upon by supportive dons. Optimism that recommendations made might actually be noticed, was encouraged by planning personalities such as Professor Patrick Abercrombie, showing their appreciation of our efforts. In fact, the latter actually requested our help with drafting part of his minority report to the Royal Commission on the Geographical Distribution of the Industrial Population, and later, with his Greater London plan for which he was knighted.

GM Trevelyan, who himself was passionately concerned not only with preserving rural areas of natural beauty, but also in ensuring that essential additions to built environments were as harmonious as possible, consistently maintained his moral support and was plainly always glad to be asked for advice which he gave me without stint on our numerous, very enjoyable walks together.

In short, the conception and actual realisation of CURB was, for me, an exceptionally fulfilling experience, especially as it may have provided a few of those taking part with a sense of some creative activity in contrast to the negative and depressing atmosphere of the times of imminent war.

In fact, following Clough Williams-Ellis inauguration of the Cambridge University Research Branch CURB of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, as secretary I called for a volunteer from the meeting to assist me as treasurer, and I am happy to say that an undergraduate member of Jesus College named Frank Tindall volunteered to become treasurer of the new Branch, in which role he always did what he could to promote its success, particularly in the field of Town and Country Planning which was he own main interest. Indeed, following the war he did himself in fact become a County Planning Officer in Scotland. At the same time he became a lifelong friend and, later, joined the architects delegation visit to the USSR in 1953 (see chapter 28)

Final undergraduate days

In October '38 I was able to move into the room in college which I had chosen earlier as my first preference. It was located on the second floor of the great old gateway tower, midway along the south side of Great Court, whose massive old gates were in fact never opened. The tower had the usual circular turrets at each corner, and the one at its West corner contained the spiral staircase leading to my room, whose stone treads were deeply worn.

It was a romantic environment, with a beautiful outlook to the north over the well-tended lawns and cobbled paths leading to the charming cupola-domed fountain at the centre of Great Court, and to the west, the splendid great Hall with its impressive entrance stairway. At the south side of the room, occupying the two turrets and the area between them were a small bedroom and a pantry with sink and cold water; the toilets and showers were some thirty yards away across the Great Court. There was a door to the north east turret to a circular space, on the same level as the main room, of about four feet diameter with a small window. I was able to convert this tiny room into a breakfast room for three people by inserting a pulley centrally into the ceiling from which it was possible to hang a purpose made circular 2 foot 6 diameter table. Once two guests were seated on stools, I could lower the pre laid table before joining them.

The main room had clearly never been intended for other than students of humble rank, because its rudimentary panelling made no pretence to elegance, but its simplicity suited me well. I had it all painted white, and a fellow architectural student kindly painted a jolly Mediterranean beach scene on a central panel which provided a cheerful focal point for the room.

Living in had numerous advantages not least of which was the easy, short walk to the school of architecture for lectures, etc. Naturally, too, my room soon became a popular social rendezvous, where I normally kept a pin(a small barrel) of the excellent East Anglian ale ready for callers. Many discussions ensued, becoming increasingly animated and political as the threatened war drew closer.

At this time, many of us, mostly mountaineering club members, who had always felt frustrated by the flat Cambridge countryside, and had of necessity abandoned roof climbing, and, instead taken up the innocent activities of climbing the extraordinarily challenging faces of the old local worked-out chalk quarries, together with some of the great trees on the Gog Magog hills. On these occasions, one of our keenest companions was Girton student Clare, daughter of the famous, ill-fated hero of Everest, GL Mallory.

As, for many of us, our periods of university life were drawing to a close with our futures far from clear, increasing numbers of parties were given by a wide variety of hosts in many different locations where considerable amounts of alcohol were consumed. At one, I recall the lovely Margot Fonteyn clearly exhausted after numerous dancing engagements, and somewhat drunk emerging from a first floor room in Kings College bearing a number of her hapless host's classical records which, after declaring herself sick of music she threw down the stairs.

Clough Williams-Ellis, a remarkable personality

Williams-Ellis, a remarkable personality

At Portmeirion 1963

I first got to know Clough W-E at the time of his inaugural speech at the birth of CPRE research branch in Trinity College in 1936. He was a somewhat flamboyant but also a clearly courageous man for he had won the prestigious military cross in action during World War One. We soon became friends and shared a zest for the active promotion of agreed ideas which is best illustrated by the following letter dated 28/11/38, which he addressed to me at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Romney's House, Hollybush Hill, London NW3
Dear Dynamite,
Yours is a swell letter, indicating exactly the sort of attitude that I hoped Cambridge might display under your stimulation. I congratulate you on the broadsheet which indeed is a model of succinct titillation. I certainly think it would be a most effective preliminary barrage.

Clough's main home was the lovely house, Plas Brondanwin north Wales, near his most famous architectural creation, Portmeirion. The Italianate Village/hotel, which with its variety of very colourful buildings including towers merged happily into the rocky Welsh coastline.

Needing a base in London, he acquired Romney's House , a beautiful 17th century, half-timbered building on Holly Hill, in the heart of old Hampstead. Romney had been a leading 18th century portrait painter who rivalled Gainsborough and Reynolds. The great hall of Romney's House contained a minstrel's gallery, and in keeping with Clough's inimitable bizarre fashion, he had converted that gallery into a semi-open bathroom.

Thus on one occasion, I well remember entering the room at mezzanine level, and starting a conversation with his wife Annabel (sister of John Strachey, but best known for her children's books) in her bath, and continuing the conversation as I descended the stairs to join Clough at the main floor level of the hall.

Later on, Thora and I spent some happy times staying at Plas Brondanw, with its unique views over Snowdonia, when Clough would delight in showing me his truly remarkable assembly of architecturally significant porticos, fireplaces, or other features which he had salvaged from great houses before their demolition, and would then re-use to great effect at Portmeirion.

My last connection with Clough W E was when he kindly agreed to add his name to the list of referees supporting my application to join the staff of the Building Research Station in the 50s.

Chapter 7

Sensing The Real World


I grew up at a time when Ireland as a whole was still recovering from the tragic turmoil's of the 19th century, which were often referred to by onlookers as the troubles , but which for those actually involved, particularly in the South, had meant famine, starvation and destitution. However in the North, around 1900, a group of industrialists including shipbuilders, linen manufacturers and distillers such as James Craig senior, had made their fortunes, and created a thriving commercial community around Belfast, which was of course, capital of Ulster, which remained, resolutely, part of the British Empire.

As a teenager I formed the firm impression that those wealthy Belfast business leaders were obsessed by the threat of Irish reunification fearing that it would result in them being taxed out of existence to subsidise the impoverished South. And they found a natural leader in my uncle James, who was such a devoted loyalist that just prior to world war I, in 1914 he, it seems largely on his own, started recruiting an Ulster Defence Force which must have been totally irregular, and indeed surely totally illegal, based at the old family home, Craigavon where the spacious lawns would have served as excellent parade grounds.

Thus arose the nightmare scenario of the possibility of Ulstermen actually fighting Englishmen, to ensure that Ulster remained part of Britain. The story has it, that, in order to give credence to his Ulster Defence Force which would carry weight in Whitehall, Uncle James needed rifles, for which he appealed to the Germans. They, no doubt, were only too pleased to help arm some of their soon-to-be World War I opponents to fight each other, and duly sent a consignment by U-boat. On its arrival in Belfast Loch, the story continues that my father Edwin, devoted to his brother James, then waded in waist deep with him to help unload the precious rifles, which were, of course, never used. (That, I am happy to say, was Edwin's only and final political act. )

Regrettably, I believe that that fear of Irish reunification on the part of the Belfast business leaders just referred to, translated into a totally irrational fear of the South and its equally irrational identification with Catholicism. Thus Catholics readily became hate figures. For example, I well recall that all my family members (on the Craig side) apparently had difficulty in articulating the word Catholic , but instead always used the term Papist , uttered if possible with the utmost contempt.

I recall once, as a boy, hearing the news on the wireless one morning, that James had been given a knighthood, which caused a small stir in the family. It was announced as having been given for services to Ulster though I recall thinking that it would more probably have been awarded for enabling the global map of the British Empire to retain a tiny spot of red on Ireland.

That knighthood proved to be the usual first rung on the golden ladder to Baronet, then later to Viscount, for which he took the title Craigavon , the name of the house originally built by James senior where all the Craig family were born and brought up. Eventually of course, he became Premier of the Ulster mini-state and, from the beginning, it was, tragically, evident that his deep- seated, irrational fear and dislike of Catholics must have had an insidious impact on the work of his administration, by feeding the ever-ready appetites of the peddlers of inter-denominational strife.

Overstated Stormont

When Uncle James was told I was intending to change from engineering to architecture he (now Lord Craigavon) insisted on showing me the sketch designs for the new Stormont Castle parliament buildings in a highly prominent position overlooking the main approach road. They were (of course) in the classical Greek/Roman style and struck me as far too ostentatious to be appropriate for the tiny state of Northern Ireland whose representatives they were intended to house a reaction I continue to have on each of the many occasions Stormont appears on TV.

The disastrous deteriorations in human relationships in Northern Ireland which followed, are unfortunately bitterly summarised by the 2004 report of the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, which states that there remain 1800 unsolved murders from the previous 30 years. Although, clearly, not remotely responsible personally, I cannot ever rid myself completely of a feeling of guilt by association for such a terrible tale of unnecessary human trauma. During the late 1930's , James and brother Charles both served as members of Parliament at Westminster, representing various Ulster constituencies, including of course, their wealthy business colleagues, mentioned above. During that period, they were both privy councillors and, from time to time, James occupied a number of ministerial posts.

I recall once during one of James' visits to Tanera More, being taken aback when he actually boasted about how he had managed to influence the adjustment of some of Ulster's electoral boundaries to the advantage of himself, his brother, and his loyalist (i. e. Conservative) colleagues. I remember that episode causing me to wonder about the validity of the well-worn dictum which automatically links elders with betters.

At least two of my other uncles were handsome men, so it was perhaps surprising that James was of a somewhat forbidding appearance, having a rather pronounced jowl (possibly aggravated by his being a chronic diabetic). By an extraordinary coincidence, he actually bore a striking resemblance to the currently prominent Dr Ian Paisley, who by chance, sings from a somewhat similar hymn sheet.

A Powerful Childhood Influence

One day in 1932, aged about 14, I was sitting on the hard window sill at Weekites, Charterhouse reading the Times when a report from South America caught my attention. It was about two different warlords vying for control of a mineral rich- region known as the Chaco , lying between the territories of two equally poor countries: Bolivia and Paraguay. Those warlords were dragging destitute Indians from their pathetic homes, and forcing them to fight each other in an appalling environment of water-logged, snake-and mosquito-infested jungle, with no medical attention whatever, and, not surprisingly, a catastrophic toll of casualties. The report gave a vivid picture of the near ultimate in man's inhumanity to man , with the horrific, needless suffering brought about by the avaricious greed for gold and other precious metals of those grasping warlords. It ended by explaining that the fighting was only made possible by the massive supplies of surplus weapons to both sides by unscrupulous arms dealers garnering huge profits for themselves

At a fairly young age, that report made such a profound impression that I believe it burned a permanent niche in my conscience and turned me into an instant questioner. Knowing such facts how could I be expected - with a clear conscience to grow up in a society which was clearly hell-bent on ignoring them in favour of concentrating on its own aggrandisement? Should I ever forget the report, I am, tragically, continually reminded of it by present-day, equally horrendous happenings, in the (nearby to Chaco) grief-torn South American country of Colombia. There, large scale horrific exterminations of both rural and urban poor communities by the ruling classes, have become (to the shame of the rest of mankind) so entrenched as to have become virtually established as a permanent feature of that country's culture.

I became determined to identify what global system of behaviour could possibly be responsible for not just permitting, but seemingly encouraging men to act in such sub-human ways. And it eventually became clear to me that such a system did indeed exist, and economists had named it Capitalism. It was a system which evidently had originated unsurprisingly in the rich, or First World but which had taken hold, regrettably (amongst the elite at least) in the poor, or Third World also.

It is clearly a system designed not only to assist those already in possession of wealth to hold on to it, but to assist and encourage them to actually increase the riches they already have.

Capitalism is a system which has dominated global society since the early 19th century, and which has greatly benefited the already rich, together with the burgeoning middle classes. But it has conspicuously failed to make any improvements whatever in the living conditions of the great majority of humanity: the billions of the world's poor, which, in fact, never cease to deteriorate.

My firm belief today is that Capitalism was and remains the most devastating plague ever to afflict Humanity, promoting, as it does, both poverty and wars, and that it should be relegated forever to the dustbin of history , and be replaced by a peaceful and co-operative form of world society. Seventy years on from reading that stirring South American report, I still hold firmly to that belief, and remain a committed socialist.

Following world peace in 1945, the great Cambridge economist, John Maynard Keynes, was chosen by the then British Government to head the United Kingdom delegation to the highly important Breton Woods World Economic Conference. Keynes' proposals for rationalising the global trading system, which would have greatly improved conditions in the Third World, were endorsed fully by the British delegation, but were later, in effect vetoed by the Americans.

Keynes once said: Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men, for the nastiest of reasons will somehow work for the benefit of all.

Questions of class

In my experience, of the several unnatural aspects of preparatory and public school life, the most obvious was the absence of any female company. However, there was also a conspicuous lack of appreciation of any form of human life other than that of upper or middle class.

For example, at St. Edmund's when, occasionally, a small group of working-class boys from the neighbouring village congregated by the gate to peer at us, and sometimes utter some abusive remarks, we were advised to keep our distance and never to get involved in any sort of discussion. The lower-class kids were referred to disparagingly as oiks. This attitude was not actually fostered by the staff but rather by the senior boys (who were not in fact discouraged from doing so).

Browsing through the clearly less important shelves of books in the Charterhouse library one day, I was delighted to come across a small volume entitled A people's history of England. It described the everyday lives of all sorts of working men and women, in both urban and rural environments, without any reference to the Kings, Queens, diplomats and all the other usual occupants of the official syllabus books. I found this lifting of the veil concealing the daily lives of millions of fellow human beings almost as absorbing as if I had come across a book about sex; - another taboo subject!

Once, while I was still young, my father Edwin needed to visit an address in London's East End, and decided to take me with him. He sat in the front next to the chauffeur, while I sat at the back behind him. We were in the Sunbeam car that had long, broad running boards each side, which presented an irresistible opportunity for the boys in the slums as we passed through for them to jump on and cadge a ride. To my dismay and shame, Edwin's reaction was to lower the window, reach out and sweep them off into the street as if he was swatting flies. It was an act I long remembered since it seemed so symbolic of the determination of the wealthy never to concede the tiniest share of their affluence to the working-class.

Following my return home from Germany in 1945, I was very much taken aback when Edwin avoided offering me greetings, and failed to offer congratulations on my having been awarded a much-prized King's mention in dispatches for laying vital bridges in actions during operations in Holland. Instead, he admonished me over the socialist literature in my mail, which he had both opened and burned. (I also recall that I must have realised soon after that my army promotion would have meant that he Edwin would no longer be the only Captain Craig in Hindhead. Therefore, to change my address to 40 Bloomsbury Street, London was a simple act of courtesy. )

Regrettably, Edwin's aversion to socialism was so profound, that he clearly felt that even the slightest discussion of it would give it a degree of credence which he was not prepared to concede. (see chapter 25; sub-heading: Edwin's invasion of my privacy )I naturally had a great affection for him, and respect for his great skills and abilities. Thus, when sadly, he died a few months later, I felt cheated that he had been so constrained by convention, stemming from his father's great wealth, that we had never been able to talk through the most fundamental of all social issues. In a sense, it seemed to me that we had both been victims of what the eminent social scientist R. H. Tawney once described as the social poison of inheritance.

Edwin's Politics:

Edwin in his workshop

I was of course upset at the time by Edwin's anger at the contents of my mail and his extreme reaction to it. However, neither at the time, nor later did I disclaim any of my socialist leanings and beliefs. I recall accepting that any attempt to discuss the issues in Hindhead and would probably be counter-productive and that I could do nothing but accept that there was a chronically reactionary streak in the Craig make-up. I always assumed that this was probably inherited from my clearly ruthless grand-father and was something which one could but accept and try to live with. That evidence was regrettably, only too clearly supported by his terrible snobbery (of which see several examples above) and which included the appalling ostracism of Aunt Emily, which could only have emanated from and been kept alive by Edwin.

"The chronically reactionary streak" in the Craig make-up obviously affected Edwin and his brother James (Lord Craigavon) but not necessarily all the brothers. One, Granville for example, who had married my mother’s twin Patty was a sensitive, likeable man of whom I was very fond. When visiting him on his death bed (he had severe emphysema) and assuring him he would soon be well, I recall his answering ‘nonsense, next week I will be pushing up the daisies’ (it was just prior to the widespread introduction of cremation). Granville and Patty had four daughters, who all became favourite cousins.

Although I instinctively hated Edwin’s snobbery and ultra-right politics, I learned very much from him simply by example – for instance, of the value of free-hand sketch designing and of full-scale experimenting which possibly stimulated my later many ‘mock-up’ buildings. He also taught me the optimum way to hold and use effectively all manner of engineering and other tools.

Chapter 8

Pre War And Early War Years

The late 30's were a time when it was impossible not to feel a continual sense of fear due to the threat of war. For some of my generation however there were also the other distractions of continuing one's education at university and for many romantic involvements for the first time. In my case that meant going up to Trinity College, Cambridge in the autumn of 1937 and most happily, meeting my future wife Thora, in early 1940 when I was 22.


One of the most valued friends I made during my days at Cambridge University was the County Education Officer, Henry Morris. He was, no doubt, an excellent Executive, but he's probably best remembered as the originator of the concept of the multi-purpose Village Colleges. For the first of several, at Impington, he had commissioned the architect Walter Gropius, of Bauhaus fame, so a high standard of design was set at the start.

Henry was a deeply thoughtful and sensitive man, with a keen sense of the value of a beautiful environment, which was evidenced by his lovely home, one of the most unique houses in Cambridge. This was the Old Granary, a converted Mill rising straight from the Cam with delightful views of the riverside meadows.

During August 39, mutual concerns about the likely outcomes of the coming war gave rise to a number of spontaneous discussions amongst several acquaintances, which, thanks to Henry Morris and his splendid housekeeper often took place at the Old Granary. These were never intended to be more than ad hoc and informal; however, they tended to coalesce into what, for convenience, came to be known as the Cambridge Peace Aims Group.

Early participants included Dick Acland (later Sir Richard, the Liberal Party leader); Bobby (E.J.) Carter, Librarian, Royal Institute of British Architects; Robert Jordan, future Principal, Architectural Association; Henry Morris; Geoffrey Pyke (founder of the famous Malting House School in Cambridge), of whom more below; Graeme Shankland (see below); and myself.

When I was Secretary of C. U. R. B. at University (Chapter Six), Shankland, a fellow architectural student was especially supportive of the various planning committees. In fact, following World War II he founded the planning consultancy firm of Shankland, Cox and Co. , which gained global prominence. In October 39, a two-room London flat to rent became available at number 40 Bloomsbury Street (opposite Bedford Square) and Graeme Shankland agreed to share it with me. Thereafter it was possible for further C. P. A. G. meetings to be held at that address.

On the 1st October 1939 my age group was conscripted and I registered as a conscientious objector. A hearing was arranged to take place in Cambridge in late November (see Ch 11). At the same time, I submitted an advertisement to The Times personal column which read:Conscripts:What Are We Fighting For?To Discuss, Ring Museum ****. Soon after, The Times phoned me to say my advertisement was treasonable and therefore could not be accepted!

Dick Acland considered the Times was wrong, and suggested I visit H. G. Wells, who might be moved to ask the editor to reverse the decision. So I went around to Wells house - one of the splendidly elegant Regency terraces at the south side of Regents Park. He was charming and totally supportive, and I overheard him on the telephone trying to persuade the Times editor to change his mind and accept my advertisement: sadly without success. As I was leaving, regretting his failure, he asked if I would like to come to dinner that night, which I naturally accepted.

Virginia Woolf

When later I duly arrived for dinner, I was ushered to an empty chair next to a woman, who turned out to be none other than Virginia Woolf. More than 60 years on I cannot recall any of our conversation, but can only assume that if it had been anything other than friendly small talk then I would have remembered it! Naturally, H.G. sat at the head of the table, with his equally diminutive lady-of-the-moment (architect Justine Blanco-White) at the other end. As I sat down, the conversation centred on a just-published paper-back about Soviet-Finnish relations, which I had noticed briefly on the book stalls without absorbing the details. A guest was asking, could anyone tell him the name of the author? There must have been a very faint image of it in my mind because I at once suggested "Kerensky" which was, of course, a major gaffe because he was already an historic figure and had been dead for years. During the ensuing deafening silence, I imagined a collective reaction along the lines of What is this young idiot doing amongst all our great minds? However, my having enunciated a K****y name had jogged memories and, as one, they all called out: Oh yes, of course, Krevitsky! - which was the right answer.

NB The facts behind that incident were as follows: the Russians at the time feared that if the Nazis invaded both Sweden and Finland, that Leningrad (being very close to the Finnish border) would be at serious risk, and were therefore pressing the Finns to cede some territory for protection. No actual hostilities occurred but certain newspapers whipped up old anti-Soviet feelings, talking of poor little Finland etc, and D. N. Pritt quickly published his paperback: Must the war spread? It had been a tense few weeks since 50,000 British troops had been readied to go through Sweden to fight the Red Army: then Sweden refused their transit, so everything calmed down. Krevitsky was clearly a White Russian- delighting in opening up old antagonisms.

It transpired that my new flatmate, Graeme, was as keen as I was to broaden his political understanding and experience in any appropriate ways possible. This included the Cambridge Peace Aims Group, for which Robert Jordan had volunteered to become Secretary. Robert had agreed to draft a manifesto (with a small m ) and we were to assist him in whatever ways we could. To that end, we began by visiting Margaret Gardiner, the inspiration behind and founder of For Intellectual Liberty. This was an ad hoc body formed in the 30s to counter the various menaces from fascism in Spain, Italy, Germany and elsewhere and already had some 600 members and supporters throughout Europe. She supplied us with a substantial list of persons she felt would be happy to give advice, including, for example, J. G. Crowther (editor: the Economist ), Victor Gollancz (founder: Left book Club), Professor J.B.S. Haldane, Liddell-Hart (writer on military affairs), Kingsley Martin (editor: New Statesman ), Jim Maxton (leader: Independent Labour Party).

Geoffrey Pyke

Geoffrey Pyke

I had already met one, clearly exceptionally gifted adviser, Geoffrey Pyke, when he had joined some of our earlier discussions at the Old Granary. I had taken an immediate liking to him for his clearly impressive intellect and enthusiasm. On moving to London, I was particularly glad to find that his property at 32 Great Ormond Street was within walking distance. When I first visited him there, I was amazed to find that, entirely on his own initiative, he had transformed the whole of his top floor into a monitoring station for collecting radio messages from Resistance Movements all over Europe. He had gathered a substantial staff of refugees who could cope with the range of languages and dialects involved, and had organised all the necessary receiving equipment to enable him to edit a daily bulletin of news items from various corners of the continent, which he was able to present to the Foreign Office.

Fortunately for all of us, Churchill's renowned pragmatism led him to instruct Lord Mountbatten to create his Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) which, Churchill insisted, should take advantage of any, (specifically including unconventional) personnel or technologies which could contribute to winning the war. Thus, in 1940, the S.O.E. came to include not only Professor Bernal and Solly Zuckerman (later Sir Solly, Chief Government Scientific Advisor) but also Geoffrey Pyke.

Over the coming months there came a flood of tributes to Pyke which included the following: One of the greatest geniuses of our time: the sort of man who would have invented the wheel (Professor Desmond Bernal); His brain was a firework of ideas, some brilliant, some fantastic, but all new and highly unconventional (Cambridge Scientist Max Perutz); it's advantages are so dazzling they do not at the moment need to be discussed (Winston Churchill on one of Pyke's wartime ideas); the most unusual and provocative man I ever met (Lord Mountbatten who looked upon him as an important ally in his efforts to persuade the conventional run of officers to loosen up, urging them to tolerate Pyke and try to learn from him.)

During the few weeks prior to his joining the S.O.E. , when he was running his radio monitoring organisation and I used to visit him regularly, Geoffrey Pyke often confided to me his terror at the thought of a successful Nazi invasion of Britain. He knew only too well what it would mean for him as a Jew, and he used to regularly give me any Marxist or other left wing books he had not already got rid of, to take away and thus reduce the risk of his being incriminated as a Communist as well.

Pyke was a sensitive and vulnerable man, and it was one of Britain's great strokes of war- time good luck that Mountbatten was evidently a sufficiently modest and broad-minded man to enable him to actually befriend Pyke, and thus get the most startling and innovative results from him, which contributed significantly to victory. In his farewell letter of thanks to Pyke, Mountbatten wrote: your original thoughts for this headquarters have been of the utmost value to the war effort.

Those results referred to were too numerous and complex to do justice to here, but one example which will serve to illustrate Pyke's astonishingly innovative imagination, which he christened Habbakuk I will include. It was to be a massive (half mile long) aircraft carrier for use in the Atlantic as back-up for D-day, made entirely of ice reinforced with woodchips known as Pykecrete , which was found to have astonishingly useful properties such as resistance both to melting and to projectiles; in the event of a torpedo strike, the hole could be frozen over. Churchill insisted on a full scale trial on one of the Canadian great lakes, but the war ended before actual application of the idea in action.

So far as I know, only one book has ever been published about Geoffrey Pyke, named Pyke: the unknown Genius, by David Lampe; Evans Brothers Ltd. , London, 1959, and it makes fascinating reading.

Professor John Desmond Bernal

Desmond Bernal in 1932

Desmond Bernal influenced my life enormously. He had a prodigiously agile, inquisitive mind, with interests that seemingly knew no bounds, embracing all human activities, and much else besides.

For example, he accepted that water flowed. But he had to know why, so he had decided that at least one day he would do the necessary crystallographic research to answer that question

I had met Bernal first when, acting under pressures arising from the actual outbreak of war, he had relinquished much of his "pure science in favour of applying his uniquely keen mind to innumerable practical problems such as the construction of air raid shelters, and initiating research and development concerning the plainly huge imminent requirement for mass housing, with both of which I was already concerned.

Undoubtedly the most significant tribute to his abilities was represented by his being entrusted by Mountbatten in 1940, with, in effect, the leadership of what he termed his Department of Wild Talents within the Special Operations Executive (already referred to under Geoffrey Pyke above). That responsibility, in fact, amounted to nothing less than drafting proposals for both strategies and tactics for the invasion of France. At times, considerable personal risks were involved, such as when clandestinely surveying the landing beaches from a submarine.

While never excusing Stalin's excesses, Bernal was an ardent supporter of the remarkably wide-ranging achievements of the Soviet Union, including their astonishing movement of an entire armaments industry behind the Urals, and the subsequent heroic achievements of the Red Army. Further, he was active enough, at any possible times, to grab a loudspeaker and a soapbox at Hyde Park's Speakers Corner to remind the public of those achievements and to call for support for opening a second front to relieve the appalling pressures on our gallant Soviet allies.

Three brief quotations well summarise Bernal's outlook: Knowledge must be shared, and that sharing must lead to action ; We cannot advance by just telling people about science, but by getting people themselves to be scientists , and lastly, in the context of his outstanding efforts for World Peace the scientific work I do can be done by others, but unless the political work is done there will be no science at all.

Politically, of course, Desmond Bernal was always firmly on the Left. I empathised with him particularly when, at age 18 during his first term at Cambridge, after an all-night discussion with a friendly fellow student which must have been his first introduction to the Socialist concept, he wrote in his diary, "this socialism is a marvellous thing why did no one tell me about it before? My old life was broken into bits, and a new one lay in front of me."

Of Bernal's many books, the best known was the Social Function of Science published in 1939 which made a great impact with its presentation of science as a social sub-system. My own favourite book was World Without War (Routledge, London, 1958) which so impressed me that I designed a light-weight, readily dismountable and portable system of display panels for it, and transposed the text and various tables and diagrams onto them. It was then displayed at small exhibitions at various centres country-wide.

Bernal was a prodigious worker, and in spite of a massive work load, he would always try to accept new requests if he felt they merited assistance, and would then somehow accommodate them without compromising tasks already undertaken. He was fortunate in having the company and guidance of three outstanding women in his lifetime: his first and only wife Eileen, his faithful and tough doorkeeper and personal assistant Anita Rimmel, and his final partner, Margot Heinemann. In spite of their efforts, overwork inevitably brought on strokes in 1963 and 65, leading eventually to his death in 1971.

To date, no biography of Bernal has been published. However, there exists an excellent Anthology of Articles by those who knew him well, namely: J. D. Bernal: A Life in Science and Politics: Edited by Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian, Verso, London, 1999.

John Platts-Mills Q. C.

John was a rugged New Zealander who had come to Britain in the 30s to study law, which led him, eventually, to join the Chambers of D. N. Pritt KC (author of Must the War Spread , mentioned above) who had built up an international reputation as a staunch defender of leaders who had displeased the British imperialist hierarchy, such as, for example: Nehru in India, and Kenyatta in Kenya. In the 30s Johnny Pritt, as we knew him, who's home was some distance from London, would often stay overnight at the flat I shared with Thora near Tottenham Court Road, to enable him to keep an early appointment at the law courts. He used to take us to supper to the recently opened Ivy restaurant, where he was a much-respected customer. Later, he would regale us into the small hours with both fascinating and very entertaining tales of legal cases.

John Platts-Mills, too, soon became a dedicated socialist and a staunch supporter of good causes. For example, in June 1940, he successfully defended Canon Morris of the Peace Pledge Union, which had been prosecuted for their campaign entitled Wars will cease when men refuse to fight. Both DN Pritt and John Platts-Mills later became Labour Members of Parliament, representing the London boroughs of Hammersmith and Finsbury respectively; and both were expelled by the Atlee/Bevin leadership in 1948 for initiating a well-supported telegram of electoral well- wishes to the then left-leaning leader of the Italian socialist party, Signor Nenni, who was upsetting the Americans.

Following Hitler's invasion of the USSR, resulting in the Red Army becoming our allies, Churchill, pragmatic as ever, decided that, in the interests of maximum success of our joint efforts with our new war partners, that a sea change was called for in the public perception of the Soviet Union. He was duly advised by leading government lawyer, Sir Stafford Cripps, that John Platts-Mills would be the ideal person to bring about the needed fundamental change of image. So John was given the necessary financial support (via the Ministry of Information) to mount a campaign which would inspire the British public regarding the great potential of victory through wholehearted collaboration with the Red Army, which, by the end of 1941, was in fact making highly successful counter attacks on the Germans. Before long, John had a lively organising committee running, which was sponsored by the Dean of Canterbury and Lady Clementine Churchill. Mass meetings were arranged at which serving Red Army personnel were invited over to speak, including a particularly memorable, four-times wounded young woman sniper named Ludmilla Pavlichenko, who had killed some 300 German soldiers.

The Committee's appeals raised outstandingly large sums, together with tonnes of gifts to be sent to Russian soldiers. Almost certainly, the most tangible evidence of the new enthusiasm of the British people to support the Red Army came later with the unparalleled heroism shown by the seamen manning the North Atlantic convoys, taking war supplies to Murmansk through the most devastating weather conditions compounded by incessant U-boat and other attacks.

Since his arrival in Britain, John Platts-Mills had volunteered his services to both army, navy and air force. However, MI5 effectively blocked his entry into any of the services, so, in mid 1944, he volunteered to help vital coal output by going down the mines as a "Bevin boy". This was a particularly gallant offer because he was not only no longer young, but being very tall meant the cramped working conditions would be particularly onerous.

I last spoke to John, on the telephone, a few weeks before his death in October 2001, when he jokingly told me he'd just moved in "as an assistant" with his old pupil Michael Mansfield QC, who had already achieved prominence as leader of the Criminal Bar.

Fortunately, in his latter years, John had found the time and remarkable energy to produce a 650 page volume of memoirs Muck, Silk and Socialism: Recollections of a Left-wing Queens Counsel which make truly fascinating reading. (ISBN 0-9539949-0-2 Published by Paper Publishing, Old Wood Cottage, Wedmore, Somerset BS28 4XW )

Chapter 9

Thora Silverthorne: My Future Wife

Thora Silverthorne was born on 25 November 1910, daughter of South Wales coal miner, George Silverthorne. George had been a foundation member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and was a leading member of the local lodge(branch) of the National Union of Mineworkers always active in the struggle to improve miners' wages and conditions. Following the collapse of the 1926 General Strike, George was naturally one of the first to fall victim to the widespread dismissals by the then private mine owners, and forced to emigrate to Reading in order to find work to support his family.

George was a friendly, gentle man and he was also quick-witted. Once, Thora's younger sister, Betty, had brought her fiance, Tony, to meet the family. Tony was an Australian academic studying for a Masters Degree in philosophy at Cambridge where he was already held in considerable esteem for a learned thesis on Marxism, which had been widely praised. Betty duly introduced him to George, saying Dad, this is Tony, he's a philosopher and George immediately replied Well, of course, we re all philosophers aren't we? Tony went on to become Professor of Philosophy in the University of Alberta at Edmonton in Canada.

Thora had always had a great affection and respect for her father, and naturally followed in his political footsteps. She became an active member of the Young Communist League in Reading, and was a regular seller of the Daily Worker. In due course, she successfully entered the Nurses Training School at the prestigious Radcliff Hospital in Oxford. She studied hard, and before long became an's . R. N. or State Registered Nurse and subsequently also qualified as a theatre sister.

Thora nursing in a field hospital ward..

... and operating theatre with Dr Alex Tudor-Hart

When the fascist General Franco attacked the army of the established Spanish Republican government in 1936, Thora immediately responded to the call for volunteer doctors and nurses to go to Spain to assist the hard-pressed Republicans. She was in fact, the first British nurse to go out, in August 1936.

Thora often referred to going to Spain as the most important decision of my life. She recalled the emotional farewells from the considerable crowds of well-wishers at Victoria Station, followed by the inspiring rally in a huge stadium in Paris on their way through, and of course the traumatic speech at the farewell Barcelona rally by the great Communist leader La Passionaria when she said Spain will never forget you.

Thora's Spanish Republican Army 14th International Brigade ID card with her father's name as next of kin

Thora visiting the ruins of a hospital near Barcelona in 1975 with Moises Broggi and the Hungarian doctor, Johnny Kiszelly

Before long, the small British medical unit was absorbed into the famous International Brigades and she then worked as theatre sister in close collaboration with a highly-skilled Spanish surgeon, Doctor Moises Broggi. In spite of her knowing no Spanish, and he no English, they succeeded in collaborating successfully, occasionally doing all-night shifts, sometimes extending to twenty-four hours non-stop, to cope with the appalling flood of battle wounded; at one stage they treated seven hundred casualties over just five days.

After many months of such work interspersed with assisting the local people suffering from the incessant Italian or German bombing raids, she returned exhausted, to London in 1937. There she lived in Holborn with the doctor who had been in charge of the UK medical unit and whom she had married in Spain. I first met Thora in April 1940 following a recommendation that Graeme Shankland and I should visit her and her then husband as members of the respected Holborn branch of the Labour Party. It was suggested that we could obtain further comments from them on the draft of the Cambridge Peace Aims Group's manifesto. In due course Thora appeared, dressed agreeably informally, in a somewhat worn, wine-coloured dressing gown, and I recall saying to Graeme later.. 'That is the woman I would like to marry!'.

I had realised she was several years my senior and was well aware of the convention that the male should be the older in a partnership. However, I was not a keen supporter of conventions and, in this instance, there did not appear to be any clearly logical reason underpinning it. In fact I considered her age to be more of an asset than an impediment, implying as it did, a considerable measure of life experience already, including, uniquely, her wartime nursing in Spain: and I believed that a partnership should be as strong as its two parts combined. In November 42 I was invited by Thora's flatmate to a party in their shared flat in Southampton Row. At the end of a jolly evening, tired guests were looking for rest, so bed spaces became scarce and Thora offered me a share of hers!

Thirties culture was so men-dominated that other-than-male initiatives were viewed askance. So, no doubt, there would have been raised eyebrows and wise murmurings of the older woman. So, yes, she seduced me, but I already loved her and did not object - so, where's the harm?For me, it was simply a natural, happy occasion which signaled the start of a loving, constructive relationship which was to flourish for the next fifty-five years. It's timing, too, was particularly fortuitous for me, providing, as it did, instant and enduring moral support on the eve of one of the most traumatic times of my life namely the sudden switch from normal, comfortable, civilian life to what seemed, at least at first, like hell on earth,in the army.

At the time, Thora had accepted a responsible post, which involved much countrywide traveling throughout the UK, as principle organiser for women in the Civil Service Clerical Association, a union led by its highly capable and likeable general secretary, Leonard White.

However, her main interest and concern remained in the field of nursing, where she had for long felt there was a crying need for grass roots Trade Union representation. The only existing body allegedly representing nurses interests was the establishment based Royal College of Nursing, which was, of course, in continuous contact with the main employers of nurses, namely the all- private hospital owners.

So, in late 42, Thora set about creating what she called the Association of Nurses, simply by inviting a number of nurses from a variety of hospitals to meetings at her flat in Great Ormond Street, where the only available seating was the floor. She was a natural speaker and organiser, and was fortunate, from the start, to have the journalistic assistance of Gordon Schaffer, the assistant editor of Reynolds' News a progressive Sunday newspaper owned by the Co-operative movement. Schaff as we knew him during a life-long friendship, had heard of her inaugural meeting by complete chance and had just dropped in, looking for an interesting story. Thereafter he had supported her with a pamphlet, occasional news items and interviews on the radio.

Before long, Thora had organised the first ever street march by nurses, with appropriate placards, which generated such immediate public sympathy that at least two London hospitals agreed forthwith to recognise her Association and actually granted immediate improvements in wages and conditions to their nurses.

Needing further publicity, Thora went on to organise some sizeable public meetings. For one of these, she set her sights high, and succeeded in persuading the highly prestigious Lord Horder, (at the time, personal physician to the King) to occupy the Chair. On learning this, the Royal College of Nursing became deeply agitated and immediately pressured Lord Horder to withdraw. Thora, naturally, acquainted the press, who then highlighted the worthy Lord's volt-face, which of course provided her advertised meeting (with an alternative Chairman) with welcome additional publicity. Before long, nurse membership topped 500, and it became clear to Thora that obvious administrative problems made it imperative for her to accept the offer of one of the already established unions catering for nurses the National Union of Public Employees or NUPE, to take her members under their wing. Fortunately, NUPE then had a wise and friendly Welsh General Secretary, so the amalgamation took place smoothly. At the same time, all her records of meetings and correspondence etc. since the formation of the Association were transferred, and later destroyed when the NUPE headquarters was bombed.

At one of London's largest and most prestigious hospitals the nursing staff showed particular interest, so Thora approached the Matron for agreement to holding a meeting at which she could explain the role of The Association. This was agreed with the provision that the Matron herself took the chair. This she did, accompanied by the maximum available numbers of Ward Sisters and other " top brass" in their distinctive well-starched uniforms, whereupon she did her best to slander Thora's new Association with the usual innuendoes about presumed support by Moscow Gold etc... However, partly due to the moral support of Thora's many young enthusiasts, the outcome of the meeting was clearly in Thora's favour. This infuriated one of the RCN members who made a vicious attack on Thora. Thora then initiated and won a libel case, during which she was greatly assisted by advice from a sympathetic Australian Judge (Dr. Evatt) who happened to be visiting at the time. In fact, in her various encounters with the Royal College and other opponents, Thora showed consistently that she was not a woman to be cowed easily by ANY authority!

Later during the war, a group of doctors and others formed the Socialist Medical Association, and Thora became its first General Secretary, a task which suited her and which she performed well, considerably widening its successes and influence. For example, in 1945, she led an SMA delegation to see Clement Atlee and Aneurin Bevan in relation to the creation of the National Health Service, in particular to ensure the retention of the all-important consultants, who were trying to opt out in favour of their own private practices.

Thora with Rodney Bickerstaff
at the House of Commons 1995

Many years later, when Thora was just beginning to suffer from the onset of that most terrible scourge: Alzheimer's disease, I was able to rescue some press- cuttings and other items relating to the Association of Nurses, and assemble them into a scrapbook. By this time the great new public service union UNISON had been formed and absorbed smaller bodies such as NUPE. So, at a small informal gathering one day at the Unison headquarters, Thora and I presented the scrapbook to Rodney Bickerstaff, the then General Secretary, for placing in their archives.

In November 1995 UNISON kindly sponsored a meeting in a committee room of the House of Commons to mark Thora's 85th birthday, at which tributes were paid to her early work for nurses. One of these came from Michael Walker, a veteran UNISON organiser in the health field, who said By transforming her early hopes to create a genuine trade union for nurses into reality Thora changed nursing for ever.

Getting Together

Thora's first husband's mother whom the whole family always loved as Granny Loutit

In 1941, Thora's first husband, whose interest in their marriage had for long been wavering, eventually abandoned her, leaving her with full responsibility for their daughter, Christina. Tina had been born in 1940 regrettably with chronic health problems, notably eczema and asthma. Thora, starting divorce proceedings, was fortunate in finding a large mansion flat near Tottenham Court Road to rent (with the financial input of several lodgers) where she could accommodate herself, Tina and two of her several sisters who were very supportive. When not away in the army, I too, was able to live there.

In November 1946 Thora and I decided to marry. The ceremony was held at the St Pancras Registry Office. Thora telephoned Tina (who was then staying with her paternal grandmother) to give her the news and I recall being very happy to hear her piping voice on the telephone saying: Oh, I'm glad we re marrying Daddy!

Within a year or so as a couple, we were able to adopt Tina, who thus became Christina Craig and I had a ready-made family. Before long, I took both Thora and Tina for a brief visit to Tanera Moor, where I am glad to say Molly gave them a warm welcome, and even Edwin occasionally showed his enjoyment of Tina's lively company. His health had deteriorated further, but I still hoped he might have felt able to offer some felicitations on my instant family. Instead, however, all he seemed able to offer were unwanted words of warning about the risks of open-ended commitments. Thus, the question of money reared its ugly head again.

Thora's Family - the Silverthorne 'clan'

Thora had a close and loving relationship with all of her large family four sisters and two brothers -but following the death of her father, whom she had loved deeply, Thora had developed an even deeper affection for her younger brother, Reg (also known as Shon). Shon was a prominent trade union official, concerned with the engineering and aircraft industries, and regularly involved in stressful negotiations with employers. Without any warning signs, at age only forty, Shon suddenly suffered a critical heart attack and died. Thora, still mourning her father, was traumatised and her truly profound grieving lasted for many months to come.

At Gordon Mansions 1946 Thora (kneeling) 5th from left Thora & her father George c. 1953 L-R back: Roy, Ivy, George (father), Cis, Shon
front: Betty, Thora, Lete

Thora's duties at the Socialist Medical Association ended in the sixties, which left her free to seek other work. She had always had a great love of young children, so we started looking for an appropriate environment for her energies, and in due course, found Glebelands Nursery School for sale. It was located in the ground, and lower ground floors, of a very large house in the elegant Victorian Church terrace in Blackheath, an attractive and fashionable area in south London. The school was a going concern with experienced staff and an attendance of some fifty children of appropriate ages. Thora used to commute there from our home in Hampstead, and soon got used to solving the various human problems which inevitably arose, and was able to enjoy the company of the children while managing the school. Thora was in fact so popular with the children that a group of them was once overheard saying, Why can't WE have Aunty Thora as a granny?

From then on, Thora and I led happy and mutually supportive lives, with her health on the whole remaining reasonably stable. So, it was a deeply unnerving experience one morning in 1998 when she looked me straight in the eye and said: "Where's Nares?".

That marked the beginning of several deeply in fact, at times, agonizingly distressing months of both mental and, at times, physical aberrations, which were, before long diagnosed as the terrible Alzheimer's disease, which eventually resulted in her death from pneumonia in January 1999.

Thora's funeral took the form of a celebration of her life with very many tributes. In the Nursing Times of 8/12/99, the then General Secretary of UNISON, Rodney Bickerstaff, published a moving article about Thora, saying She combined being a compassionate nurse with political activism.

Regrettably, it is impossible here to reproduce all the many reports and other documentation about Thora's lifetime, including of course, her time in Spain. However, they are all on file and available for viewing if wished, by arrangement with Nares Craig.

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