An Interview given by Gertrude Deane to Sam Bornstein 8th July 1980

Another in our Lost Voices series.

Gertie (or Gerty) Deane was born into a left wing family. Her father, Charles Carrick was elected President of Liverpool Trades Council in 1905, was an organiser for the Social Democratic Federation and was a long time Labour councillor. Three of her four sons, Jimmy, Brian and Arthur joined the Trotskyist movement. Jimmy recruited Gerty to the pre war Revolutionary Socialist League. They later joined the WIL and then the RCP. 

Seemingly Sam Bornstein was thinking of doing a second interview with her but as far as we know this didn’t happen. We have been unable to locate any photos of Gertrude Deane. If any reader has one, please let us know.

Interview given by Mrs. Gertrude Deane to Sam Bornstein on Tuesday 8th July 1980 in Liverpool 

SB: You said earlier that your father was a socialist city councillor and one of the originators in Liverpool of the Socialist Sunday School Movement. 

GD: Yes, he always called himself a Marxist socialist. Now, what he became later on, I don’t know, but this was at the beginning when he was young, and I was young. 

SB: During the First World War, what position did he take up in relation to the war? 

GD: That I can’t tell you because I was in training at the Royal Southern Hospital then. Now, what date was that? 

SB: 1914. 

GD: No, I wouldn’t be then, I don’t think. How old would I be then? I’m 85 now. 

SB: That was 66 years ago. You were then 19. 

GD: If I was 19 then, I would have been in the hospital, training. You see, my mother died young, and my father remarried again and had three girls. Now, what’s happened to them, I don’t know. But as far as the first was concerned, I don’t know. I was with the girls and the soldiers in the hospital. 

SB: When the SDF split, what organisation did you join? Did you go into the Communist Party? 

GD: Oh no, I never joined the Communist Party. I often used to think of doing so, because it seemed to be more “left”, but somehow or other I never got round to it. It may be because I was studying. (You have to when you are a nurse.) In any case, my life was entirely different. You lived in a different world because you lived in the hospital. I was nursing for about nine years when I was young. Later, I went into a factory and that was the beginning of my trade union life. 

SB: When was this? 

GD: It is difficult to go back and dig up the past. It is like digging up the soil. I wasn’t living here then. I was living in Hurlingham Road, and I’ve lived here for over twenty years, as long as it has been built. So it must be over twenty years. I worked in the factory until I was 73. That’s a record, isn’t it? 

SB: What factory was that? 

GD: English Electric. 

SB: You were a member of the ETU? 

GD: Yes, in the ETU. It wasn’t the EEPTU then. There were some communists, and the girls used to say “Oh, that’s a commie union,” and I would say that I was not a communist, or rather that I was not a member of the Communist Party was the way that I would put it, but I worked very hard at organising the union. They would send me away to various schools, and it gave me an opportunity of mixing with others, but I found them a poor lot. The last time I went, we went to vote for equal rights and equal wages for women, and there was one woman there who didn’t believe in it but went there to vote for it. You have to realise, it has to be understood, that a woman can’t do as heavy work as a man. Of course, some women can, but not all women. And this woman who didn’t believe in it went along to vote for it. So I thought, “to hell with you,” and I wouldn’t have any truck with them after that. They are not much good, and she certainly wasn’t an honest woman, because she could have let them know what her ideas were. But I believed in the rights of women, having been in the suffragette movement when I was very young. 

SB: Can you tell me what you remember about the Suffragettes? 

GD: Yes, they were very active here in Liverpool. 

SB: You mentioned earlier Mrs Myers, who was active. Can you tell me about her? 

GD: Mrs Myers, yes. She was a militant suffragette. She went up to London to disobey the law and was put in jail for three months. So, she did her bit, and it wasn’t a nice bit either. She was treated pretty badly in jail. They would try and get a letter to her, and they sent her a garment with the letter sewn into the hem, and she received the letter that way. I was there when she came out of jail, and she was just as militant, although she didn’t want to get into jail again. So I have always been connected with people doing things in the movement. She was a socialist, but she didn’t see what we see now more clearly, that it is only socialism that can give women the freedom that these women were seeking. Most of them were educated women. Most of them were middle-class. Unfortunately, the working women had no time really, then. She may have now, with aids like hoovers and things like that. Then the working women spent her time in looking after the children and cooking, cleaning, and everything at that period. I suppose that is why my mother wasn’t with my father. He would take me along, and she would go to “do’s”, concerts and things like that run by the women’s sections. 

SB: After the war, when you began working in a factory, were you then in the Labour Party? 

GD: I was attached to the Labour Party and would pay my dues. They would come around and collect. But I couldn’t take any active part. The work was too exhausting, and I lived on my own and had to do my own shopping and cooking. 

SB: When did you first meet the Trotskyists? 

GD: Well, it was through Jim. I can’t remember who they were. 

SB: In Liverpool there were people like Don James and Julius Granger. 

GD: I’ve forgotten. Did Jim remember? Whenever it was, it was Jim that took me round to these people. When did he become involved? Did he remember? 

SB: Jim joined the RSL about 1938. 

GD: Well it would be about the same time. 

SB: Do you remember any of the people around the Trotskyist movement in Liverpool at that time? What organisation was it? Was it the Revolutionary Socialist League, the RSL? 

GD: I don’t know. We just called ourselves “Trotskyists”. 

SB: I suppose that you had meetings? 

GD: I wasn’t working full-time, and had to look after myself, and I had Brian with me. He came into the Trotskyist movement in those days. He still has the same ideas now but is not attached to any organisation. I don’t think he is even in the Labour Party. 

SB: Gerry Healy came to Liverpool in those days to win over to the WIL the people that you and Jimmy were working with. Do you remember Healy coming to Liverpool? 

GD: Yes. He actually came here. No, it was to Hurlingham Road, where I then lived. He talked, and talked, and talked, and walked up and down and kept going for ages, but he didn’t move Jim at all. He didn’t move me either. I thought he was a damned nuisance, because he did such a lot of talking. 

SB: Do you remember how you joined the Workers International League, and the paper Socialist Appeal? 

GD: I came in with Jim. He brought me with him. 

SB: Do you remember selling the Socialist Appeal? 

GD: Oh yes. We would sell thousands. I used to go with-, now, what’s her name? Sara, was it? Sarita, that’s it! She married Frank Ward. Well, Sarita and I would go into Liverpool with a big bundle of papers, hundreds under our arms, and we would sell the lot in no time. Now, they talk about selling a couple of hundred and they think they’re doing well. We would sell a thousand between us on a Saturday morning. In the heart of Liverpool, it would go better than the “Echo” or any other of their papers. I think the Socialist Appeal was a very good paper. 

SB: Did you sell in the factory where you worked? 

GD: I don’t think so. I don’t remember. Was Sarita here then? 

SB: No, she came to London. 

GD: And where was Frank? 

SB: In the Air Force. 

GD: I used to sell paper with Frank’s brother. He was a nice lad. What was his name? 

SB: I’ve forgotten. 

GD: You’ve forgotten! And you’re not as old as I am! 

SB: Do you remember when the Workers International League used to publish the “Workers Diary”. It was a duplicated sheet for members and contacts only. 

GD: I’m not sure. But I am an omnivorous reader, (big word that), so if there was any reading to be done, I would have read it. 

SB: Do you remember any of the internal discussions that were taking place in the group? There were a lot of arguments going on over military policy or over the Labour Party with Healy later on. 

GD: I don’t remember now what the discussions were about. There was always a lot of powwow with Healy knocking around. Somehow or other he was rather too bombastic for me. By the way, what’s happened to him? 

SB: Well, he still has his group functioning. 

GD: Oh, he still has a group? Ted Grant came to Liverpool too, you know. He stayed with us. But that was a long while ago. What’s happened to him? 

SB: He too has a group. 

GD: He writes in the paper but puts someone else’s name to it. Who are these people who write in the paper? I don’t even know their names. 

SB: They have a new group of entirely young people. 

GD: Now, who the Dickens is Bill Davitt? They’re all young, I suppose. 

SB: Yes, they are all young except Ted. 

GD: No, I don’t suppose there is anyone there I would know. Even amongst the nurses, and I am very interested in them, there was always the talk that nurses can’t go on strike. Yet we knew we were very badly paid, and we had very bad food. It was terrible and I was very ill whilst I was nursing. It was the bad food. We weren’t getting the proper nourishment. Two girls had died, and I got the ‘flu’. They called it ‘pyrexia of unknown origin’. Then they altered it to ‘flu’, which means ‘under the influence of’, so anything can be called ‘flu’. But I got this ‘pyrexia of unknown origin’ and two nurses had died before me of this in the sick bay where I was, and they took great care to look after the other girls too, because they were our own. Well anyway, I had to put in the time. But it was the biggest thing in my life. It seemed to be there a long, long time. You know, when you are young, some parts of your life seem to be more drawn out than others. Such a lot happened, and you got to know such a lot of people. But anyway, we used to sell hundreds of Socialist Appeals in Liverpool in the streets. I don’t remember selling in the factory. You weren’t allowed to, and you would get the sack right away, but they would call me a communist because I was in the ETU. Wouldn’t Chappell laugh! 

SB: I am very interested in the political arguments that took place in the WIL group. You remember the fusion between the WIL and RSL? 

GD: Dimly. Very dimly. Did Jim know? 

SB: Yes, but I wanted to get your point of view 

(At this stage we stopped talking. Gerty began by saying:) 

GD: I have been a socialist all my life, right from when I would first talk. I would stand on a chair and my dad would say, “Now tell us what socialism means.” And I would say “Socialism means-,” I’ve forgotten now, as I’d forgot then, and he would prompt me on the chair. “The common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” (A little girl saying all of this.) “For the common weal”. And I learned that, and I would stand on a chair and say it. We had people coming from all over the place to see my father. There was one from Ireland. Now, what was his name? Was it Flanagan? And he looked a proper anarchist. I thought he was lovely. 

SB: You don’t mean Larkin, do you? 

GD: That’s right, it was Jim Larkin. Did you know him? 

SB: No. I knew of him. 

GD: I would be put to bed, and would call out “Who have you got downstairs? Is that Larkin?” He wore such a big hat. So, you never knew him. 

SB: No, I never met him, but I have heard of him. 

GD: He organised the Irish, but he was a good socialist. But they were always arguing. What they were arguing about I don’t know, but it was probably the Irish question. It’s always the Irish question, isn’t it? Particularly in Liverpool. We were also very close to the ILP. They all seemed to be the same to me, as a child, but they had rooms in Marmaduke Street in Liverpool, and we used to go there every Sunday and meet ILP people there. Well, any discussions that did take place, I was too young to take part in. I was about twelve then. I know that my father had a lot of discussions with them, and they were very fierce discussions. I can remember listening to them and they had crowded meetings, bigger than they have now. A branch would be tremendous, and this was a big building. 

SB: What were the differences between the ILP and your father. 

GD: I don’t remember the political differences, but I remember a huge hall in Kensington, the Sun Hall, and H. M. Hyndman came. I remember seeing him and I was on a platform and selling the paper “Justice” up and down the aisles. That was the paper of the SDF, “Justice”. Well, I was selling the paper and Quelch-, do you remember Harry Quelch? No? Well, Hyndman was a very gracious gentleman with a beard. He looked very important, and it was a crowded meeting, really crowded. It was the big names, I suppose. The Sun Hall was a big place, and it was crowded. Not just a couple of hundred but crowded. It had been built as an exhibition hall, so you can imagine it was pretty big and it was there that I got to know Harry Quelch and H. M. Hyndman and all the big names. Quelch was a very excitable kind of man. Their hearts were totally in it. My father had to escort Hyndman and find him a place to sleep, as we did in the movement, and look after a visitor. 

SB: You mentioned earlier that your father came from a Catholic background and became a socialist? 

GD: He was an only son. His father died when he was very young. His name was Wilson. His mother’s maiden name was Ann Carrick, and my father’s middle name was Carrick. His full name was Charles Carrick Wilson. He did have an education, which was unusual in those days. He went to a Dame school here in Liverpool. 

SB: How did he come to join the SDF? 

GD: He did a lot of reading. Like me, I’m very fond of reading. You want to know things. He had all the radical books, the thinkers’ books. There was Darwin. That was the big name then. He would take me on walks and tell me all about Darwin and the “Origin of the Species”. I don’t think he devoted so much of his time to his other children as he did to me. 

SB: What did he work at? 

GD: He was a house and ships painter. He wasn’t just a slap-and-dash painter. He was really an artist. 

SB: So he was a member of one of the painters’ unions. 

GD: Yes. He was in the National Union of Painters. He was a great trade unionist. 

SB: Do you remember any of the strikes which took place round about that time? 

GD: I can’t remember any particular strikes. When I began to work in the hospital, I had to learn to live a different life. Your mind gets closed, and you don’t get out among people. 

SB: You father was active until when? 

GD: He was always active in the unions, and I think he was an official of the union, when he died. 

SB: When was that? 

GD: I’m not quite sure. I was married and I remember going to their house with Brian, who was a baby, and my step-mother offered Brian some bread and butter and Brian said, “I want dam on it”, and my father said, “That’s right, lad. We always ask for jam on it.” Brian is now 50-odd. 

SB: So, Brian was a baby when he died? 

GD: No. Perhaps Brian will remember. 

SB: Jimmy will. He’s older than Brian, so I will ask Jimmy. 

GD: It’s awfully difficult to remember when you get older. 

SB: When you came into the Trotskyist movement, can you remember the work you did, the kind of resolutions you would move at a trade union branch or the Labour Party and what was happening there? Because you were active in the Walton constituency party. 

GD: Yes, we were active in the Labour Party, but I can’t remember the actual resolutions we would move. 

SB: In an interview with Fred Bunby, he told us of how at one meeting (you were all in the same ward as the Braddocks) the Braddocks had moved a pro-Stalinist, Popular Front resolution and how our comrades defeated that resolution. The first set-back the Braddocks had had. 

GD: They were Stalinists of course. I remember the Braddocks, Lizzie Bamber was Bessie Braddock’s mother. Mrs Bamber was a very nice person, totally different from her daughter, Bessie. She wasn’t so aggressive, but she used to speak at street corners. There was a home named after her called the Mary Bamber Home, it was a convalescent home. Now Bessie was her third daughter. When Bessie married Jack Braddock, she wouldn’t know me. I went up to see her once to ask about something. Now I wouldn’t ask anybody for anything normally. I’d rather starve than ask, but whatever it was she wouldn’t do anything. Well, that’s the way you treat old friends, but she was well-off then. 

SB: She was on the local council then. She didn’t become an MP until 1945. 

GD: She was always terribly aggressive, even as a child. It was part of her makeup. 

SB: Do you remember any of the resolutions you put, whilst you were a member of the ETU? 

GD: No. I don’t remember much. 

SB: Do you remember any of the internal discussions in the RCP? 

GD: Not now. No. 

SB: You said you were on the Works Committee in the factory. Can you tell me something about that? 

GD:  The Communist Party weren’t active at all. There were some who claimed to be Communists, but they didn’t do anything, and they hid as much as they could. 

SB:  When was this? 

GD:  1965. 

(Mrs. Deane then read out from a list of Works Committee documents, dealing with conditions of service and working conditions). 

SB:  Well, I was interested in the earlier period. The war years. 

GD:  No. I don’t remember. You had better ask Brian or Jim. 

SB:  Thanks Gerty. You’ll remember more when I see you again. 

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