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Eric Whalley

Born in 1914, the second son of Tom and Charlotte Whalley, at
31 George Street, Mansfield, Eric’s father was active in the Labour Party and his mother in the Co-operative movement.

Eric began his education at Rosemary Schools before moving on to High Oakham, where he was a keen sportsman. He was a wrestler, footballer, and outstanding sprinter. He had a passion for fairgrounds and their folk but the only realistic career for this young man was down the local coal mines and that is where he worked.

He became politically active in his early teens, first joining the youth section of the ILP. In early 1935, he was a member of an ILP delegation that visited the Soviet Union. On his return, together with Ted Hall, Herbert Hooper, Gus Witts, Clarence Mason, Ernest Hackett and Ida Hackett, he formed the Mansfield branch of the Communist Party.

In 1936, with his parents, he moved to Broooklands Avenue, where their home was promptly entitled “Tovarishaven” (`tovarich’ is Russian for `comrade’).

Eric was instantly recognised as a marvellous asset to the Communist Party, being widely thought of as a brilliant speaker. He drew crowds of hundreds to his regular Market Place orations, in addition to his formal lectures on Marxism. He was a champion for the unemployed and took part in national and local hunger marches.  

The National Unemployed Workers’ Movement National Administrative Council member for Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire, he was also secretary of Mansfield Communist Party.

In August 1937, he was asked to go to Spain to meet a political need as Battalion Political Commissar, the equivalent of a captain, of the British Battalion of the 15th International Brigade. Within weeks, Whalley was killed in action on October 13th 1937 in defence of the Fuentes de Ebro front, Aragon. He died in action along with elected Communist councillor Bob Elliot and Wilf Jobling.

In a letter dated three days after his death, sent by Socorro Rojo International (the British equivalent was International Class War Prisoners Aide) to the new Mansfield Communist Party branch secretary, Ernest Hooper, Eric Walley is quoted in probably his last recorded comment: “This people’s army is something new and the determination of the mass that Franco shall not pass guarantees the triumph of demoracy.”

Sources: Graham Stevenson, “Defence or Defiance – a people’s history of Derbyshire; Chapter 11 (1927-1939); Derby Evening Telegraph April 29th 1986; Mansfield commemoration leaflet 1996.