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Whipple Frank

Frank Whipple

Frank Whipple was born in 1907 and spent his childhood in Cork. His father was a plate layer, along with being an occasional gardener, grave digger and layer-out of the dead. His mother was `in service’ before her marriage.

In 1916, Frank's father was involved in the Easter rebellion, which resulted in him being obliged to move with his family to London.  At 14, he was working on steam wagons, cleaning oil off the chains.

Frank was involved from the General Strike onwards in every possible struggle in the east end of London. The area was noted for some ferocity, Frank himself was involved in the overturning of scab lorries on Commercial Road during the General Strike.

Frank eventually became a presser at a Jewish tailor.  The factory in which he worked also employed survivors of the pogroms of eastern Europe and this took Frank to the Jewish Friendly Society, where he listened to political and economic debates. Frank eventually became a shop steward for the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers.

He met and later married Lily Kosky, a singer, banjo and piano player, tap dancer, ano player and one half of the Original Kay Sisters, as well as one of Jean Murray's Merry Maidens, both local variety show acts. At 16 years of age, she won a talent contest at the Woolwich Hippodrome.

Frank and Lily married when she was 21 and Frank 24.  Though formal relgious observance was not a big feature of their family lives in any way, their separate Catholic and Jewish backgrounds, respectively, led to objections from both set of parents. Lily’s father, Harry Kosky did accept the marriage but her mother, Sarah, never quite accepted the match even though she lived with the couple for the last three decades of her own life. .

Frank took part in the Battle of Cable Street and during the war, Frank was a special policeman. He was noted for leading the Langdale Mansions rent strike of 1939. After twenty weeks of strike, during the daytime at the beginning of one week when the men were out of work, the police and bailiffs broke through the barricades, pushed aside any pickets during and evicted five families. But, when the men came back from work, the families were reinstated by the massed tenants.

The Stepney Tenants’ Defence League threatened to call out on rent strike seven thousand tenants unless the landlords negotiated. A massive demonstration was called outside the police station and tensions ran high all week until, on Friday, the landlords capitulated. 

This experience led to Frank becoming a key figure in the building up of a massive local vote for the Communist Party and election of councillors in Stepney in 1945.

By the time Frank had to give up work as a presser because of tennis elbow, at the age of 60, the East End had radically changed, But Frank found work as a messenger in a solicitor's office, becoming office manager seven years later.

A year after Frank finally retired from formal work, aged 68, his wife, Lily, died suddenly and Frank found himself the sole carer of his daughter. Peggy. This disabled second daughter had been born in 1944, when doctors predicted that she would live for only thirty years or so. She was their second child; Harry had been born five years before.

But it was now 1975 but, instead of waiting for his daughter to die, Frank took the then 31 year old Peggy everywhere with him, whether it was to watch football, dog racing, boxing or athletics, to go to the betting shop or the pub.

Regular holidays ensued, one of which led to Frank and Peggy joining their local branch of Mencap, the chair of which Frank served as for ten years. Perhaps this unique life, along with Frank’s intense caring is the cause for the miracle of Peggy’s much extended life-span. Peggy is now 64 and was born with severe special needs. Frank has looked after her single-handedly for decades, even at the advanced age of 102 that he now is. A remarkable man!

 But commitment to progressive politics did not leave this old campaigner. In 1984, with his wife, Lily, and daughter, Peggy, Frank organised a collection of food on his housing estate during the miners’ strike. They took the food to miners’ families in Shirebrook, Nottinghamshire, in a van and stood on the picket lines with the miners. They joined the picket line every Monday, Peggy alongside her father lustily shouting 'Scab, scab!'  

For coming up to 35 years now Frank has single-handedly cared for Peggy and her special needs. In 2009, Frank received a civic award from his local council, Tower Hamlets, in recognition of his commitment to his daughter.

His name is also picked out in bedding plants in a flower bed in Museum Gardens, Bethnal Green as part of a project called Rooted in the Earth, which honours local people in florally tributes.  

A Millwall supporter for 90 years (!), at the time of writing, Frank Whipple is 102 years of age and has made arrangements for the care for his daughter Peggy to take place when the time comes.

Sources: Morning Star 23rd November 1987; Guardian 24th October 2009