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Pettman Gordon

Gordon Pettman

Pettman was an active Kent Communist Party member, who became a long-standing elected parish councillor.

When Gordon Pettman was only nine years old, he saw a farm worker and his six children thrown out on the street. “The injustice of it raised an anger in me and shaped my politics,” he once said. This was fuelled by his experience of  picking hops as a child with his mother, Nora, who worked on the land all the year round. “It was absolute purgatory,” he said. “You got really dirty and had to produce an awful lot.”

He served on HMS Phoebe, a Royal Navy ship that saw much action in the Mediterranean during the Second World War. It assisted the evacuation of troops from Greece and Crete, then in transporting troops to and from Tobruk and finally in escorting a heavily attacked convoy to Malta. Gordon was a long-standing active member of the HMS Phoebe Association.

After 12 years in the navy, he discovered that his file warned “this man is a red”!  Having left, he became a building worker in his native Kent. He finally joined the Communist Party in 1960, after which he was promptly fired. In the same year, he stood as a Communist candidate for his local parish council, standing against Tory farmer Lord Hawarden. Eventually, he won a seat on it in 1968, which he was never to loose. This was the parish council covering Wingham, Kent, which is situated midway between Canterbury and Sandwich. Gordon even had a spell as chair of the council.

He was a member of the National Union of Agricultural Workers from the mid-1950s. In 1973, Gordon led a local campaign against the eviction of union member, George Golding, which took off so well that it “undoubtedly helped to get the law changed soon afterwards and end this dreadful blot on the rural landscape", according to the T&G. As a councillor he led the protest demonstration against the eviction of George Golding on July 11, 1973, pictured here.

Golding was the agricultural workers’ union local chair and had lived in the cottage for 21 years with his family of four when his employer had stopped farming. “When the bailiffs arrived to kick him out they got an unexpectedly hot reception from the angry villagers and delegates from Canterbury Trades Union Council,” reported the union journal, the `Landworker’, at the time. The family had to spend the night in the St John Ambulance hall but, thanks to Gordon, eventually got a council house.

Gordon is pictured below (on the right with a beard) during a demo against the eviction.

 In the 1970s and 80s, Gordon Pettman worked closely with other Kent Communists, primarily Communist (Kent NUM) miners from Betteshanger, Snowdown and Tilmanstone collieries. Kent NUM headquarters Miners Office, waterside House, Cherry Tree Avenue, Dover.

Gordon received an accolade in the form of a special certificate for half a century of campaigning against evictions of farm workers and other injustice in 2005 from the T&G Rural & Agricultural section Kent area committee. His role in campaigning to change the law to stop farm workers in tied cottages being made homeless when they lost their jobs was cited as decisive

Well into the 1990s, Gordon also stood in Dover Council’s municipal elections as a Communist candidate for Little Stour ward, which includes Wingham and other localities, albeit unsuccessfully but often beating the Labour candidate.  

Gordon’s stature in Wingham meant that he survived as an elected representative during all the difficulties that befell the British Communist Party in the 1980s and 1990s. Gordon did not hide his continuing personal adherence to the ideals of Communism and it did not seem to do him electoral harm. In the 1987 Wingham parish councillor elections, he came fourth out of nine places on the council with 318 votes. In 1995, he was elected to the 9 member council with 270 votes, coming fifth on the list and polling some more than 60 votes needed to beat his nearest rivals. But he was elected unopposed in 1999.

He suffered for many years with leukaemia, having to undergo as many as 45 sessions of chemo-therapy, and 35 injections, in 2004. It was believed that the leukaemia had stabilised. Whilst enjoying getting back to his busy activities, Gordon became somewhat annoyed that his long bushy beard, in the naval tradition, had disappeared! Ever persistent, he embarked upon growing it all over again. However, this was not to be, since the illness reasserted itself aggressively and he died on 23rd November 2005.

Wingham’s parish council was so moved by his passing, and the long service he gave his village, that they voted to purchase a “Gordon Pettman Memorial Notice Board”, which was erected in a central location in Wingham, “on the verge by the Dental Surgery”. 

Sources: Morning Star 9th November 2005Landworker December 2005; Wingham Parish Council minutes (Kent County Council) and others.

 

Below: Gordon pictured at the time of the T&G presentation at his home by Kent area convenor Tony Gould (centre) and chair Barbara Richards (right