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George Ray

 Ray George

Raymond George was born on the 28th November 1928 in Tettenhall Wood, near Wolverhampton. He came from the skilled working class; one grandfather, who had been employed as a master baker in Malvern, divorced his wife leaving her with two children. His maternal grandfather was a master bricklayer and his maternal grandmother gave birth to eleven children.

His immediate family moved in 1932 to the New Cross area, opposite the entrance to the workhouse. Yet this held little fear for his family - whilst most of the neighbours were on-and-off dole for much of the decade, Ray’s father had a secure job in the accounts department of the local newspaper. Even so, there were hardships. In 1935, his mother began to suffer tremors and fainting fits, as well as becoming pregnant again, and a couple of aunts moved in to help out the family. Ray started school over a month late due to chronic bronchitis and this recurred most winters until after he was about eleven.

He sat the notorious 11+, obtaining a marginal pass which allowed him to attend Wolverhampton Municipal Secondary School on payment of a small fee each term. Producing the fee was mandatory, even if a fellow pupil was known by all to be better than the rest of the class, if his family could not raise the necessary finance then he was obliged to leave.

Ray was top of the class in maths, even if his headmaster urged an improvement in his handwriting!  One teacher at school, a socialist and an admirer of the Soviet Union, was a big influence. It was while at secondary school, in 1943, that Ray joined the Young Communist League at the age of 14. He would remain a card-carrying Communist for the rest of his life.

One of his comrades who joined the YCL at the same time was Max Bennett (see separate entry). Ray also first met Marion, his future wife, at a YCL meeting – though she was just thirteen years of age at the time.

Ray left school in 1945 with the equivalent of 8 GCSEs, having been a good scholar. Of course, many of his fellow pupils at the Grammar School would continue on to ‘A’ Levels and university, but a working-class family at that time could never afford to support him for another five years. Thus, in September 1945, he started his first job, at Goodyear’s in Wolverhampton as a statistical clerk, which employed his excellent mathematical skills. Goodyear’s was a massive employer in post-war Wolverhampton, making tyres that went around the world – in both senses.

He worked at Goodyear’s for six years, until 1951, although this was interspersed with National Service, probably around 1947 to 1949. His service was with the RAF, although he only went up in a plane once! His scariest moment was one Bonfire Night, when he was on guard duty at an ammunition dump, seeing fireworks falling out of the sky around him.

He and Marion married on the 23rd December 1950 and, in October 1951, having three sons and a daughter. Ray changed jobs to work at Ever Ready, in Park Lane, on £6/10s a week as a cost and progress clerk. Oddly, in this era, white collar jobs did not offer as good a salary as did heavy manual jobs. Ray was with the same company until he retired in 1989 – 38 years later – working his way up from office clerk to factory manager.

Ray George was secretary of the Wolverhampton North East branch of the Communist Party for a long period, at a time when the Party was standing in every ward in local elections and vying with the Liberal Party to be third.

Although, as he moved higher up management levels, he became less politically active, since a tension existed between the unlikelihood of a prominent Communist achieving career progression to senior levels and the practical need for promotion to provide for his largish family.

Even so, his views never changed and he not only stayed loyally with the Communist Party, he still did plenty of political work in, for example, local elections, marshalling his children, or even gangs of local kids, to help deliver leaflets in Northicote or Low Hill. The family was also mobilised to help out at each year’s local Morning Star fund-raising Xmas Bazaar.

As one of his children noted “he was a mentor to many of the younger comrades, there always seemed a member of the Young Communist League around the house having earnest political discussions with Dad, and of course he was always ready to make a financial contribution to the cash-strapped Party, with money for the national appeals, and to pay for the replacement of the local branch’s worn-out duplicating machine, used for producing leaflets, posters, meeting notices etc.”

His biggest political passions were peace and anti-racism and he argued and campaigned against nuclear weapons all his life. In the earliest days of the annual Aldermaston march against nuclear weapons, a photo appeared on the front of the local newspaper, the Express & Star, of Ray pushing his daughter in a pushchair on the march. A generation later, on another anti-nuclear weapons demonstration, Ray was proudly photographed with his grandchildren.

Ray also campaigned against Enoch Powell, a local MP, in the 1960s and then against the locally strong National Front in the 1970s. When he first became a junior manager at the Ever Ready factory in Park Lane he recruited the first black workers ever to work in the factory, ignoring warnings from fellow managers that this would cause racial conflict at the factory - he was proved right and the workforce soon became a harmonious racial mix. Whilst, in the mid-1980s, he was a prominent member – possibly secretary - of the successful campaign to prevent the deportation of Som Raj, an immigrant and photographer on the Express and Star, who was married to a British woman with whom he had two daughters born in the country.

In the early 1980s, Ray was surprised by a passing remark from one of the company directors at his workplace that they had never fully trusted him, due to his membership of the Communist Party, which he had thought was not well known.  He felt now able to bring his fellow managers into a union, forming a branch of the Engineers and Managers Association (now called Prospect), a TUC-affiliated union. He was secretary of the branch until he retired and remained an active retired member afterwards.

Ray retired in 1989, three years after Marion had done so. They bought a brand new campervan and Ray built a brick-garage from scratch all by himself. The couple spent much of the next ten years touring the UK and France, disappearing for weeks at a time.

In the late 90s, Marion’s health deteriorated and Ray cared for her, despite the onset in himself of Parkinson’s disease. After her death, Ray took up new pursuits, including an IT Course.

On a 2006 visit to his daughter and her partner to their smallholding in small island of Westray in Orkney, he actively considered moving there, being attracted by the quiet, the wildlife, the fishing and the possibility of having a small garden to cultivate. After a three-month trial, he decided on an `emigration party’ in Wolverhampton and moved to Orkney. He died during the course of 2009, still a Communist to the end.

Source - edited version of text in:

http://gbpeopleslibrary.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=26:ray-georges-memorial&catid=9:biographies-of-some-black-country-communists&Itemid=9