Elsie Oliver was born Elsie Cousins in Woolwich on 30th October 1929, the daughter of Jimmy and Alice Cousins. (Elsie is pictured with an original copy of the Daily Worker from her father’s extensive archives, donated to the Communist Party and currently being scanned and processed for research and eventually presentational use on the Party’s site.)
Elsie joined the YCL, aged 14 years, when there were two branches in Dagenham. Along with other local YCLers, she was also active in the Woodcraft Folk. A memorable experience for her was canvassing with other YCLers in Stepney, when Phil Piratin won his parliamentary seat in 1945 and heckling the Tory candidate in Barking with her friend who was a member of the Labour League of Youth. Despite her parents’ obvious indulgence and encouragement of this political activity, Elsie encountered more typical parental responses when she arrived home at midnight after a 21 mile YCL hike thinking her parents would be impressed with her dedication. But, she writes, “was I in trouble!” Another, more positive, experience arose with Elsie’s first job, as a junior clerk in the Labour Research Department (LRD), where she encountered Noreen Branson (See separate entry for Branson.)
The YCL and South Dagenham Communist Party had premises, called Unity House, near to the Ford plant and many local activities associated with the Party and its allies took place there. Elsie was, like many young people of her generation, active in the burgeoning folk scene of the early 1950s. She joined the Party during the 1960s, in Dagenham, and continued to be active there and then in Southend, on moving to Rayleigh, being a member of the Essex District Committee for a period.
Married to Chas Oliver, born 4th March 1930, with whom she had four children, Elsie and her husband were Woodcraft Folk adult leaders, taking delegations to Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia, maintaining this interest in their mature years through the WF supporters’ council. Whilst never a Party member, Chas was a sympathetic and active trades unionist all his working life. An assistant shop steward at when working at Harland and Wolff, he was a shop steward and health and safety representative and convenor whilst working as an electrician for Woolwich Ferry for 29 years. He played a leading part in the campaign to resist the break up of the GLC during Thatcher’s years and was elected a member of the London Co-op Education Committee.
Elsie began as a teacher in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham in 1972. An active member of the NUT, Elsie became a Health and Safety Representative in a lively union branch that contained several Communist Party members, including Ann Pocock and Bernard Ogley. She took part as a member of a delegation to the former Soviet Union, led by Ann Simpson, which visited Kiev, Minsk and Moscow. She was sponsored by Barking and Dagenham Education Department to undertake part-time study for a Bachelor or Education degree, completed in 1981.
Members of CND since 1961, the Olivers have continued to support the peace movement, even to the present being involved in the Stop the War Coalition. In the 1980s, they kept up their long commitment by supporting the main progressive causes of the period, participating in the People’s March for Jobs, campaigning work for the nurses and the NHS generally and, of course, in solidarity with the miners in the 1984-5 Great Strike (see picture), and Wapping. Elsie has produced her biography, “A Bond Between Us”.
Source of information: Elsie Oliver
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