Knight Frida

Frida Knight

Born Frideswide Frances Emma Stewart on 11th November 1910, her Cambridge childhood was privileged but her family was always interested in social causes. Her father was reader in French at Cambridge University and dean of Trinity College. Frida’s mother, the first student at Newnham College to receive a first class degree, deliberately showed her daughter the poverty and deprivation that could be observed if one looked for it not so far from their comfortable home in Cambridge. The lesson was to stay with the little girl her whole life.

Frida’s main professional and academic achievement was to become a renowned musicologist; she learned both the piano and the violin from the age of 8 but her schooling was cut short at 14 years when she became ill with Graves’ disease, a rare heart condition. Travelling to Sicily for part of a recuperational and musical educational tour of Europe, she voyaged north through Italy, Switzerland and Germany. In Frankfurt, whilst studying music there, witnessed the rise of fascism and, in particular, the savagery of the Nazis in hunting Communists down in street clashes. She described this experience as being shocked into `juvenile political awareness’ and, clearly, it marked her for life in the subsequent passionate dedication she displayed to progressive causes.

Frida worked with the unemployed in Manchester on music and drama projects during the Depression, then as an extension lecturer in music and theatre in Hull. There, in the early stages of the Spanish was she organised a refugee relief committee and, finally, seeing the role of the Communist Party in organising the International Brigades was inspired to join the Party, in which she stayed her entire life. She drove an ambulance from London to Murcia, in Spain in 1937, helping with refugee children. Visiting the front line trenches in Madrid, she reported and broadcast on the war, translating articles for the main Republican press office. Back in Britain, she acted as a fund-raiser for Basque refugee children, organising concerts and meetings all over the country. Knight Freda.jpg

From early 1939, she was working with Spanish refugees in France and went to Paris at the end of the year, enrolling as a student at the Sorbonne and determining to stay there despite the probability of a German invasion as an act of solidarity. After the June 1940 invasion, she was imprisoned in Besanon for more than a year until she escaped to Marseille. From there, she fled to Britain with a friend, leaving France with forged papers provided by the Resistance. She transported a message from Charles de Gaulle concealed in a cigarette packet, via Spain, Portugal and Ireland, and then worked for a year with the Free French information department in London. In 1944, she married the micro-biologist BCJG Knight, later professor of microbiology at Reading University, with whom she was to have four children. Frida herself became an academic first in Reading and then Cambridge from 1970.

Frida Knight

Her thrilling escape from France was the subject of her first book, a novel, though told with characteristic modesty. In the post-war period, Knight became the author of many musical biographies, including Beethoven, which powerfully links his life and personality to his music. There was a musical play, �A world to gain�, and her studies of 18th century radicals, William Frend and Thomas Walker also display Frida’s talent in revealing the person behind the fa�ade. A study of the French Resistance and one on Cambridge music from the Middle to Ages to modern times, are also testaments to her talent. In all, including translations, she had ten books published. Her unpublished memoirs barely mention the many celebrated people she was close to or worked with, for fear of appearing to name drop, so illustrious was the company she kept.

knight frida.jpg
Frida Knight

She was a founder member of the Cambridge Peace Council and a long-time CND activist. Nearer the end of her life, she chaired the local Morning Star Readers and Supporters Group. As co-founder and chair of Cuba Solidarity Campaign, she was only able to fulfil an ambition to visit Cuba before she died, when she `marched’ in the 1992 May Day parade in her wheelchair. This set her off on the campaign to obtain medical supplies to send to the island. Frida stayed a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain until its dissolution but rejected its supposed successor the apolitical and short-lived Democratic Left. She was to see herself as an honorary member of Communist Party of Britain! Frida Knight died on October 2nd 1996, a month short of her 86th birthday.

`Cuba Si!’ (CSC Journal) Winter 1996/7; Morning Star, 4th October 1996, 5th October 1996, 9th December 1996; Guardian 4th October 1996

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