Dunman Jack

Jack Dunman

Left: Dunman – right – canvassing Abingdon farmworkers in 1950

John Clement Dix Dunman was born into a comfortable middle class family on 5th February 1911 at Poole, Dorset. His father was Percy Dunman, a timber merchant, and his mother was Lisa Griffin. Jack was sent to Marlborough College and excelled at sport, especially athletics and Rugby, and became head boy.

Dunman joined the Labour Party in 1929 and was Chairman of Oxford University Labour Club in 1932 but switched to the Communist Party in February 1933. After university, he secured employment in railway management in Oxford, Cambridge and Hull. While in Cambridge he met his wife, Helen, around 1935/36. They subsequently had three children Mark, Kate (who died in 1959) and Jessica.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Jack was heavily involved in raising money for the Aid to Spain Movement throughout Dorset and Hampshire. While he raised huge sums of money for Spain, he also had the dubious honour of securing the smallest collection of the campaign – eight pence-farthing, in the square at Beaminister!

He was appointed Communist Party Sub-District organiser (what would later become Area Secretary) for Merseyside in 1938 and went back to the south as District Organiser for the Hampshire & Dorset District Organiser in 1939-1940. He was the Communist Party National Treasurer from 1941-1944. At some point, Jack fell off a cliff in Cornwall and fractured his skull and was advised to work on a farm to improve his health.

By 1942, he was living in Oxfordshire and had joined the National Union of Agricultural Workers. Through his energy and tenacity, he built up the largest branch of the union around Charlbury, where his home, �Knaves Knoll�, was located.

In 1942, he was elected to the NUAW County Committee and he became County Secretary of the Oxfordshire NUAW. (Ted Lomas was Chairman and Mrs Uzzell, the Treasurer.) Many of the union’s meetings took place in his wife’s photographic studio (i.e. Helen Muspratt-Dunman – see her biography under `M’ for Muspratt). The Dunmans moved to Harwell in 1945 and Oxford in 1955.

For the next three decades, Jack Dunman and Ted Lomas kept their posts as the leading lights of the Oxfordshire County Committee of the NUAW, save that they reversed roles along the way, with Dunman taking the Chair and Lomas, the Secretary�s role.

Ted Lomas, who later became the Chairman of Berkshire & Oxfordshire NUAW), recalled that "Jack’s enthusiasm was an inspiration", and "despite his commitments in other fields, Jack was always willing to mount his push-bike and travel to any district where help was needed". (An Institute of Workers Control booklet on the centenary of the great lock-out, was dedicated to the memory of Jack Dunman and Les Shears and contains a brief tribute to the former by Ted Lomas.)

Right: a 1963 pamphlet by Jack Dunman; below campaigning in July 1945

In 1944, Dunman produced an 8 page booklet "Farm Workers Wage: the case for �4.10.0". He was also editor of the Communist Party rural journal, `Country Standard’, from 1945 and he was national secretary of the Party’s Agricultural Advisory Committee. The Dunmans moved to Harwell in 1945 and Oxford in 1955 and Jack was Communist prospective parliamentary candidate for Abingdon in 1945 and subsequently reprised this role in 1950.

Jack Dunman wrote of the 1950 campaign in World News and Views: "There was a tremendous friendliness to us in the villages and towns, both to me personally and on account of past work and interest in our policy. Thousands agreed with us and gave us money, but voted Labour in the end. The people will be very ready to listen to us in the future on the basis of what they have heard and read of our policy and will be more than ever ready to bring their difficulties to us." In this constituency, forty-two meetings were held 15, 000 people canvassed, 2,500 Specials (i.e. a Party broadsheet) and 400 Socialist Roads (i.e. the Party programme) sold, whilst the sum of £380 was collected.

In the post-war period, Dunman became a long-standing CP functionary but was also very active in Co-operative movement. His closest friends in the Party in this period were Wogan Phillips and Barbara Niven. (See separate entries.)

In the 1950s, he had a cottage in Swanage and kept up his involvement in the National Union of Agricultural Workers throughout the Cold War period, difficult though that was at times. He would often return from meetings with his old Austin A40 covered in tomatoes and rotten eggs, according to his daughter Jessica.

But it was not always like that; his proudest achievements was his work to end the system of tied-cottages and a measure of the regard to which Jack Dunman was eventually held in the agricultural workers union is that he made the opening speech at its 1972 biennial delegate conference, the last he attended before he died in the following year. Around 1967 he became involved with Christian Marxist Dialogue, which lead to contact with the Teilhard de Chardin Society. He put a lot of effort into his Agriculture, capitalism and socialism, published by Lawrence & Wishart (c1970). Dunman died on 30th October 1972.

Joan Maynard MP, a long-standing NUAAW activist herself, wrote of him in 1974: "Jack was a scholarly man, very cultured, keen on music and intellectual pursuits, but absolutely committed to the cause of farm workers. An obvious leader, an eloquent spokesman … He put all his skill and intelligence at the disposal of farm and rural workers and his union work was a great joy to him. Like some other outstanding comrades, he was a Communist and this made for certain difficulties for him with the establishment in the union, but the rank and file recognised his great qualities and he was a leading spokesman for them at many biennial conferences."

Michael Walker

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