Charles Norman Greenfield was born in Barnsley on April 4th 1907 but he was brought up in Manchester. In his youth, he was an amateur boxing champion and weightlifter, so strong he was able to pull a bus with his teeth! Perhaps due to this reputation he was set upon by Mosley’s Blackshirts on the staircase at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall.
Norman’s physique lent itself to his main early career. He joined the Manchester City Fire Brigade in 1927 and eleven years later was finally dismissed for his persistent efforts to organise the men into membership of the Fire Brigades Union. Nonetheless, he was later to enjoy the satisfaction of being the chief witness in a subsequent trial of Manchester’s Chief Constable, who suffered damages being awarded against himself in regard to his conduct as the ultimate authority over the local fire service.
Left: Norman Greenfield in his firefighter’s uniform during the war period and, below, in later years.
During the 1940s, Norman was both the Chair of Barnsley branch and the South Yorkshire Area of the FBU and became a member of the FBU executive. Throughout, he was a noted, leading figure in Barnsley Communist Party. A particular longstanding area of activity for Norman was Wortley Hall (“the Labour Movement’s Stately Home”) for which he was especially involved in obtaining furnishings and decorations and organising redecoration. After retirement as a fire-fighter, he became circulation representative for the Daily Worker.
Never approving the name change to Morning Star, Norman was one of those who joined the New Communist Party (NCP), when it split with the CPGB in 1977.
Thereafter, Norman’s name became indistinguishable from Yorkshire Travel, for which he was courier. This was a travel firm, run by Laurie and Ida Shaw of Huddersfield, that specialised in unusual trips to the less popular or well-known destinations in the then socialist countries, most but not all of the tours being by coach. There are Yorkshire Tours customers who have spoken of its refreshments policy being their having to butter their own sandwiches on the coach on the way down to Dover, en route to East Berlin. Another reminiscence tells of being at Leeds bus station one night, amidst those waiting for local city services, when a very old coach drew in, its door slid open, a move that betrayed the ancientness of its construction and, as a woolly-hatted head popped around the door, a broad Yorkshire called: ‘Anybody for Albania’!!
One infamous trip was on the Trans-Siberian railway. On crossing the border to China, fiscal regulations forbidding the export of roubles meant that the Yorkshire Tours Group had to leave their Soviet cash behind for safekeeping until their return. All knowledge of their cash was denied when the time came to re-cross the Sino-Soviet border, so Norman led a sit-down strike, preventing the train from renewing its journey. Eventually, so it is told, Norman rang the Kremlin, said “Hello, this is Norman,” as an introduction and proceeded to negotiate the return of his customers/comrades cash!!!
Another of Norman’s remarkable achievements was to win the twinning of Barnsley with Gorlovka, a mining town in the Ukraine. He was, naturally widely travelled, but managed to get to many exotic places such as Machu Pichu, the Amazon, and Lake Titicaca. He died aged 90 on September 17th 1997.
Sources: Guardian November 6th 1997; Communist Party election leaflets; information from Barbara Millar
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