(E C) Paddy Apling
Born on 11th April 1925 as Edward Chatterton Apling, he found his baptismal name a bit too pompous for taste, growing up. With no connections to Ireland, his choice of nickname supplanting his own given name related to a highly successful musical comedy play, which opened the year of his conception, which was in turn based on a best-selling novel. A note of early sharp irony is clearly involved, since the young Edward’s mother had been hoping for a girl before his birth – but there also is a tone of mild rebellion already brewing in the choice.
Called “Paddy – the Next Best Thing”, the play held the longest run record at the Savoy Theatre. It went on to become a 1933 Hollywood movie, starring Janet Gaynor in a “gamin” role. The Paddy of the title is a spirited Irish young woman whose elder sister is about to marry a wealthy man, despite not loving him. Paddy sacrifices herself by marrying him instead – hence the “next best thing” part of the title. The story, such as it is, inevitably allows the hero and heroine to come to realise that, after all, they do indeed truly love one another. The film would have been showing in Britain around Christmas-time when the young Edward was coming up to 8 years of age.
Paddy Apling describes his origins as “undoubtedly petit-bourgeois”. The Apling family came from farming artisan stock, originally as thatchers, but grandfather Apling was a Solicitor’s Managing Clerk in the City of London, founder of the Solicitor’s Clerks Association and a Freeman of the City of London. His father was the manager of a small department in the Eagle Star Insurance Co. Paddy’s mother was a teacher.
He had great-aunts who were daughters of a great-grand-father farmer of the previous century who had sold his farm to bequeath his daughters with a large house suitable for founding a school in Ilford (Hainault High School for Girls), which they ran as a business from probably something like 1905 to 1935. (This is probably what would become the former Ilford County High School for Girls.)
From age 5 to 11, Paddy lived there, although he doesn’t really have any great memories of that period, except that he was frightened of one great-aunt, but loved the other! It was Aunt Kate who would summon him in Victorian fashion when annoyed, with the full blast of “Edward Chatterton”. This persuaded him through a kind of aversion therapy to adopt another name. The name Paddy came from a show in London in 1924 called “Paddy the Next Best Thing” (his mother had been hoping for a girl.)
Nonetheless, these women schooled him in writing and mental arithmetic. Not only him; he remembers other youngsters from Australia and Canada coming to the school to stay during the school holidays. Two of the great aunts’ brothers had emigrated there and founded farms in Alberta in 1895.
Despite his privileged background – and maybe because of his good schooling, Paddy was an inquiring child and his instilled revolutionary instincts may perhaps arise from a semi-upper class school education!! Yet the form of his inquiry ended up progressive very early on. At age 11, he was sent to another private school in Ilford – Cranbrook College. Its general intake he sees retrospect as aspiring petit-bourgeoisie. There he received an all-round education, in which memories circulate around European History (1789-1861) for School Certificate and Bismarck for Higher School Certificate, all subjects fit to prompt an aspiring young progressive.
His first year at Cranbrook College by the evidence of his stamp collection (!!) was the year of Mussolini’s attack on Abyssinia in 1935, when he was only perhaps nine years of age. Yet Paddy noted the inequality when Mussolini sent his well-armed troops to slaughter the tribesmen of Abyssinia. Worse, one of his aunts was secretary to the head of Charles Clay and Sons of Luton, hatters and great traders with Italy, so therefore friendly to all things Italianate, as was the larger extended family. Yet Paddy, the young boy, immediately and openly condemned Italy for his aggression and so, “for the first time found myself the centre of family controversy (probably as sole protagonist)”.
Then came the Spanish Civil War and the infamous Nazi attack on Guernica. “I’m not sure I ever heard of it on the news. But in 1937 I spent the summer holidays of 1937 with a family in the NW suburbs of Paris who were fostering a youngster who had lost his parents in the Guernica atrocity. I cannot remember his name, but remember so well, how restricted was his understanding of French; that he had difficulty in constructing sentences in ANY language, – and all he could communicate with us was to put two fingers against our backs and shout “La bourse ou la vie !!; La cane ou la parapluie!!” (Your money or your life? La canne ou le parapluie? Cane or umbrella?»“)
His mother, in the course of her work as a secondary school teacher, had become part of an exchange program with French teachers. This had led to Paddy visiting France, where for most of the time he was in the company of Popular Front supporters, who were either Communists or supporters of the Party. In those weeks, Paddy was taken to the International Exhibition several times, where he was embarrassed and uninterested by the British Pavilion. In contrast, he was enlivened by Soviet pavilion – with its concentration on feeding the people and peace.
Its monumental structure of the engineering worker and the (female Kolkhoz) farm worker, with their hammer and sickle (see picture left) so clearly demonstrating their intention to finish with the threat of the meaningless and anti-human Nazi swastika over the road. Not one of his French entourage suggested entering the German pavilion.
Picture right: the Eiffel tower in 1937, with the German pavilion on left and the Soviet pavilion on the right. (Unpictured: The Spanish Pavilion, provided by the struggling Republican government, included Pablo Picasso’s famous painting “Guernica“.) For more on this, see:
Paddy was hooked at the age of 12 as an adherent of the Popular Front and for the Soviet Union against the German Nazis and their British Government allies. He joined the Communist Party at the age of 16 and found that the Party saw him, as a student of science, as a vital part of the struggle for revolution. During his 20s as a student scientist and admirer of the Soviet Union, he began to feel shame at having no experience of manual labour.
About the time he formally joined the Communist Party, as a budding jazz enthusiast, Paddy began attending “regular Jam Sessions” organised by the Young Communist League at the Conway Hall in Central London. One of these was recorded on 16 Nov 1941 and His Master’s Voice (better known today as HMV) – the major record label – issued discs, one which Paddy still has. This contains Leslie Hutchinson soloing on trumpet in St Louis Blues. (These sessions later continued at 100, Oxford Street (100 Club) until the mid-50s, or even later. During his military service, Paddy carried everywhere a portable typewriter and a portable gramophone everywhere. With the latter, he often gave jazz recitals, when he could find some unbroken records (“78s” were very fragile). After the war, in Italy, these became regular events and he used the American Army record library at their headquarters in Miramare Castle near Trieste, recalling: “I am sure the librarian (white) thought he had a queer English officer coming to browse the race section (I never saw a black face in that library, but they had a glorious collection – even new ones – I was in to Pres (Lester Young) and Hawk (Coleman Hawkins) but also there was Dizzy and Miles Davis (I do not think I had heard of Charlie Parker then) – but BeBop was starting before I left the Army.”
He was not called up until 1944, but his educational training as part of the leadership elite was soon recognised and he was sent to the Officer Cadet Training Units at Sandhurst. On the outbreak of the Second World War, the Royal Military College there was replaced by an Officer Cadet Training Unit of two wings, 101 Royal Armoured Corps OCTU and 161 Infantry OCTU (RMC).
Commissioned just after VE-Day, Paddy expected to be sent to the Far East – but after more training in 1944 at Bovingdon and Barnard Castle again, VJ-Day intervened and he joined 4th Royal Tank Regiment in Venezia Giulia, Italy. After a year as a successful troop leader, of a troop consisting of battle-hardened men, most of whom had fought their way through Italy, he was seconded to 2nd Armoured Brigade HQ and made Brigade Welfare Officer. There he was given control, handing over the Brigade HQ to the Italian Army and then responsibility for the loading of the SS Canterbury Castle, carrying the last of the Brigade from Venice to Egypt after the Peace Treaty in June 1947. This was all probably because he had very quickly learned to speak Italian. Subsequently, he spent some four months in the Suez Canal Zone.
Paddy was a food scientist by training and followed this course in his future career. As well as a BSc, he is a Chartered Chemist (CChem), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC), and the Institute of Food Science & Technology(IFST), a Member of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health (MRSPH), a Professional Member of the American Association of Cereal Chemists, an International Professional Member of the Institute of Food Technologists (USA), a Member of the Society of Chemical Industry, holds a Mastership in Chemical Analysis (MChemA), and he is qualified for appointment as Public Analyst.
During the 1950s, Paddy was Association of Scientific Workers delegate to Ilford Trades Council, (and for several years Treasurer), branch delegate to the London Council of the AScW – and was twice a delegate to Communist Party national congresses. Generally, in his Communist Party work, he saw himself as mainly “a background planner, information source, writer of leaflets, press representative and sideman to the charismatic leader of the time”, though he was no mean street speaker himself.
Most notably, Paddy was involved in the Ilford tenant’s struggle of 1955-6, a major event in which the key figure – the acclaimed leader – was Frank Chinnery, a party full-timer, who had served in the Palestine Police. To Chinnery’s alpha male, Paddy was the PR-man, the ideas man, the propagandist, but also, he freely admits, second-in-command to Frank.
Paddy also became Assistant Secretary to Rob Dalziel (see separate entry) of Ilford Trades Council.
Mass support from the community and from a local network of shop-stewards proved absolutely crucial when Paddy’s and three other families were forcibly evicted. The Apling family had a confrontation with Owen Waters, the councillor responsible for housing affairs, when he tried to say ‘hello’ to Paddy’s then 7-yr old daughter, and she replied “No, you are a nasty man!”.
The Aplings – a family of three children – were temporarily housed by the Solomans, a Party family, the husband of which they had first seen as an actor at Unity Theatre in “Spanish Village”. After a few weeks, each evictee was installed in a superior house on a modern housing house on the Tudor Estate (where Frank Chinnery lived with his wife and family), this happening, as Paddy recalls, “when the local Tory council submitted to the demands of public opinion”.
A couple of years later, because their youngest son developed bad asthma attacks, on medical advice of the hospital, the Aplings moved in 1959 to Chesham in the Chiltern Heights, near a hospital specialising in asthmatics, where Paddy played a part in the local Party branch. Then, when Paddy was appointed as Lecturer in Food Science at Reading University, the family again moved again to Sonning Common (even nearer the hospital). [Unfortunately, the Apling’s young son died in September 1963.] He was in the professorship at Reading until 1986 and was also engaged in consultancy in the food and water industries.
Paddy continued to play a part in Reading Communist Party branch until he retired to a favoured part of Norfolk, where the name Apling still resounded. Enough at any rate to produce the query: “Are you related to Miss AHPLEN?” [attempt at Norfolk dialect], prompting Paddy’s reply that “she was my great-aunt”.
He and his wife (he is now, sadly, widowed) embedded themselves in their community, the collectivism of which Paddy now derives much comfort from.
In recent years, he has engaged in much local history work and interchange over the internet, including maintaining his own website and that for the parish council.