Freda Watters (née Hartley)
Freda Hartley was born on April 4th 1925, in Leeds. Her father, Fred Hartley, had been so confident that the baby was to be a boy that he had declared that he would bestow his own name upon the child. Undaunted, the honour was modified to take account of the femininity that would become an evident feature of the woman.
Her mother was Enid Hartley, a formidable woman, who was herself a trained tailoress, and who nurtured four other children. Of Enid, it was said that she was “unique in that she helped develop within her children enquiring minds, which in turn led to enquiries of her own and rapid recognition that a world existed outside her family that required investigation and understanding”.
Aged 11, Freda was to gain a distinction in country dancing with the St Cyprian’s `girls’ friendly society’, again a reflection of a life-long passion for dance. A clever girl, she was nonetheless passed over by the family for entrance to grammar school, due to the cost of uniforms and extras, in favour of her younger brother, who did not in the event passed the necessary examination. The experience helped to form a strong passion for women’s rights and equality very early on.
She was a member of the Women’s Land Army from 7th September 1942 to 6th January 1946, working on farms in the South West of England. She married unsatisfactorily and briefly, the liaison producing a son but ending in divorce. Her first husband remained in the services and it was arising from his being sent to Cyprus, where the `Enosis’ movement for independence from Britain and union with Greece and the communist force, AKEL, were strong, that Freda was forced to examine her own attitudes to British injustices. Remarkably, for a serviceman’s wife in an occupied country, she declared her support for the liberation struggle.
On her return, she worked as a bus conductress for Leeds Corporation and was a member of the TGWU. Typically Yorkshire in her forthright and occasionally blunt manner and, having established a clear sense of her own independence of mind, Freda joined the Communist Party in 1952 and remained a continuous member until her death. Her mother, Enid, who died in 1974, followed her daughter and some of Freda’s siblings into the Communist Party.
In 1955, she married Frank Watters (see separate entry), then South Yorkshire Coalfield Organiser, after their having met at a Communist Party education event at Wortley Hall, near Sheffield. She and Frank settled for a couple of years in Barnsley before moving to Doncaster. During this period, to 1968, when they moved to Birmingham, Freda was the behind the scenes mastermind, who kept the home-cum-office that the Communist Party had in Doncaster going. The frenetic pace of local activities in the mid-1950s of Communist miners was nourished and sustained by Freda single-handedly. To her fell the lot of managing the paucity of wages garnered for her full-timer of a husband.
On moving to Birmingham in 1968, she obtained work as a social worker in the Social Services Department, where her ready compassion made her a firm favourite with the elderly, blind and otherwise disabled persons she assisted. Also, her previous deep personal friendship with Councillor Teresa Stewart (later to become leader of the council in Birmingham), first forged in Leeds in the Cold War period, was renewed.
Always interested in Communist Party work amongst women, Freda was particularly sensitive to the development of women’s liberation in her later years, having been something of a standard bearer for women’s rights in her younger days.
Understandably, but erroneously, overshadowed by her larger than life husband, Freda was an astute and well-read Communist in her own right, having maintained 25 years continuous membership of the Communist Party, a fact recognised by the plethora of letters of condolence sent to her family upon her death. A letter of condolence was received from the Bulgarian embassy, reflecting a particular interest she had developed in that country arising from visits with her husband.
Sadly, Freda was to die of cancer-related illness aged only 52 years on 5th October 1977. A marked feature both of the orations at her funeral and of the very many condolences was the many comments about her quality of tolerance. It was a personality trait many considered to have been inherited from her mother and her maternal grandfather, Webster.