Edward Forster Rogers was born in 1918 into a lower middle class Methodist family in Sunderland. After attending Bede grammar school, Ted left school at 16 to enter the building trade as an apprentice bricklayer.
He soon became an active trade unionist and was converted to Socialism by reading Robert Tressell’s ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’. He joined the Young Communist League in 1936 and soon became Sunderland branch secretary. Being secretary of the local YCL led to a chance meeting for Ted with Enid, who he married at the outbreak of war.
Ted first developed his formidable capacity as a site leader for the federation of building unions, while helping to build a big ordnance factory at Swinnerton in Staffordshire. By 1940, he was working on the huge Aycliffe, County Durham ordnance factory and found himself convenor of shop stewards for thousands of building workers at the age of only 22. His legacy as a lifelong organiser lay in a fondness for taking on the crucial backroom jobs that others found too mundane, and in his persuasive charm.
Ted was called up and sent to Mareth in Tunisia as an anti-tank gunner. He loved desert life, sleeping under the stars and making a pact with his mates that none of them would let themselves be promoted.
But Ted’s life was transformed when his unit’s position was bombed during the allied advance through Tunisia. He was last into the slit trench; while the two men beneath him were unharmed, he suffered severe burns (particularly to his face and hands), passed out and woke up alone in an ambulance being machine- gunned by a fighter. He underwent two years of pioneering plastic surgery; his eyelids were remade from skin taken from his upper arm and extensive operations enabled him to use his hands again.
Despite his damaged hands, Ted returned to the building trade, but moved south to a more favourable climate. He and his wife Enid and their three young sons settled in the new town of Crawley in Sussex. Ted not only had a hand in many of the houses and other buildings but also made an important contribution to the creation of the new community.
As their children grew up, Ted and Enid bought and repaired a ‘500 yacht then sailed it around the Mediterranean. Adventure found them – they were arrested on suspicion of spying by the Albanian navy and held under armed guard until they could prove otherwise. The Phoenix, a ferro-cement yacht they built with friends, took them across the Atlantic and into the Caribbean (where they were arrested again, this time by the Cubans), Florida and the Bahamas. The adventure came to a halt when the Phoenix hit a coral reef near Cat Island and sank. Unharmed but uninsured, they returned with nothing but their papers and $200.
He did a great deal to establish strong trade unions on local construction sites. He set up the Crawley branch of the Communist Party and was its chairman for many years. He stood several times as a Communist candidate in local elections and organised a number of Daily Worker bazaars. Ted was also active in the tenants’ association, the peace movement, and anti-racist campaigns. Later Ted joined the Labour Party but remained a dedicated reader and supporter of the Morning Star. Having been a founder of ex-serviceman’s CND, Ted was active in CND to the end of his life and still attended his union (UCAAT) branch meetings in his ninetieth year.
When Enid died in 1996, Ted immersed himself in activism. Ted Rogers’ autobiography `Journeyman’ was published in 2003. Despite his heart problems he was still active late last year – challenging Des Browne over the legality of Trident at a meeting with the defence secretary.
Poetry was always in Ted’s life: he carried AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad throughout the war and would quote Shelley and Arnold. The day before he died, he recited James Elroy Flecker’s Brumana, which now seems apposite for such an adventurer. "Half to forget the wandering and pain/Half to remember days that have gone by/And dream and dream that I am home again."
Ted Rogers died in 2008 at the age of 90 years.
Sources: Grandson Simon Rogers in The Guardian, Friday April 11 2008; David Grove personal knowledge