Daffern Eileen

Eileen M Clough was born on New Year’s Day in 1914 into a middle class family in Sutton-in-Craven, a mill village in the Aire Valley betweenSkipton and Keighley on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. She had a strict Baptist upbringing; non-conformist conscience and discipline may have made her receptive later to left-wing ideas. S she recalled: “maternal grandparents were Inghamites, an offshoot of Methodism, which was radical, pacifist and committed to equality between the sexes”.

Eileen was educated at Skipton Girls’ High School, which involved a daily four-mile walk in clogs, and won a scholarship to Bedford College, London University, where she studied French language and literature. After travelling and working abroad in the late 1930s, in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, she returned to England in 1939. In Manchester, she met Marxists for the first time and was deeply influenced.

She joined the Ilkley Left Book Club discussion group, and in 1940 attended the People’s Convention, and in June 1941 joined the Communist Party. She later recalled that “Marx and Lenin gave me a sense of how life works. I loved the dialectic: it was like a Bach fugue. And it gave the individual a belief that they could change the world. Above all, it was optimistic.”

Eileen took a course in personnel management at Edinburgh University, hoping to get into one of the war factories and worked as a personnel officer in munitions factories for the rest of the war. For the next four years, she was successively at a Royal Ordinance shell filling factory at Risley near Manchester, then back to ICI, and, towards the end of the war, into the central personnel department of the Metal Box Company based in London, which had some 20 factories around the country. An anti-communist union official told the company of her Party membership and she was dismissed after a long absence occasioned by influenza.

In the course of this, she led Marxist education classes “My very first baptism of fire was to take a class on elementary Marxism for a group of (seven) Salford dockers.” She actively campaigned for the Second Front and for the return of a Labour government. She became Women’s Organiser for the North West district of the Communist Party.  

Eileen married George Nigel Daffern (b February 1908) in 1950 and lived from 1947 to 1960 in the USA and Canada where she had her three children. In 1960 the family moved to Brighton. Eileen’s husband became very ill and she had to look after him as well as working as a teacher at Westlain grammar school. A former pupil has written that “her elegant flowing silk clothes, and her insistence that French was fun, marked her out as different”. By all accounts, she was an excellent teacher – in one year, all of her 35 O-level students passed their exams. She built a strong relationship with Sussex University, where she eventually headed the schools unit of the Centre for Contemporary European Studies.

Although George eventually died in 1974 of early onset Alzheimers, she was mother to three children and the sum of her domestic duties had limited her political activity for a long time. But she remained a member of the Brighton branch until the CPGB was dissolved, then joined Democratic Left but left when this was changed to the New Politics Network. She remained a daily reader of the Morning Star.

Ever since the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima Eileen had seen the struggle for peaceful coexistence as her first political priority. For ten years she was active in the peace movement in Montreal. On coming to Brighton she immediately joined CND and in 1961 took part in the Aldermaston march, the first of many marches and rallies Eileen helped to organise, especially outside party conferences in Brighton. In the 1980s she helped to found the Sussex Alliance for Nuclear Disarmament (SAND) and was its secretary for 15 years. It eventually had more than 50 affiliated organisations. Eileen served on the national and international committees of CND.

Her book, Essays on a Life: Politics, Peace and the Personal, was published in 2007.

 Long-term general secretary of CND, Bruce Kent, has written of her: “Single-minded is too weak a word for Eileen. I was endlessly impressed by her keen intelligence, determination, world vision and capacity for efficient hard work. Many times we set off together to attend various international peace gatherings. Daffern bag-carrier was usually my allotted role. One theme was constant in Eileen’s many letters: everyone can make a difference. We all have potential. Don’t waste time. And she never did.”

SAND made contacts in Europe and Eileen was able to overcome opposition within CND to working with the Mouvement de la Paix because it was close to the French Communist party and did not advocate unilateral nuclear disarmament. She visited the Soviet Union, Hungary, Poland and the GDR; the contacts she made strengthened her commitment to working for peace and understanding between all people. In her eighties Eileen wrote that “people make history” and “I have always derived strength from the feeling that I was part of a long history of struggle against war and for a just, cooperative and caring society”. She died on 22 January 2012, aged 98.

Sources: David Grove, Eileen Daffern “Essays on a Life” B & M Publishing 2007, and obituary by Kate Hudson in the Morning Star 23 January 2012; Obituary by Jenny Jones, Guardian, Sunday 5 February 2012; appreciation by Jeremy Paxman, Guardian, Thursday 5 April 2007; http://www.socialisthistorysociety.co.uk/daffernwarandpeace.pdf

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