By Anna Hutton-North, author of `Ferguson’s Gang – The Maidens behind the Masks’.
Rachel Pinney was born on 11th July 1909 to the wealthy Dorset-based Pinney family; owners of estates at Broadwinsor and Pilsdon Her father was Major-General Sir Reginald John Pinney KCB, immortalised as ‘the cheery old card’ in Siegfried Sassoon’s poem ‘The General’. Her mother, Hester, was the daughter of a wealthy Lloyds underwriter in Middlesex.
From an early age Rachel fought against the strict Quaker household; she rebelled against conformity to a middle‑class ethos and joined the British Communist Party, along with friends such as The Hon Jessica Mitford.
Interestingly, Rachel, through her uncle’s friendship with Thomas Hardy, also became interested in the work carried out by Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). It was through this that she became involved in Ferguson’s Gang; the group of bandits who used their ‘stolen’ booty to save properties for the National Trust. Her pseudonym typically represented her Communist sympathies, being known as ‘Red Biddy’ and hitting the headlines with her daring exploits in the interwar years.
She married Luigi Cocuzzi in 1934 and they went on to have three children: Karin, Peter and Christopher. They divorced fourteen years later and Rachel went on to openly declare herself as a lesbian. During this time Rachel passed her medical exams and began to practice as a GP; she went on to study child psychology under Dr Margaret Lowenfeld and developed a new approach to children’s behaviour. She pioneered ‘Creative Listening’ and ‘Children’s Hours’, writing the paper Bobby – Breakthrough of an Autistic child in 1983.
Her political views never tempered and she remained politically active; during the Second World War she worked with compatriots to help Jewish refugees; aroused by accounts from friends in Germany about the labour camps.
In 1961 she became a member of CND and campaigned against the Polaris nuclear submarines. In addition she took to keeping silent on a Wednesday at a protest against nuclear weapons, communicating only by written notes. At the end of the 1960s she opened a peace café in Fulham and continued to be an active campaigner, attending Greenham in the 1980s.
Her allegiance to the Communist Party continued throughout her life; a short article appearing just a few years before she died in the internal journal `Focus’, requesting that material be submitted for her book Obedience is a Sin.
Rachel died in 1995 having lived her life according to her own moral code ‘to find something only I can do and do it somewhat’.