Farewell to Veteran Communist Reg Weston 1913–2007
Friends and comrades are mourning veteran Communist Reg Weston, who died on 26 January 2007, aged 93, following a short illness.
Reg was born in 1913 at Stamford Hill, in the London Borough of Hackney. He left school at 15 to work as a trainee reporter in Fleet Street and went on to have a lifelong career in journalism, in both the national and local press.
In his early 20s, Reg was an active member of the Independent Labour Party. The party had disaffiliated from the Labour Party and part of its membership was being drawn into the orbit of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CP). Reg joined the CP in 1935 and became Secretary of a newly-formed party branch in the Southgate area of Enfield, in North London. Among the members of the branch was leading CP theoretician Rajani Palme Dutt.
On 4 October 1936, Reg participated in the Battle of Cable Street, the legendary mass mobilisation in the East End of London against Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. In old age, Reg wrote a vivid memoir of his experiences on the day.
During the Second World War, Reg saw active service in the Eighth Army, for which he was awarded five decorations, including two campaign stars (the Africa Star and the Italy Star). Reg spent three years of the war in action: in the Tunisian battles, in the Salerno landings and in the ensuing Italian campaign – including all the battles for Monte Cassino and the struggle to break through the Gothic Line. Throughout these battles, Reg was with the Royal Artillery, serving as a signaller in charge of a forward observation post.
Reg would often recall his experiences in Italy – particularly the warmth with which he was greeted when he encountered Italian Communists in newly-liberated areas and revealed his party membership.
After the war, Reg resumed his career in journalism and in 1946 he went to work on the CP’s own paper, the Daily Worker, where he became chief sub-editor on the day shift. However, his time on the paper was cut short in September 1952, when he was fired by the editor, Johnny Campbell.
Reg’s dismissal came about as a result of a dispute following the sacking of his friend Freddie Deards, who had been a sub-editor on the sports page. The row seems to have been ostensibly about money, with Reg and Freddie Deards objecting to being paid substantially below the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) rate for the job. In theory, journalists at the Worker received the full union rate – but most of this was actually deducted in “voluntary contributions” to the CP. Reg maintained that “What really happened was that we couldn’t take any longer the class divisions, the privileged free-loaders (enjoying Soviet crumbs) and the hypocrisy” at the paper, so “We grumbled and criticised. We made cynical remarks”. Following his sacking by Campbell, Reg left the CP.
Reg went on to work as a sub-editor with the Press Association (PA) for many years, continuing to be a staunch, and active, member of the NUJ, of which he was made a life member.
After his retirement from the PA in the 1970s, Reg moved down to North Kent. He lived for 25 years in the village of Higham, where he was Clerk to the Parish Council for a time. He became well-known in the nearby town of Gravesend, and the rest of Kent, for his tireless political activity in the county, which began following the death of his wife Constance (widow of the artist Maurice Sochachewsky), after only a few years of marriage.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Reg was a leading member of Gravesend Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and the Higham and Shorne Peace Supporters group. He was also prominent in Gravesend Anti-Nazi League’s fight to drive the National Front out of the town. During the Miners’ Strike of 1984–5, Reg supported the Kent miners with practical solidarity, organising meetings and collections – notably a food convoy from the local Sikh Temple to the Kent pit villages.
In 1985, Reg rejoined the Communist Party and, during the years leading up to the dissolution of the party, he supported the tendency that published the newspaper The Leninist – somewhat to the irritation of the CP’s Kent District leadership.
In the early 1990s, Reg was a leading member of Gravesend Anti-Poll Tax Union and he was imprisoned for his refusal to pay the tax. During the 1992 general election campaign, Reg turned up at the Kent village of Meopham to heckle John Major and wave a placard declaring “Rich Tories, the real poll tax parasites”. For his pains, Reg was, as the Daily Telegraph reported, “kicked, punched and hit with an umbrella by a cohort of silver-haired ladies”.
In 1993, Reg played a key role in a successful campaign to drive Gravesend neo-Nazi John Cato out of the town. As a consequence, Reg faced threats of murder from the fascists, and threats of arrest and prosecution from Kent Police – neither of which intimidated him in the least.
In the early 1990s, Reg broke with the “Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee)”, as the group around The Leninist styled itself following the demise of the actual CPGB. He was subsequently involved with the Socialist Workers’ Party – but soon decided that that organization was not a congenial political home either.
Even in his final years, when he was living in residential care after a bad fall in 2002, Reg still managed to play an active part in politics. In a well-publicised symbolic act in 2003, he sent his war medals to Chris Pond, the then Labour MP for Gravesham, saying he wished to return them to show his disgust at the MP’s support for the disastrous invasion of Iraq.
Reg was a remarkable man who devoted a large part of his life to radical socialist politics in the workplace, in the community and on the streets. He was an indefatigable activist – not for nothing was his favourite poem “Say not the Struggle Naught availeth”. He was incredibly widely-read, with a keen interest in history and literature; he was knowledgeable on many subjects and always keen to share his knowledge with others.
Reg made an enormous contribution to local politics in Gravesend and played an influential part in the thriving left-wing political network that flourished in the town for many years.
Friends and comrades are organising a celebration of Reg’s life, to take place in Higham later in the year. Anyone who wishes to attend should telephone Gill Emerson on (01474) 566701.
By Gill Emerson and David Turner
4 February 2007