Don Edwards 1912-2005

Don in 2003

Don in 2003

Don Edwards was born in Toxteth, Liverpool in 1912. His father was a Petty Officer in the Navy who died at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. His mother went into deep depression surviving him by only a year. As very small children, Don and his siblings were orphans. He was brought up by his paternal Aunt and Uncle, Liverpool Orange Tories. He was a bright boy who went to Toxteth Technical Institute.  Unusually for the 1920’s he remained at school till 16 when he took up an electrical apprenticeship. He met his wife Edith Irene Edge in 1932 before the end of his apprenticeship and married in 1933 by which time under the influence of his wife’s family he had shifted to the left having become active in the T U movement. In 1938 he was helping to organise a strike which ended in lock out and blacklisting on the Mersey.

In 1939 with war looming Don moved up to Tyneside looking for work leaving the family in a village in North Wales near Llanberis where Edith stayed with the two boys for six months. Don lodged in Walker working briefly in the ship yards. Having registered and being classed A1 fit for the RAF. He awaited call up but it never came.  He always attributed this to his membership of the CP which he had joined in Liverpool a few years earlier.  As it happened he had become disillusioned with the Party when Stalin did his infamous deal with Hitler.

 He soon moved into a more permanent job as a maintenance man at the Royal Victoria Infirmary where he stayed till 1943.  During the war he had continued his union work and served on the Newcastle and district Trades Council. By 1945 he had worked for two years at Carville Power Station as a linesman and in that year he was elected Secretary of the Trades Council a post he was to hold till 1982.  By this point he had left the CP although he always maintained friendly relations with Party members.  His daughter Irene remembers the front room of the house being an office with the presence of a phone and duplicator making it almost unique among working class houses in the forties.  She also remembers being an unofficial secretary from about the age of eight, addressing and stuffing envelopes monthly with Trades Council minutes.

Irene describes her father as ‘a new man’ before ‘new’ men. He was not shy of doing domestic tasks and was much involved with the children taking them off to the swimming pool every Saturday afternoon and to the Library when time allowed. There wasn’t much time to spare. He worked a five and a half day week and two overtime shifts late on a Thursday and Sunday.  With five children her mother could not work out of the home and it was a struggle to make ends meet. Her mother did rule the home but Don took the big decisions.  Out of work his trade union work took up two further evenings per week.

Don was a prodigious reader.  Plato’s Republic was on the shelf along with the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, the latter pressed onto the children as essential reading. Even before the trial in 1962 a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was also in the house.  He also subscribed to the National Geographic and was keen for the family to follow both world affairs and the world’s nature.  He also encouraged the Trades Council into cultural pursuits.  Around 1952 Irene remembers answering the door to a woman in an old raincoat. It turned out to be Joan Littlewood who had brought The Theatre Workshop to Newcastle at the invitation of the Trades Council. Two plays were performed, The Long Shift, a mining drama starring Harry H Corbett and Henry IV pt 1 with Corbett as Prince Hal.

In the fifties Don was also active in the local Labour Party and a delegate to the City Party, forming a close relationship with fellow Liverpudlian, Secretary Joe Eagles.  His political ideas were on the left of the LP and included opposition to the British Bomb and an antagonism to capital punishment.  He also petitioned against the restrictions put by the US government on Paul Robeson.

In 1962 he was elected a full time officer for the ETU just at the time when the leadership was being witch hunted out of office. His own election was challenged and declared null and void. He was entirely cleared of any rigging and in the re-run won with a bigger majority.  During the sixties he became a member of the National Assistance Board and ultimately Chairman where he said his sympathies lay firmly with the claimant.

John Charlton.

This appreciation was first published in North East History Volume 40, 2009