William Kemp  (1913 – 1997)

Labour Party activist and USDAW trade unionist

William Kemp was born in 1913 in Aberdeen, Scotland. He started his working life in 1927 and his early jobs included a shipping agent and a vacuum cleaner salesman. His father had been a Marxist and William joined the Marxist Social Democratic Federation. At the age of eighteen he joined the Labour Party and became an active trade unionist in the shop workers union.

In the 1930s William won a scholarship to Ruskin College, Oxford, following in his brother Charles' footsteps. He went on to become a full-time official with the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), working first in Leeds, and later in Glasgow. In 1938 he married Mary Baxter, also from Aberdeen, and a former Ruskin student. They had two children, Mary Lois and William Charles. Mary Lois later married Sandy Hobbs (both Lois and Sandy have gifted left wing material to our Archive Centre). In the 1940's William returned to Aberdeen to the Union's offices and he carried on working in Aberdeen until his retirement in the mid-1970s.

He was an active member of the Labour Party serving both the local Constituency Party and for many years on the Scottish Executive Committee. William stood for the Labour Party in the 1959 general election in West Aberdeenshire but was beaten by the Conservative candidate Forbes Hendry. He was a member of the Consumer Consultative Committee for the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, Chairman of the Aberdeen Endowments Trust, and served on the Court of the University of Aberdeen. He was awarded the MBE in 1973 for his services to the community.

After his retirement, despite failing health and the death of his wife, he maintained his interest in public affairs and in the Labour Party. He was also an active member of the Aberdeen Humanist Group. William died in Aberdeen in December 1997.


  • Biographical material provided by family member