Ron Passingham (1920 - 2012)

Labour councillor and political activist

Ron first found politics via his father, who raised him on a diet of the Daily Herald during the 1930s. During these formative years Ron then found a copy of 'Hitler the Pawn' by Rudolf Owen at school, which, along with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, awakened him to the dangers of Fascism.

In 1936 he joined the Left Book Club and its monthly discussion group where he met members of the Labour Party who introduced him to the Labour League of Youth (LLoY) and its constant efforts of leafleting, canvassing, street activities, as well as social activities at the weekend - walking, cycling and camping.

In 1939, like many in the League, Ron joined the Young Communists with Ted Willis (who was a National leader of LLoY and who was later to be made Lord Wills by Harold Wilson). This was because the Labour Party leadership was supporting non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War, which allowed Hitler to supply arms to General Franco.

In 1940 Ron joined the Royal Navy and over the next six years, he contacted the Communist Party during his travels around the world in Australia, India, Ceylon, Northern Ireland and South Africa. Ron's first ship was a minesweeper in the North Sea based at Granton (Edinburgh). It was here that he met Johnny Martin, a leader in the miners' strike of 1926 who was blacklisted and never worked in the coal industry again. Martin was a caretaker for the National Union of Railwaymen, spoke on the Mound in Edinburgh on Sundays and had a big influence on improving Ron's Marxist education.

Later while based in West Africa, Ron was active in the Youth Movement and Independence campaign in Ghana.

While in Belfast in the middle of the war he met active Communist Party members, including Michael Mclnnerney, later political correspondent of the Irish Times. He joined HMS Formidable aircraft carrier in Belfast, whose task was to attack the German battleship Tirpitz (unsuccessfully) and then went out to the Far East. During the dropping of the atom bombs the ship was sent forty miles away from Japan. After the war they spent four months transporting prisoners of war from Singapore back to Australia and Indians back to Bombay.

When in Sydney at the end of the war he staged a meeting of thirty Communist Party members from various parts of the Pacific fleet. In 1945 political debates were being freely and passionately held on-board ships, in preparation for the year’s General Election.

On returning home after the war Ron resumed his political activities in the Young Communist League and the Communist Party in various parts of London, where he met his wife Betty - a lifelong comrade until her death in 2008.

Ron studied under the emergency teacher-training scheme after the war and taught in Hackney for four years before moving to Redditch, Worcestershire. He was active in the National Union of Teachers from his student days, holding various branch positions and being delegate to the County Organisation and the National Conference. In 1956, like many, Ron left the Communist Party and soon joined the Labour Party.

From 1936 to 1960 Ron was a habitual hoarder of political journals and magazines, a large part of GCU's collection.

Ron and Betty both became Labour Councillors in the early 1970s, serving as such for twenty four years on the District Council, and as Mayor of Redditch in 1987, when he initiated the twinning of Redditch with Mtwara in Tanzania. He was twelve years on the Worcestershire County Council, until his retirement in 2003. He died in 2012.

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