Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Wilf Page - Norfolk Red

New Book Release:

Norfolk Red

The Life of Wilf Page, Countryside Communist

By Mike Pentelow

Norfolk Red


Wilf Page was a widely respected giant of the national and international trade union movement, a promoter of justice in the countryside, a communist councillor during the difficult cold war years and a lifelong community activist.

He has recently been likened to his contemporary Nelson Mandela, on the grounds that he never became bitter about the discrimination he suffered because of his political beliefs.

He accepted it as the price that had to be paid for the cause of progress. Instead of being dejected by discrimination - which affected him particularly in his search for work as a young father - it merely strengthened his resolve to abolish the unjust social system which spawned it.

Page is Norfolk dialect for an assistant shepherd, yet this seems to be one of the few jobs Wilf did not try his hand at. Blacklisted by employers because of his trade union activities, he had to scrape a living from a string of short-term jobs. He could have been a guest almost every week on the 1950s television programme What's My Line (in which a panel had to guess the occupation of guests from a mime).

In his early days he had been a rag and bone man, a servant, an upholstery apprentice, a barman, a ballroom dancer-cum-gigolo, and a potato picker, before becoming an aerial photographer for the Royal Air Force in India. After the war he was a Labour Party agent, beach photographer, cafe manager, lorry driver, bus driver, gardener, caravan site attendant, travelling fish salesman, and occasional farmworker.

Perseverance was one of his qualities, and he kept plugging away against right-wing opposition in his union, the National Union of Agricultural Workers, finally being elected to its executive after seventeen years of standing. Once elected, his talent was officially appreciated and, when the union later merged with the Transport & General Workers' Union, he served on its executive, representing agricultural and rural workers. As he became recognised as an elder statesman of the union, he was elected as president of the European Federation of Agricultural Unions.

In all these prestigious positions he was well known for his communist views. But his honesty and integrity won him respect, even from those who vehemently opposed his politics. And it was this, coupled with his record of getting things done - both through official channels and more unorthodox means - which led to him being returned as a communist councillor time and again in Edgefield, Norfolk, during twenty-eight of the worst years of the cold war.

Wilf's humour and fortitude enabled him to come through many trying times - from being punished for organising a strike at school, to burying his own grandfather in a macabre do-it-yourself funeral, to being arrested and fined for cutting a wire fence around a US nuclear base. Even when, towards the end of his life, he saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries, he did not see it as a reason to give up hope. Instead he drew a positive lesson, that communists should think more for themselves instead of accepting things without question as they had done in the past. He saw marxism not as a dogma but as a way of analysing society and the forces within it, as an essential part of the battle for social justice.

On his death, an obituary in The Times accurately reported that Wilf's communism had not been of the 'big Russian bear' variety, but had been about 'the community owning the wealth'. He was a man whose tireless battle for justice lasted until the last day of his life.


1. Norfolk’s labour heritage
2. Early days
3. Drifting in London and Jersey
4. Flying in India
5. Labour Party agent and councillor
6. Blacklisted communist
7. Union and community activist
8. The national arena
9. The 1970s
10. Retirement and continuing activism
11. Pensioners’ activist

Published in association with Unite the Union and the Marx Memorial Library
ISBN 9781905007974
192 pages, plus 16 pages of photographs
£13.99 paperback September 2009

Please Note: Available at Tolpuddle Rally

Wilf Page - Norfolk

Wilf Page

Agricultural workers union activist and communist councillor, Wilfred Randal Page was born on 11th September 1913 at Catton, Norfolk, in great poverty. A lasting influence on his life was his Sunday School teacher, Bill Furness, a Primitive Methodist who was one of the leaders of the 1923 farmworkers strike He joined the RAF in 1932 and went into a post in pioneering aerial photography during WW2. While in the RAF he was won to the ideas of the Communist Party.

In 1945 he became the election agent for Edwin Gooch, North Norfolk Labour MP and President of the National Union of Agricultural Workers.

But was elected as a Communist councillor in 1946 for Erpington on Norfolk Rural District Council (originally as Labour until he joined the Communist party in 1950), he served until government re-organisation in 1974.

For most of his life he lived with his wife Christina nee Beesley, a popular shop workers union activist and union executive member, and his son and daughter (incl Carol Lorac) at Overstrand, Norfolk.

He was convenor of the Communist Parties agricultural advisory committee, CP Executive member 1967 - 1973 and Editor and regular contributor to the CP’s rural journal
Country Standard, campaigning against low pay, abolition tied cottages and nationalisation of the land.

A staunch member of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, he was finally elected to its executive in 1969. Key player in the move to merge with the T&G in 1982. Member of TGWU GEC from 1982 to 1984.

Wrote a number of pamphlets on agricultural issues including “Farming to feed Britain” a CP booklet in 1976.

He remained was Chairman of Trunch TGWU until his death, Chairman of Norfolk County Council Trades Council. Organiser for many years of the annual
Burston School Strike celebrations.

An “electrifying public speaker”, he fronted the NUAAW campaign for land nationalisation on TV and radio in the media

Wilf became President of the European agricultural workers federation but had to retire due to ill health in 1980. In 1989 he set up a local pensioners movement, which grew into thousands covering the whole of East Anglia, finally he became the first Vice President of the National Pensioners Convention.

Page was passionate about the Peace movement involved in trying to close down American bases in East Anglia and famously at USAF, Scunthorpe helped form CromermCampaign Against Nuclear Disarmament (CND)

Despite being confined to a wheel chair (paid for by grateful union members) he continued to campaign. In the last five years of his life were spent at Halsey
house, British Legion nursing home in Cromer.

Wilf Page remained a committed Communist, however it was said of him that he was “never the big Russian bear, but the community owning the wealth communist”.

At a Memorial at Norwich Labour Club in May 2001, attended by TGWU General Secretaries Jack Jones and Ron Todd and Labour MP’s Ian Gibson and Gavin Strang. Jack Jones stated “I was always impressed by his wonderfully simple and clearly stated approach to problems of people, agricultural workers especially and pensioners more recently.”

He died 8th April 2001 aged 87 at Cromer, funeral at St. Faiths crematorium May 2001. Leaving a son John

Morning Star April 10th 2001; Guardian April 20th 2001, Eastern Daily Press April 10th May 5th 2001, Country Standard, Independent May 12th 2001

NOW Read Mike Pentelow's excellent book Norfolk Red