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Interview with Councillor George Miles

This is an excerpt from an interview with the late Cllr George Miles, who was present at the original unveiling of Sylvia Pankhurst's anti-airwarfare monument in Woodford in 1935. The interview was recorded in 1990, and is reproduced here courtesy of the Essex Record Office Sound Archive.

George Miles was born in Woolwich in 1909, and died in Essex in the 1990s. Having started out as a young Conservative in his youth in the 1920s when Churchill was elected to the Woodford constituency, George Miles had converted to Communism before the Second World War. After a busy career as a party activist, Miles left the Communists in 1956 and joined the Labour Party, eventually becoming a County Councillor for Essex.

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…or read the edited transcript below.

'[At the time I was in Woodford], Sylvia Pankhurst lived there, in this big house on the corner of a road off Snakes Lane. She lived with her common-law husband, an Italian anti-fascist. He was on the run from Mussolini. In the same way that Mussolini had put Gramsci in prison and killed Matteotti, he would have done this bloke in, undoubtedly!

Sylvia Pankhurst was interested in the League of Nations. When I started canvassing for that, I got to know her and she was interested and prepared to do something.

In addition to that house, she had a cottage at Woodford Wells, right opposite the Horse and Well. In the garden there, facing the bus stop on a very prominent site, she had somebody make a concrete plinth with a bomb on the top of it. She dedicated this to Lord Londonderry, because at that time he was, I think, the Minister for Air. He had made a speech in the House of Commons, where he said he had had great difficulty in preserving the bombing plane for posterity – almost apologising for it.

Of course she took this up, and had this carved on it. There was going to be a great opening. She had some clerics down; I think she had a bloke from Thaxted but I can't remember exactly. [This may well have been the person known as the 'Red Vicar' of Thaxted: the Christian Socialist, Conrad Noel. – Ed]

Among the people who came to jeer was one of the daughters of Lord Londonderry. She had with her a girl named Lettie who I managed to talk to for about five or ten minutes. She was quite easy to talk to. That was the girl who I eventually married in 1945, when I came out of the Army. By that time Lettie had changed her politics! Her brother, Major Hicks-Beech, was the Conservative MP for Cheltenham. Her name was Lettie Hicks-Beech; they were a Gloucestershire family who married in and out of the aristocracy. She was working, if you please, as a shop steward in an electrical factory, on behalf of the Communist Party, and she was decorated with the Communist Party's badge for 'party build-up' because she'd recruited more than 50 people. So I met her again after the War.

To get back to Sylvia: she had an inauguration event there for her new monument, and made a demonstration, and I got to know her a bit more. I used to go round to her house. She had this little boy who was her son by the Italian anti-fascist. That little boy is now a professor in Addis Ababa University: his name is Dr Richard Pankhurst.

Of course Sylvia was a smasher, she was. She was a real one-hundred-per-cent woman who knew everything, and knew what she wanted to do – and who could be relied upon, one hundred per cent!'