1964 Anne Plummer (Now Anne Carter) remembers being invited by a boyfriend to YCL weekend at Coppice. She turned up in her pop art-school fashions only to discover a mosquito infested muddy swamp. “I waited till I went to the local pub – the Eagle – to use the toilets.” She remembers wistfully. “That and the piles of washing-up are my lasting memories.”
Amazingly she still married the man who invited her to Coppice – Karl Carter.
1964 or later Ken Keable remembers a contingent from the Czechoslovak Union of Youth (CSM) camping at Coppice with British YCLers. The Czechs bought a donation of equipment from the CSM including a full set of football shirts and shorts for a whole team (or maybe two teams).
“I played in a football match against the CSM” recalls Ken, “and my photo appeared in the YCL monthly paper Challenge. I also remember singing with the Czech comrades round a evening campfire. They liked to hear us singing the Animals version of the “House of the Rising Sun”, so it must have been 1964 or later.”
Karl Carter believes this Czech delegation or a similar one also bought a quantity of excellent tents and other camping equipment that served Coppice well for many years.
Ann Westbury recalls the donated Czech tents were superb. They had sewn in groundsheets. “In those days we had never seen anything like them.”
Genia Browning also has fond memories of those tents. “My favourite accommodation was in the yellow tents. They were a gift from Czechoslovakia, and a marked improvement on our previous provisions.
“Most importantly they had sewn in groundsheets, a luxury defence against creepy crawlies. Some were blue, the others yellow. I much preferred the yellow ones as whatever the weather outside, the yellow gave the impression of waking up to sunshine.”
1965 Eddie Adams recalls the YCL buying a Bedford OB coach like the one below to tour Britain collecting money and equipment for Medical Aid for Vietnam. The coach was painted in National Liberation Front colours and stored at Coppice.
Ann Westbury (Frost) was one of the YCLers who travelled around Britain collecting at events like the Welsh Miners’ Gala. “Les Reed and I dressed as nurses and were welcomed wherever we went. We stayed with miners in the valleys and collected an amazing amount of money which was sent to Vietnam.”
1967 YCLer Lesly Baker (Now Les Anderson) was asked to reported on the state of the Camp for the Communist Party Executive Committee. Her mimeographed report is comprehensive but far from flattering on the condition and equipment.
Fees are three shillings per person per night and one shilling for educational school events. She advises putting them up to five and two shillings.
At the same time Betty Reid (a key behind-the-scenes player at the Party’s King Street National Headquarters) makes a similar report, just as critical.
1965 A National Youth and Student University was planned for the summer at Coppice.
1966 In December Dr Cullen dies and leaves the Coppice Bungalow to the four Trustees. Death duties of about £100 will need to be found. The bungalow is let at a controlled rent of £2 per week.
Ann Westbury recalls “I attended many so called work weekends but truthfully I didn’t remember actually doing very much physical work. The blokes did –I think – but the toilets never moved on much.
“In those less enlightened pre-feminist days we girls did the washing up. My mum sent me down with her delicious steak and kidney and apple pies. I was always very welcome with mum’s pies. Those heavy parcels of pies often got me a lift to the camp.
Peter Frost recalls a life threatening event. “Few YCLers had cars at the time, One of my mates from Willesden YCL, named Robbie Wye bought an amazing Austin Seven special with a aluminium two seater body. It cost a tenner. We set off for a spin in the Essex lanes. I was amazed at how fast it went and how well it hugged the road until suddenly it didn’t.
We ended up upside down in a dry ditch with the car on top of us. Fortunately it was so light we could get out but the cars front axle was, to use a technical expression, bent to buggery.
“We spent a lot of evenings in the Eagle. I also remember a huge rope swing in the woods adjoining the camp.
1967 From 1967 the “Trend is Communism” campaign saw the mass distribution in youth clubs and schools of a large, colourful leaflet introducing communism to a new, politically inexperienced audience.
A high point of the campaign was an International Youth Festival at the Derbyshire Miners’ Holiday Centre at Skegness, held alongside the 26th YCL Congress at the end of May 1967.
In addition to political debates and meetings, there were performances by pop groups such as The Kinks, progressive poets such as Adrian Mitchell.
YCL membership had increased to 5,600 by the middle of 1967. But cracks in the organisation were beginning to show.
1967 CPGB Minutes discuss selling the rented bungalow to the existing tenant at £1,500 or to somebody else at £2,400.
It was suggested that the proceeds could be used to pay the Death Duty and to employ professional builders to make the improvements to the camp site including finishing the toilets and perhaps building a swimming pool.
Party Solicitor Jack Gaster (remember him from the earliest days of the camp) suggested that if the locality became an established building area the entire site could be sold and an alternative site be purchased somewhere else. Tree preservation orders might make this difficult he warns the Party.
1967 George Bridges recalls Challenge Holidays had an exchange with the Hungarian YCL, about thirty strong. “When they arrived there were all expecting a Western upmarket hotel and were horrified when they ended up at Coppice, especially as they were hoping to be in direct touch with the Western decadence of Soho etc.
“In response the leader phoned the Hungarian embassy and our exchange trip to Hungary was downgraded to hostel/camp status. It didn’t help that Geoff Roberts spilled a full pint of beer over the leaders’ trousers.”
Today almost half a century on it’s is hard to imagine the political values of the 1960s. Take sexism. Peter Frost (author of this booklet) is still embarrassed by some of the work he produced for the Party and the YCL at the time.
In Place of Strife was a Government white paper written in 1969. It had one purpose to use the law to reduce the power of the Unions.
The Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity Barbara Castle hoped to use the Bill to force unions to call a ballot before a strike was held and establishment of an Industrial Board to enforce settlements in industrial disputes.
At the time I was doing a lot of unpaid design, and journalistic work for the Party and the YCL. I designed, with the help of a small group of YCLer’s of both sexes what became one of our most popular posters ever.
It showed a pair of legs in a mini-skirt. Around the ankles were a pair of brief knickers. The slogan read “Down with Barbara’s Laws! Up With Trade Union Rights.
It makes me blush to think of it now but I have to say it was the most popular
item of political propaganda I have ever produced. The demand was unbelievable, they flew out of the door and the frequent orders for re-prints allowed us to pay some of the large debts we had with the Party print-shop Farleigh Press in Watford.
Today those who consider themselves purer Marxists can criticise and scoff. They have the benefit of hindsight. It has always been a wonderful thing.
Peter also remembers a woman, now a leading and very famous feminist writer and lesbian crying on his shoulder in the Coppice Kitchen late one night about the breakdown of her marriage and the shortcomings of her husband.
Some years later the same thing happened with another leading female comrade who also went on to become a lesbian activist. Amazingly both women were complaining about the same man.
1968 Women worker’s at Dagenham, just up the road from Coppice, strike for equal pay.
1969 Peter Hain then a Young Liberal and South African came to Coppice to speak about the Stop the Seventies Tour, A campaign to stop the whites-only South African cricket team playing in England. The protest was successful and the 1970’s tour was cancelled. George Bridges met Hain, now a Labour MP and ex-minister, recently at the House of Common’s launch of the book London Recruits, the secret war against Apartheid. Hain remembered his visit to the communist youth camp in Essex fondly.