Fred Baxter (1908-1997): Politics and Protest

…she wrote and suggested that I should be mentioned in the Queen’s Honours List because my wife and I done quite a lot of helping other people, which we liked doing” (p.31).

Fred never explicitly states which political party he supported throughout his life, but what is clear is his passion for a fairer system-one that supports the needs of all people. He expresses this in his memoir through his desire and will to help those less fortunate.

Fred’s life was troubled by ill health. Consequently, he was a frequent visitor to Suffolk Hospital and was admitted on twenty-four separate occasions. He witnessed first-hand the visible adverse effects of underfunding. When comparing the Old West Suffolk Hospital to the new one, Fred states, “our new hospital really smells. It is underfunded because the government hopes it will not be able to carry on so it can be privatised which must never happen” (p.5). Privatised hospitals are restricted to patients who pay for their treatment, so it is clear that Fred believed quality healthcare should be accessible to all, not just those who could afford it.  Furthermore, Fred was “very well-known and liked” (p.30) at the hospital because he wrote to his M.P, Sir Eldon Griffiths, and the Bury Free Press, stating that “doctors and nurses should have better pay and that the hospital was underfunded” (p.30). This is indicative of Fred’s character; he was a man who was not afraid to take action against anything he deemed unjust.

On numerous occasions in his life, Fred endeavoured to become a local councillor. Firstly, he stood as an Independent candidate for Bury Town Council but frustratingly for Fred, people cast their votes depending on which political party they supported, rather than voting for the best candidate. Fred’s frustration at this is clear when he writes, “unfortunately people will not leave party politics out of local government” (p. 26). It is clear that Fred believed he lost the election, as he was not representing one of the main political parties.

Later in life, Fred moved to a village called Stanton, eleven miles from Bury. Initially, he noticed that the locals were a “bit cautious” of him, as they did “not like strangers coming in interfering with their village life” (p.29). However, in spite of this, Fred was elected to the Parish Council and served the village for three years. One of his biggest achievements, during this time, was providing extra support for those in need, Fred was successful in securing “sums of money that was put into a trust to be paid out at certain times of the year” (p.29), highlighting Fred’s kind nature. As a mark of their gratitude, he was “thanked by the people who benefited from this trust.” (p.29).

Fred was able to resonate with the hardship faced by so many of the working-class villagers. Throughout his life, Fred himself had lived in a series of council houses and used the welfare system, in order to support his family. Therefore, it was important for him to support others in need of assistance. In the late 1940s, the idea of social citizenship was being promoted, as a way of ensuring all citizens had “access to political, civil and social rights within a country.” At a basic level, it was “an attempt to forge a link between the individual and the authorities at either a local or a national level” (Marshall 1949, cited by Beaven, 2005, p.7). It is clear from the support Fred offered to the “poor and needy of the village” (p.29) that he, too, believed all citizens should have the same rights, even campaigning to the Parish council to ensure funds were made available to support those in need.

During the war, Bury accepted “thousands of evacuees from London” (p.23) and in return expected to receive benefits from the government in recognition for their efforts. However, these did not materialise in the expected way. Fred made contact with his M.P expressing his opinion that the town had not received “all the benefits that should have followed this undertaking” and that a government grant should be awarded to enable the council “to engage more doctors, nurses, policemen, fireman, houses and entertainment” (p.31). In addition to this, Fred expresses his frustration with the government and states, they “can find enough finance to pay thousands of elected councillors … whilst in the past councillors gave their services voluntarily for the honour and good of the people” (p.31).

As a direct consequence of championing these causes, Fred received an invitation from a radio presenter, named Mary Basham, to speak on her show on Saxon Radio, one of Suffolk’s independent radio stations. This invitation presented Fred with the opportunity to have his views heard countywide, revealing his desire to be heard and to bring about change. Mary subsequently wrote an article about Fred in the Bury Free Press. Fred states, “I used to like very much …reading her articles in the Bury Free Press, especially the one she wrote and suggested that I should be mentioned in the Queen’s Honours List because my wife and I done quite a lot of helping other people, which we liked doing” (p.31). This is very revealing of Fred’s character and is indicative of the pride he felt at Mary’s endorsement.

Throughout his life, Fred made an active effort to help others and to implement a fairer system for all, so having his efforts recognised in this way brought immense personal satisfaction.

Bibliography

Work Cited:

Baxter, Fred, ‘Cemetery Side of 83 years; the life story of a Bury St. Edmunds man’, Booklet. 43pp. 1993, Burnett Collection of Working-Class Autobiography, Brunel University Library.

Beaven, Brad. Leisure, Citizenship and Working-Class Men in Britain, 1850-1914.Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005.

Images Used:

Image 1- Sir Eldon Griffiths. Retrieved from: https://www.express.co.uk/news/obituaries/480813/Sir-Eldon-Griffiths-obituary

Image 2- Bury Town Hall. Retrieved from: http://www.oldukphotos.com/graphics/England%20Photos/Suffolk,%20Bury%20St%20Edmunds,%20Town%20Hall%201910%27s.jpg

Image 3- Old picture of Bury Free Press. Retrieved from: https://www.buryfreepress.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/

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