from Peter Petroff’s Memoirs

Kentish Town BSP

The Branch was not satisfied with registering its decisions; it wanted to attain some results and would therefore send its resolutions to the Executive, to other organisations, government departments, municipal authorities, members of Parliament, as the case might be. At times it would also circularise the branches of the LDP. It was therefore not an easy job to be secretary of the Kentish Town Branch; not merely clerical skill was wanted for this, considerable political education was required as well as a great capacity for work since there was no remuneration of any kind and the secretary had not even a typewriter at his disposal.

During the whole period of my membership – about ten years – the Branch had only two secretaries. Both of them were hard fighters with great organising abilities and well up to the mark. The first was a Frenchman, Montagnier, who had been brought up in England, a barber who afterwards returned to France and was killed in the war. When Montagnier left us, his place was taken by the then still very young cabinet maker A.G. Tomkins whose tranquil and humorous manner always skilfully succeeded in pacifying excited spirits when opinions clashed violently. These qualities and his sound Socialist education stood him in good stead in later years when he became general secretary of the National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association.

Chancellor of the Exchequer to the-Branch-was for more than two decades the book-keeper Teddy Camp who did great service to the organisation.

The Branch had rented a whole house at 44, Malden Road. The shop had been equipped as a hall for meetings, the basement as a billiard room. The billiards, as well as the socials and whist drives held on days when there were no meetings, had to cover part of the expenditure. The management of this house lay largely in the hands of the Camps, who rented a flat on the premises.

There was still another married couple who rendered excellent service to the branch and greatly helped to safeguard its financial stability – the engineer Sherry and his wife. They had organised in the branch a stall where the members could buy not only cigarettes and chocolates but also tea, coffee and similar articles, the profits going towards the funds of the branch. They also organised the sale of literature. The sale of pamphlets, newspapers and books in our branch considerably, exceeded that of other similar organisations; apart from that Sherry had established the sale of larger works on instalment. Marxist, anti-religious and similar books, frequently imported from the United States, which were not easily obtainable in the ordinary way, were being sold here in comparatively large numbers, by no means exclusively to members. Many a local Trade Union branch would obtain literature rather from here than from their own headquarters.

Mrs. Sherry who co-operated in her husband’s “commercial” activity furthermore supervised the Socialist Sunday School. There, up to a hundred children would gather every Sunday afternoon, sing Socialist songs, read tales with a socialist tendency, or while the little ones were at play in an adjoining room, they would listen to a Speaker who could tell about by-gone times or the life of Socialists in far-off lands. The most important event of the year for the children was of course May Day; to this event they would look forward for many months. In the morning of the First of May they would gather with shining eyes in front of the Branch premises where, under Mrs. Sherry’s supervision, they would be put on lorries decorated with flowers and red flags. Then, singing gaily, they would be taken to the Thames Embankment where the lorries of all other Socialist Sunday Schools and the contingents of the adults would gather and form into one long procession. The whole demonstration would move on to Hyde Park, the children on their lorries in front. There a special platform would be arranged for the children who would listen to speakers chosen from among the Sunday School teachers. After the demonstration the lorries would bring-their fidgeting, wriggling, flag waving passengers back to the Branch where a Women’s Committee would treat them to a festive tea with loads of cake baked and provided by members, of the Branch.

The work among the children greatly interested me; I frequently visited the Sunday school to tell them something about the Russian Revolution – when in 1933 I returned to England I had the pleasure of being greeted by young comrades as “Uncle Peter”: they remembered me from the Sunday School.

The special favorite of the Sunday School children was Percy Lewington with whom a close friendship connected me. Lewington, an engineer, was a great lover of nature who knew every plant or bird. We had organised a hiking group for the elder children, the “Young Socialist Citizen Scouts” for whom he arranged a camp during summer.