Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fred Copeman, a Deptford socialist

Interesting article by Jonathan Derrick in The Lewisham Local History Society Journal about the colourful life of Fred Copeman, a sailor who played a leading role in the 1931 Invergordon mutiny and then settled in Deptford where he joined the Communist Party, living with local CP activists Kath and Sandy Duncan. He was jailed in Brixton Prison and Wormwood Scubs for his activities with the National Unemployed Workers Movement in the 1930s, and then went to Spain to fight in the International Brigades, becoming at one point the commander of the British Batallion.

At Lewisham Registry Office in 1938 he married Kitty Banks, who he had met through the Deptford Young Communist League (her parents ran Lewisham Socialist Sunday School). The reception was attended by CP leaders Harry Pollitt and Tom Mann, but within a year Copeman had left the party - a visit to the Soviet Union seemed to have been the turning point, when on a visit to a factory he observed the same working conditions he had fought against at home (see article here). He went on to be a Lewisham Labour councillor in the 1940s and 50s, and died in 1983.

5 comments:

Gwladys Street said...

A really interesting piece of local history- well worth covering.

Anonymous said...

MI5 Security File

Frederick Copeman

File ref KV 2/2322-2324

Copeman's fame rests on two pillars: his leading part in the 1931 Invergordon Mutiny, for which he was discharged from the Navy; and his leadership of the British Battalion in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

From lowly roots in a Suffolk workhouse, Copeman joined the Navy and first came to Security Service attention, not as a leader of the Mutiny, but as one who continued agitating for better treatment for seamen immediately afterwards. A note as to his character when he was discharged from HMS Norfolk (in November 1931) describes Copeman as "A bully and general bad character, but a good seaman when he tries which is not often" (serial 1X in KV 2/2322, covering 1931-1932). Copeman soon began working on behalf of the Communist Party - there is a report of his first speech, describing the circumstances of the Mutiny, at serial 16A.

Copeman was very active as a speaker and agitator, and his activities are recorded on this file in some detail. At serial 127B (KV 2/2323, 1932-1938) there is an account of a riot at a meeting in Oxford where Copeman was speaking, when 200 under-graduates invaded the hall and a pitched battle ensued. The file also includes copies of The Unemployed Leader of 21 October 1931, reporting Copeman's arrest for obstruction. This file goes on to detail Copeman's time in Spain with the International Brigade - and at serial 197A there is a letter describing his life and experiences there in some detail. A photograph of Copeman in Spain is included. At serial 200A there is a false report of Copeman's death in July 1937 while leading the British Battalion, and at serial 203 a Metropolitan Police account of his return to Britain.

Though Copeman initially held to the Communist cause after the Spanish Civil War, by 1940 he had become disenchanted with the Soviet system and threw himself instead into air-raid precaution work, in the end running the ARP services in Westminster, for which he was awarded the OBE. There is correspondence about his recommendation for this award, and the Security Service's response to it, in KV 2/2324 (1938-1948).

Transpontine said...

Thanks for that. I would be interested in knowing where he lived in Deptford/New Cross, and indeed where Kath and Sandy Duncan (who he seems to have stayed with) - I believe the latter lived in Waller Road during the Second World War.

Anonymous said...

I think best option
is details of candidates standing for election
they always printed names, occupation and address just before election

Michael

Anonymous said...

in the local newspaper, that is