Biography of Ray Garner

Ray and Alan Garner were born fifteen minutes apart on the 5th June 1929 at the Bath Road Nursing Home, Wolverhampton. Their forty year old mother had been waiting she said, seven years for this moment. The twins were identical type (we know this only because the midwife said "You're lucky, there's only one afterbirth"), were easily distinguishable to those who knew them well, but easily mistaken for the other, especially by those who knew only one.

Of course the usual boyish tricks were doubled, or doubly annoying; their mother Flo sometimes lost her temper and chased them down the yard with a broom. One trick that they couldn't help laughing at all their lives involved tying a rope between two lamp posts, above the height of a horse, so that the poor old dustman riding behind was tipped off his seat into the rubbish.

In winter, a favourite place to hang about was the Pelham Street bakery, where the local kids would lean against the wall on cold days and absorb the warmth coming through from the ovens.

The boys had older cousins living in Crayford, Kent, and spent time there and from there exploring London, as they grew up. From school, they joined the Army Cadets, who met I believe a at the Royal Orphanage, and went away with them to camp at Coed-Helen, near Caernarvon. I have a letter written by Ray to his parents, saying he had been to Caernarvon Castle and also out on the Menai Straits in a motorboat - this is dated 31.7.45 so the bays were sixteen. Both had left school at fourteen - Ray from the A stream and Alan from the B stream.

Also in 1945 was the General Election, which marked Ray's and Alan's introduction to practical politics. Their main function was to carry the "soapbox" - in this case an aged kitchen chair - from street corner to street corner for Charlie Morey to harangue the masses; the numbers attending is not recorded but the election was won and Billy (Herbert Delauney) Hughes became MP for Wolverhampton West; John Baird won in Wolverhampton East and Jennie Lee in Cannock, which at that time included four Wolverhampton Borough wards, Bushbury, Low Hill, Penn and St. Philips, so Wolverhampton was represented in parliament by three Labour MPs.

Alan joined the Labour League of Youth in 1946 but later that year was called up for National Service in the Army; Ray joined the Young Communists and failed his medical - due to a broken nose sustained by falling off the Back of lorry - belonging to the Railways where he was working.
After leaving school, Alan worked briefly as a butcher's boy (handy for mum who, in days of rationing, got the occasional rabbit or bit of offal). He then moved to work at Villiers Engineering - I think his job was capstan operator, and joined the T.G.W.U. When he was de-mobbed from the Army, Alan went to work on the railway at Stafford Road Engine Sheds. He joined the National Union of Railwaymen and re-joined the Labour party representing his Trade Union Branch and the Constituency and Borough Labour parties for the rest of his life.
Ray moved from the railway to the Midlands Electricity  Board; he too represented his Trade Union on the Constituency and Borough Labour Parties. In 1965, he went to Newbattle Abbey in Dalkieth, a residential college, to take Scottish A levels; This gave him sufficient qualifications to enter the Co-operative College at Loughborough on a two year course; this was followed by a year at Wolverhampton Technical Teachers College; after his probationary year teaching at Moreton School he moved to Sandwell Technical College, where he spent the rest of his working life, teaching mostly General Studies.

Having unsuccessfully contested various local elections (mostly in safe Tory seats) Ray was elected councillor for Low Hill ward, where I believe he served for eight years.

Alan and I married in 1954 and our Labour Party activities were many and varied. We both attended courses and schools, usually evening or weekend, run by the WEA, NCLC and Labour party; we did party organisation, public speaking, economics, local government etc. The most memorable was a one day affair on election organisation; it was after Ian Mikado had, against all the odds, won a parliamentary by-election in Reading; we were forcefully and comprehensively taught the ins and ours of the system by Mik himself; we later put the system to good use in Blakenhall Ward, where for the first time ever we elected three Labour councillors. Unfortunately after that success a large housing clearance programme removed much of our vote, and it was a long time before our next success in Blakenhall.
I had joined the Labour party in May 1950 aged nineteen, was elected to the Wolverhampton South West constituency party
in 1952 and to the Wolverhampton Borough party in 1953, where I stayed until my first daughter was born in 1958. Then I became a full time mum and housewife, though almost every election I ran the committee room. Although not always able to attend meetings, I was officially assistant secretary of the South West party for nineteen years, over which I sent out every month the General Management Committee meeting notices. I because a member of the fundraising committee, which aimed to finance the borough and three constituency parties as far as meeting expenses were concerned, and did so for some years. We had jumble sales, bazaars, faggots-and-peas suppers, darts and dominoes matches, fish and chip suppers, garden parties - we also sold crockery bought wholesale from Stoke-on-Trent. All good fun as well as hard work.

Alan's Labour party activities continued and increased; he was elected to the Regional Executive Committee in 1957 and was Chairman sometime in the early sixties; he was later elected (sometime in the late 70's) and held this post until he died in 1996. Fortunately Regional Office staff did the actual work!
At various times he held various offices; including Branch Chairman, Branch Secretary , Branch Treasurer, most of the time holding one office or another; he also chaired the Wolverhampton South West Constituency Party for 15 years, and for some years the Wolverhampton Borough party. During the period of the West Midlands County Council, he was chairman of the County party. He was a regular at meetings of the European constituency party.

When a National Local Government Committee was formed, Alan represented the west Midlands Region there.

He also attended National Conference and National Local Government Conference at various times.
He attended international peace conferences in Perugia, Italy and Cordoba, Spain, both times making friends who remain my friends today.

Alan contested various (safe Tory) seats over the years in Council elections, and was eventually elected for Springvale in 1973. This was at the time of the Local Government re-organisation, the Metropolitan County and Borough Councils were formed and councillors, in Wolverhampton on the basis of three for each ward in the Borough and one for two wards to the County. These councillors formed a sort of "council in waiting" for the next twelve months, while the previously elected council continued to govern. The aldermanic bench was to be abolished, but meanwhile there was an aldermanic vacancy, and for tactical reasons it was considered necessary for someone to be brought in from outside the council rather than a sitting member being chosen. Alan, who was a co-opted member of a council committee and had been elected for the next year's council was chosen for this - the first and last time I believe in Wolverhampton that an outsider was made an alderman. After representing Springvale until 1987, when he was not re-elected, Alan was off the Council until elected for Heath Town in 1990, where he remained until his death in 1996. During these years it was rare for Alan to miss any meetings of the council, the committees of which he was a member, or the organisations on which he represented the council.
Over the years, he served on many council committees including Education, Environmental Health, Policy and Resources, Direct Labour, Municipal Trading, Economic Development, Planning.
He represented the Council at various times on the Local and Regional Health Authorities, West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, Wolverhampton Consumer panel, Polytechnic Governors, National Society for Clean Air, West Midlands Environmental Pollution Committee and West Midlands Health Service Monitoring Unit.

As all councillors are required to do, Alan served on school governing bodies - I have photos of him as Father Christmas at St. Stephens, Heath Town, and taking the first kick on the newly floodlit pitch at Heath Park.

As Vice-chair of the Passenger Transport Authority, Alan was much involved in negotiations for the West Midlands Metro, and Tram No. 6 was named after him in a brief ceremony at St. Georges Station.
During his years on the Education Committee, Alan was for some time the Vice-Chair, and Chairman of Further Education,  his portrait hangs in the upstairs hall in old Hall Street, and a building across the road was named the Alan Garner Centre. In 1988 Alan was made an Honorary Fellow of the polytechnic, and when this became a university, he remained as an Honorary Fellow there.

Alan was shortlisted for a number of parliamentary seats, never successfully; on one occasion he travelled back from holiday in the Isle of Wight for a selection meeting. On one occasion he was shortlisted for the European parliament, but refused to stand at the next election because he was so upset by the sudden death of the sitting MEP, his friend Terry Pitt. After his training in Britain, Alan spent much of his National Service time in Germany, Holland and Denmark, and I think this encouraged his interest in European and international affairs. He spent much time in discussion with our M.P. Bob Edwards, who was president of the European Parliament before the days of the E.U.

After finishing has army service and joining British Railways, Alan worked in the Stafford Road engine sheds as a storekeeper, until the sheds were closed somewhere in the 1960s and he was made redundant. For nine months he worked in the stores at Boulton Paul, which he absolutely hated, until he moved back to the railway in the plant and Machinery Department in Corn Hill. From there he travelled the Black Country and out to Wellington, supporting plumbers, electricians etc and helping to repair equipment such as cranes, lifts, station lighting and so on.

From lofty perches he surveyed the Black Country and new all the landmarks; also he could recognize all the surrounding hills and name them.

So that we could afford a family holiday, Alan would work an extra shift, carriage cleaning on Sunday mornings, in the days before he was elected to the Council.

In later years he was moved from outdoor work into the stores again, where he had to learn to use a computer.

He was always allowed a generous amount of time off for his Council work, but at 61 he decided to take early retirement so that he could put more time in to his work in Heath Town.

Alan was quite involved in the National Union of Railwaymen, being a shop steward, a member of the Branch Committee, and a member of the railways' Western Regional Negotiating Committee, chairing the Union side in 1958 and 1964. Also he was a member of the NUR District Council for eleven years, and attended several Annual Meetings ( the NUR equivalent of a national conference).

In 1990 Alan was nominated by British Rail for a B.E.M. This was an order reserved for blue collar workers, now discontinued, and was presented not at Buckingham palace but at the home of the Lord Lieutenant of the County or at a place of the recipient’s own choosing. Funded by British Rail, Alan chose a local venue, and after the brief ceremony a lunch was provided for Lord Aylesford and for our close family, friends and work colleagues - a very enjoyable occasion.

Having been brought up in a terraced house with only a paved yard, Alan developed an interest in gardening and for a short time had a greenhouse. He also had a small vegetable garden. Over the years he kept coldwater and tropical fish; also he had a collection of British stamps. In later years he spent much time on radio and he was very proud of his City and Guilds Certificate, awarded in 1992 when he was 63, for the Novice Radio Amateur Written Examination; This was the only examination he had ever taken in his whole life. Unfortunately he was unable to take the next exam because he couldn't manage to learn Morse Code.

During his lifetime, Alan made many friends from all walks of life, and valued them all. He was on first-name with everybody form the start. The doctor who sent him to hospital as an emergency, when he had his last operation, called to see me after he died around eight months later. She said "I only met Alan on that one occasion, but he was the sort of person you never forget". I think that just about sums him up.
Mary Garner

February 2008