Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 27, 2009

E.C. “Paddy” Apling

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,socialism — louisproyect @ 6:56 pm

Paddy Apling

On a Saturday afternoon in early January I had the distinct pleasure to meet with E.C. “Paddy” Apling, an 84 year old Marxmail subscriber who like dozens of others over the years have looked me up in New York City. I believe that most have found me quite amiable in person in contrast to my carefully cultivated mad dog internet persona.

I was particularly interested in meeting a veteran of the 30s and 40s period since I share my friend Paul Buhle’s commitment to oral history. I was also involved in an oral history project with an old friend from the SWP who has done video interviews with that truly “greatest generation”, namely those who stood up to capitalism and imperialism during the darkest hours of humanity.

Despite being called Paddy, he is not Irish. As a youth, he found his birth name Edward Chatterton a bit stuffy for his taste. Paddy explained to me that when he was very young (5-10), he used to stay at his aunt’s big farm house, which had three staircases (one with doors top and bottom leading to the servants’ quarters), where he would hide from the elders, especially the formidable Aunt Kate who would summon him as if in a Dickens novel: “Edward Chatterton, come here at once”. This persuaded him through a kind of aversion therapy to adopt another name. The name Paddy came from a show in London in 1924 called “Paddy the Next Best Thing” (his mother had been hoping for a girl.)

Reflecting now on his family background, Paddy writes:

From which you will see that some, at least, of my family origins are more patrician that proletarian – something that used to bother me in my early political career [the APLING family come from farming artisan stock (thatchers), grandpa APLING was a Solicitor’s Managing Clerk in the City of London, founder of the Solicitor’s Clerks Association and becoming a Freeman of the City of London, and Dad was manager of a small department in the Eagle Star Insurance Co.] – I can remember a distinct feeling of “class hostility” on my first appearance at a tenant’s meeting wearing my cavalry boots and very probably a distinct appearance of an ex-army officer – a hostility which soon evaporated when I spoke and was immediately indicted into the committee….

The one subject that inevitably comes up when I meet with comrades, from whatever ideological tradition, is how they became political. To some extent, I wonder if it is in our genes since there are so few people who become radicals even though they are responding to the social or economic crisis. In Paddy’s case, it was the Italian invasion of Ethiopia that tipped the 9 year old towards the left.

A few years later, the French had elected a Popular Front government that was hailed by the European left. Paddy’s mom, a high school teacher, became part of an exchange program with French teachers. This led to Paddy visiting France, where he was in the company of Popular Front supporters, who were either in the CP or very close to it. By the time the war started, Paddy was in the party himself.

When I told Paddy that I was going to be blogging about our get-together, he suggested that I could find some relevant information on a website devoted to British CP biographies. Here’s the entry on Paddy:

A food scientist by training, in his Communist Party work, Apling was mainly a background planner, information source, writer of leaflets, press representative and sideman to the charismatic leader of the time, though he was no mean street speaker himself.

His innate leadership qualities were, obviously, recognised in the army, where he was sent to Sandhurst (then Royal Armoured Corps OCTU), and commissioned just after VE-Day. He expected to be sent to the Far East – but after more training in 1944 at Bovingdon and Barnard Castle again, VJ-Day intervened and he joined 4th Royal Tank Regiment in Venezia Giulia, Italy. After a year as a successful troop leader, of a troop consisting of battle-hardened men, most of whom had fought their way through Italy, he was seconded to 2nd Armoured Brigade HQ and made Brigade Welfare Officer. There he was given control, handing over the Brigade HQ to the Italian Army and then responsibility for the loading of the SS Canterbury Castle, carrying the last of the Brigade from Venice to Egypt after the Peace Treaty in June 1947. This was all probably because he had very quickly learned to speak Italian. Subsequently, he spent some 4 months in the Suez Canal Zone.

In the post-war period, Paddy was involved in the Ilford tenant’s struggle, a major event in which the key figure was Frank Chinnery, a party full-timer, who had served in the Palestine Police. Having moved away from Ilford in 1959, Paddy was later in party branches at Chesham and Reading. In recent years, he has engaged in much local work and interchange over the internet and, just for the record (!) remains alive and well.

During our conversations, Paddy explained that he remained in the CP through the 1960s even though many would leave because of the Khrushchev revelations, the suppression of the Hungarian revolution, etc. Paddy always regarded such matters as mainly relevant to the Russian comrades and preferred to focus on local politics. This is of course entirely in keeping with the analysis of the “revisionist” historians who look at the CP’s in a much more complex fashion than the traditional Theodore Draper interpretation of  it as a pawn directed by Moscow. For activists on a local level, their party life was about building trade unions or fighting racism-not providing apologetics for Stalin’s latest initiative. Paddy puts it this way:

My political career has always been based on non-party-political issued – trade unionism (involving particularly interventions in the peace movement and the campaign against the atomic bomb); the tenant’s movement – being a council tenant until 1959 when we moved away from Ilford (soon to become part of Greater London) to the country to benefit the health of our younger son who was severly asthmatic (and died young, aged 12, in 1963). From 1950 to 1959 I was Association of Scientific Workers delegate to Ilford Trades Council, (and for several years Treasurer), branch delegate to the London Council of the AScW – and was twice a delegate to CPGB congresses.

Now living in rural Norfolk, I am constantly being sought after for help and advice by local councillors (particularly as I led the organisation and organised the statistical analysis of the parish “village appraisal” a few years ago, which I prepared for publication). They are well aware of my political views, which I have never kept secret – and by the local churchwardens (we keep the key of the church and look after the church records), who along with the priests, who also know my atheism and left-wing politics but remain good friends.

All in all, I found Paddy deeply engaging on a personal level. Over the years we have quarreled about issues such as DDT, etc. in which I tend to agree much more with my old friend and comrade the late Mark Jones, who I should mention came out of a British Communist background as well. It drives home once more how secondary such differences are when we have our eyes on the prize, namely the socialist transformation of society.

This note I received from Paddy last Friday should give you a sense of the warmth and the political passion of one of our elder communist statesmen.

Hallo Louis,

It is time for me to write to say how much I enjoyed our meeting in Manhattan, and to thank you for the DVD of the film DRESDEN which you gave me.

I arrived home at lunch-time last Wednesday and have been since then been suffering badly from jet lag – with my biological clock insisting on staying on EST for over a week, only really yesterday recovering my normal sleep pattern from 10 to 11 pm till 7.30 am GMT instead of 5 hours back !!

I have not suffered such long-term jet lag after previous cross-Atlantic voyages, so just assume this is reminding me that I am not so young as I was !!

Also an infernal collection of mail which I am still dealing with…. One thing that I HAVE done, though, is to buy a copy of Richard Seymour’s new book, (which had a good review in the Morning Star on 11th Jan) along with a small paperback (also from VERSO) on The Levellers – The Putney Debates, to add to be long-beloved book of the writings of the other well-known Leveller, Gerard Winstanley.

The Dresden DVD will not play on my recorder as its use is limited to N America, but I have viewed the film on my PC and was sufficiently impressed to say that I regard it is a major anti-war film to be regarded as on a par with the classic “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930). Definitely 5-star rating. I have not seen a review of it – so if I find the DVD is available in UK I think I should write a review of it for the Morning Star.

I have not yet looked through any of the supplementary info on the DVD, but was impressed that the film did not take a position of either support or condemnation of the raid. The views of devastation, of course, brought to mind my first view of post-war Germany, when I went on the Medlock train early in 1946 on my posting to 4th Royal Tank Regiment in Italy, and at the first meal halt in Germany, at Karlsruhe, I walked through the (undamaged) central hall of the railway station – through which I had to tread carefully through a vast array of refugees sleeping on the floor – to view the complete devastation of the city (repeated at Pforzheim and other meal halts en route to Villach in Austria).  At the time, of course, I had little sympathy for those who suffered in the devastation (assumed as all supporters of Nazism), having seen my parents and both grand-parents lose their homes (and mother & her father being injured) as a result of German bombing, V1s and V2s……

February 1945 was, of course, the time of V2 rockets on London and news of bombings of Germany were just part of the wallpaper, and I was in officer training at Sandhurst, the the RAC OCTU; but my feelings throughout 1943-5 were that city bombings were a waste of resources – and not worth the losses to the RAF, which would far better be concentrated on the use light fighter-bombers in support of the army – dealing with specific targets close to the front. In hindsight, however, there does seem to be argument for suggesting that the Dresden raid can be likened to Hiroshima – as a warning to the Soviet Union of Anglo-American power – with immediate military advantage as of little consequence in the thinking of the powers-that-be..

Regards and comradely greetings,




  1. This is a fine report, Louis. I’m following such announcements via the Marxmail archives postings.
    I hope you will do much more writing like this.

    Walter Lippmann
    Havana, Cuba

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — January 28, 2009 @ 1:33 am

  2. Nice one Louis. I am writing a life history of an old Commmunist Party activist here in Australia. He was involved in some historically important stuff (like East Timor Radio) but was really a rank and file activist who is still a true believer (unlike most of the old communists here who were on hte central committee who have written their storys – and most apologised for having been so wrong ever to have opposed capitalism. I exagerrate but not by much.



    Comment by Shane H — January 28, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  3. I have visited Apling’s site before. I once followed a link of a post in Marxmail. Paddy thinks Man Made Global Warming is nonsense. I disagree. Anyway, that is not a big deal. And this is a fine write up of one of our elder statesman.

    And a question, why do you cultivate that mad dog persona on Web? It turns off so many.

    Comment by Ajit — January 28, 2009 @ 5:06 pm

  4. Ajit, I was just exaggerating for comic effect. My persona is not quite that of a mad dog. It is more that of a cranky senior. Since I just turned 64 two days ago, I think I am entitled.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 28, 2009 @ 5:53 pm

  5. I’ve just finished reading the auto-biography of Frank Henderson, a British Trotskyist who worked mostly in the car industry in the West Midlands of the UK, in the aftermath of World War II until the 1980s. As well as serving in Greece and Palestine after the war, he was active in some major workplace based struggles in the 1960s, particularly around the Longbridge plant. His book, “Life on the Track, memoirs of a socialist worker” is absolutely brilliant, particularly the chapters when he talks about things like the lynchmob atmosphere in the aftermath of IRA bombings in Birmingham. I’ve reviewed it on my blog,


    But I recomment it to anyone whose got a fascination with working class activism and history.

    Comment by ResoluteReader — January 30, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

  6. Please can you let have any more info on the ‘Medlock Train’. I have been trying to find out info on this for a long time with no success – e.g. why was it called The Medlock Train? Fascinated to learn the history of this rail route.
    Hope you can help.
    Many thanks.


    Comment by Victor Medlock — February 1, 2009 @ 6:19 pm

  7. Interesting that a MEDLOCK should ask about the Medlock train. I have a little pamphlet about it somewhere in my archive, if only I could lay my hands on it.

    However I suspect that the name is a contraction from Mediterranean and something to indicate “Blighty” since the train ran between the Mediterranean theatre and Calais – with its main transit point at Villach in Austria. Initi

    Comment by Paddy Apling — February 24, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

  8. Interesting that Victor MEDLOCK should ask about the Medlock train; I have somewhere (but where?) in my archive a small pamphlet about it and its history, nut I cannot remember if it gives a rerevation of the name.

    I suspect the Med is a contraction of Mediterranean – as it was the leave rain for personnel from the Mediterranean theatre – with its main transit hub at Villach in Austria – to the Channel port of Calais.

    Initially it ran – under heavy guard – through Switzerland, but very soon ran completely through Germany and France as repairs were done to German railways – but with very little repair to the rolling stock themselves, which were replete with boarded up windows…. and no toilet facilities on board…

    Comment by Paddy Apling — February 24, 2009 @ 10:07 pm

  9. I used to vaguely know the Apling family on the early 1960s. His son went to the same school (Henley Grammar) as me; it was an impressively Tolkienesque Gothic revival redbrick place. Possibly now demolished. E C Apling lectured at Reading on food science (I remember him describing TetraPak, then a newish juice packing thing). he was a technical Communist, believing in things like Engels works and Marx. Or at least apparently believing. They lived in a newly-built redbrick house in I suppose Wimpey style, on a new suburban road in Sonning Common. Since then I learned that nuclear weapons were a fraud all along, as in fact was ‘Communism’, which turns out to be a Jewish fake, to distract people from Jewish financial power. Sigh. Anyway; I could say a lot more.

    Comment by rerevisionist — June 10, 2017 @ 4:04 pm

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