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  • GERDA STEVENSON

Helen Crawfurd’s Memoirs in Seven Chapters


From 'Quines,' published by Luath Press in 2018.

Born Glasgow 1877, died Dunoon, 1954; political activist, suffragette, and Red Clydesider; one of the founders of the Women’s Peace Crusade; also founded the Glasgow branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

1

A tang of yeast along the street, bread in my father’s bakery, rising like prayers from the dusty hands of aproned bakers, white angels at dawn; in the Bible I like Queen Vashti best – she wouldn’t stand for it: only sixpence to go to the fair, my brothers a shilling each, just for being boys. Damn! I cry, and fling the glittering insult at the floor.

2

The toil of oil and soot--black shipbuilders, traipsing home at dusk to bow-legged bairns; I pray that change for them will come – the whole world is theirs by right; I marry a man of the cloth, threefold my age, who preaches care; I take St John to heart: may his truth be known that we must love the brother we have seen as much as God we have not seen, or else we lie.

3

Christ could be militant and so can I –

he whipped the money lenders from the temple, flung their coins at their fleeing heels; His whip in my hand when I shatter the eyes of buildings, where blind men sign women’s fate; it flicks beneath my skin, as I’m pelted with putrid fruit, and through my mind in the cells of Duke Street, Holloway and Perth, an urgent spur to keep my jaws clamped tight.

4

I wore black for my husband and mother last year, and wear it still, and will, for the bairns, barely born, dying in squalid single ends. I’m on the march with Mary Barbour’s army – cards pinned in windows, stating terms: RENT STRIKE WE ARE NOT REMOVING. Here, in our Second City of the Empire, where a fanfared judge steps from his carriage at the High Court, our ranks are ready for his bailiffs, with warning bells and flour-bag missiles in every close.

5

Men flail and choke and bleed in mud and gas to gain a yard of land, then lose it with a thousand lives; I’m on the march again, Crusade for Peace, join forces with MacLean. In a Glasgow hall, the organ thunders patriotic strains, the Provost takes the chair, and Miss Pankhurst’s there, once dubbed ‘Queen of the Mob’, she’s changed her tune:

enlisting men, pinning their guilt with white feathers stolen from our dove, pressing women to munitions, Britannia’s clarion call stoking Europe’s fire and denying equal pay. I leap to the table: Shame on you, not so lovely lady Christabel,

Shame on you! I cry.

6

I balance like a bobbing doll

on the deck of a fishing boat,

dodging Norway’s police. A cargo ship booms and looms through smirr; I scale its hull on ropes, my black dress wagging a wild farewell to those bold Viking boys. If it takes this to reach Moscow and Lenin, I’ll do it.

7

I walk along Dunoon’s West Bay; the shingle slips

like a slow song as the tide slackens to the Clyde; the years flow back with every wave: Berlin, where I address ten thousand; the general strike, raising aid for famine-stricken souls by the Volga. And Connolly, courtesy itself when I gave him that message at Liberty Hall - the eve of Irish revolution. But now I’m letting go on this sleepy rim of the world, though folk awoke and rose here too, I’m told – reclaimed their common land. Tea-time. Must get to the Co-op before it shuts. Why don’t they sell the goods that you’d expect of such a movement? I’ll write about it to the press tonight.

Note: Helen, a pacifist, was incensed when Christabel Pankhurst suspended suffragette action and supported the British Government by actively recruiting young men to the army during WW1. Helen’s unpublished memoirs are held at the Marx Memorial Library in London.

Gerda Stevenson, actor/ writer/ director/singer-songwriter, trained at R.A.D.A., London, winning the Vanbrugh Award. She has worked on stage, television, radio and film throughout Britain and abroad. In 2014, she was nominated as one the Saltire Society’s OUTSTANDING WOMEN OF SCOTLAND.

From the Stevenson family of musicians (her father the composer/pianist Ronald, sister composer/harper Savourna, and niece composer/fiddler Anna-Wendy), Gerda is known for her singing in many theatre productions.

She was nominated in 2014 for the MG ALBA TRAD MUSIC AWARDS, in the SCOTS SINGER OF THE YEAR category. With support from Creative Scotland, a highly acclaimed CD of her own songs, NIGHT TOUCHES DAY, was released in 2014 (Gean Records, produced by Mattie Foulds)

http://www.gerdastevenson.co.uk/


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