Connie Fraser, IBMT founding member and widow of International Brigader Harry Fraser, died on 26 March aged 99. Daughter Pauline Fraser, who is an IBMT Trustee, provides a tribute to her mother.
Connie Fraser speaking at the commemoration at the International Brigade memorial on London's Southbank in 2004. (Photo: Peter Marshall)
My wonderful mother Con Fraser, known as Con or Connie to her friends, sadly died at 10.25pm on the evening of Friday 26 March 2021, at the age of 99. She left us peacefully, in no apparent pain or discomfort. I was with her at the end.
How to sum up such a long and eventful life? Con was born in the East London suburb of Goodmayes, Ilford, the youngest of a family of four. Her father was the manager of a small stockbrokers in the City. He read the Daily Telegraph and voted Tory, while my grandmother came from a Labour family and read the Daily Herald.
Con wrote poetry from an early age and had some of her work published in Poetry Review while still in her teens. She joined the YCL and Communist Party of Great Britain when she was going on 17 and took an active part in CPGB events in Ilford, where she sold the Daily Worker and performed in agit-prop theatre. It was while practising for one of the local agit-prop shows that she met my father, former International Brigader Harry Fraser. They were married in October 1940, just short of Con’s nineteenth birthday.
During the Second World War Con trained at a government training centre as a blue-print bench-press fitter, cutting out one-off specialist parts for the RAF’s fighters and bombers. When she completed her course and was looking for a job, she told the training centre manager that she had been trained for a man's job and would have a man’s pay. Needless to say, she got it. While at work, she stood up for the rights of Jewish refugees, who were being swindled out of their rightful rations.
Con joined the Labour Party in the late 1950s, and twice stood for the parish council in Chalfont St. Peter where the family then lived. She remained a Labour Party member until the Iraq War, when she left in protest like many others who opposed that bloody imperialist invasion.
In the 1960s, she became a member of the Royal Court Writers' Group, and had plays put on there and at the Questor's Theatre, Ealing. In the early 1970s, she took a two-year course at the Co-operative College in Loughborough, having left school with no formal qualifications. Then she enrolled at Sussex University where she completed a BA in social anthropology. She became a tutor at the Open University where her students thought very highly of her. She also taught creative writing for the WEA.
Con took an interest in all the activities of the International Brigade Association, attending events with Harry, both in the UK and in Spain, including the 60th anniversary Homenaje and the memorable reunions on board Dave Marshall’s ‘Jock’. Following Harry’s death, Con maintained her links to the IBA as best she could and supported the formation of both the Friends of the International Brigades and subsequently the International Brigade Memorial Trust. She proposed that spouses or widows(ers) should have a seat on the IBMT committee, but that did not come about as there was a failure to agree how to elect a representative.
In 2004, Con spoke at the annual commemoration at Jubilee Gardens, where I believe she read her poem ‘Brigaders’ Reunion’. She attended the annual Jubilee Gardens commemorations every year until 2016. In 2006, aged 84, she took part in the 70th anniversary commemorative crossing of the Pyrenees.
Con fell ill and was admitted to hospital in February 2018. She was discharged to a care home in Worthing where I was able to visit her regularly until the covid-19 pandemic stopped all opportunities to meet. Since that time, I kept in touch with Con by arranging Zoom calls for family and friends. The last time I saw her in person, before I was called in to be with her before her death, was on 10 March this year, following the relaxation of care home visiting rules.
A great internationalist and a lifelong campaigner for peace, justice and socialism, Con was an inspiration to many and will be sadly missed by family and her many friends in the IBMT, Cuba Solidarity and the peace movement.
Posted on 6 April 2021.