Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

So long, Bill: A tribute to Bill Punt

In A.Graham, Obiturary on March 5, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Clarion Editor-in-chief, Alistair Graham, leads the tribute to the socialist, trade unioninst, champion of the pensioners’ cause – and long time Clarion friend of the Clarion.

There must be many folk who missed Bill Punt when he left the Forest some six years at the age of 90. And many folk will have been sorry to hear of his death at the end of last year.

He made many friends – and some enemies, too, as he never suffered fools gladly (as the saying goes). But he was passionate in his beliefs, warm-hearted, and devoted to his family.

Bill was an active member of the TGWU, ever since his days as a tram driver on the streets of London just after the war. He served on the union committee at the New Cross tram depot and then went on to serve on the buses, until in 1961 he became a full-time trade union official at the Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market where he worked until retirement in the early 1980s.

FIGHTING FOR PENSIONERS:

Bill and his wife Lou chose to retire to the Forest, setting up home first in Aylburton and later in Lydney. One of his first moves was to set up a branch of the British Pensioners’ Trade Union Action Association (as it was then called) in the Lydney area – a non-party political organisation dedicated to campaigning for the rights of pensioners. It became a thorn in the side of Paul Marland, then the Forest’s Tory MP – particularly during the campaign against VAT on fuel payments.

LOYALTY TO LABOUR:

Despite implacable opposition to the Blairite policies of the “New Labour” Government, Bill always refused to leave the Labour Party. He saw it as his party, hi-jacked by those who sought to distort or reverse its basic principles. It was this rebellious, stubborn streak which endeared him to some – whilst irritating others!

Bill worked tirelessly through the Labour Party for the election of Diana Organ, who finally beat Paul Marland to become MP for the Forest in 1997. Her election must have owed something to the work of Bill and his fellow pensioners.

Many will remember how he organised trips down to Tolpuddle, to the “Levellers’ Day” events in Burford, or to pensioners’ rallies in London – and how he mobilised us all. It was difficult to say no to Bill!

DISILLUSION:

His disillusion with the Labour hierarchy began in 1997, with the “re-branding” of the Party, the dropping of “Clause 4” from the constitution, and the election of the Blair Government. He saw it as a betrayal of much of what he had he had fought for, for so many years. For Bill, the song “Things Will Only Get Better” was a mockery, and he became a bitter critic of the Government’s policies.

His views were expressed in a piece that he wrote for the Clarion in 2005, shortly before he left us:

“My party right or wrong? Castration of the trade unions? Who could ask for more!

“When will we return to the movement’s maxim, organise, educate and agitate, instead of acting merely as electioneering fodder and trailing behind the dictats of leadership like castrated poodles?”

Bill was a firm supporter of the Clarion and was a member of its editorial group from the very beginning, in 1996. His hard hitting articles and reports – often laced with his own brand of humour – became a familiar part of the paper. And he continued to contribute for some time after he moved to Kent.

He resigned as secretary of the Lydney pensioners’ group in 2001. His wife and loyal partner, Lou, died in the same year.

After living in the Forest for over twenty years, Bill had become part of its very fabric. But he had been born and bred in Bermondsey and as a youth worked in the local Cross & Blackwell factory, before being called up for service in the Army during the last war. Shortly after being sent to Africa, he was taken prisoner, and spent some years in prison camps before escaping during the chaos that followed the Allied advance after the D-Day landings.

He and a mate hid by day and travelled westward by night, avoiding any entanglement with the retreating Germans – until they discovered that for several days they had been escaping through British held territory. “It was then we thought it was time to give ourselves up,” said Bill.

Just one of the anecdotes of a full life that Bill liked to tell us!

ALISTAIR GRAHAM

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

ALICE BATES:

We were also sorry to hear of the death of Alice Bates, a long-time subscriber to the Clarion, one-time editor of  the Pensioner magazine, and an active campaigner in the pensioners’ movement in Manchester.

As her daughter Sylvia wrote, “she was a positive and cheerful person to the end.”

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