1990s >> 1993 >> no-1063-march-1993

Obituary: Ernie Purkiss

We recently heard of the death of Ernie Purkiss last November on the Isle of Wight, where he spent his last few years. At the tender age of barely 14 he was given the job of cabin boy on the tramp steamer run to Buenos Aires. As this was in the mid-20s the conditions may well be imagined, bordering on Conrad and O’Neill as Ernie described them. This was to be his apprenticeship and in subsequent years he plied on more or less substandard shipping all over the world.
During the war he was given the dubious privilege of doing the Atlantic run. Having been torpedoed two or three times and once having spent four days in an open boat with little or no provisions before being quite fortuitously rescued he would always claim himself lucky not to have ended up in “Davy Jones’s Locker”. Finally he managed to persuade the authorities to release him from his duties as a merchant seaman, partly as a result of a severe ulcer no doubt originating from his tramp steamer days and its concomitant “food”. Soon after he joined the Party. A not unimportant factor in this was that his father was a member and no doubt made his socialist views telling. Add to this the miserable and dangerous life of a seaman and you have a socialist.
During his Party membership Ernie would always join in the activities involved, attending branch, indoor and outdoor meetings, selling the Socialist Standard, etc. During the enthusiastic post-war Paddington election campaign he was in the thick of it on a daily basis. Some years after the war he managed to get a “soft” job in the Port of London Authority. He openly made his socialist views known there despite the usual standard objections.
One of the great pleasures of his life was, always in the company of fellow socialists, doing countless regular hikes all over Kent. Sussex and Surrey. On many an occasion wrapped up in the heat of some discussion relating to the socialist case the way would be lost, but not the thread of the argument! The countryside represented an escape from the airlessness and concrete surrounds of the East End of London. On arriving in the open fields and woods he was wont to burst into Wordsworth’s Paean to Nature which he had learnt by heart.
Although Ernie let his membership lapse in later years he never lost sight of the socialist point of view and its relevance to the deprivation, horrors and suffering imposed on humanity by capitalism.
Max Judd

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