Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Making memories

I took a day out yesterday to take part in not-work things. It recharged me and left me glad of the friends I have.

First thing, I spent time in the sunshine up at Epsom Downs racecourse as part of a group of friends who wanted to mark the centenary of the Derby Day that saw Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison rush out into the path of the King's horse, Anmer, bringing down horse and jockey, who escaped unscathed. Emily was not so fortunate, sustaining injuries that led to her death four days later. Emily was the only Suffragette to die during the fight to secure the vote for women, having survived imprisonment, an incredible 49 tortuous force feedings and multiple injuries including a fractured skull during previous protests. 

The recent documentary hosted by Clare Balding, Secrets of a Suffragette, threw new light on Emily's actions on that day. Far from being a mad attempt to take her own life or that of the horse and jockey in the name of her cause, it seems her mad attempt was in trying to secure a scarf in the clours of the Women's Social and Political Union to the bridle of the horse to see it wearing Suffragette colours as it crossed the finishing line. Whether she had no idea of the damage a running horse can do to a human body in its way or merely misjudged matters, we may never know. 

We met at Tattenham Corner, at the point where Emily stepped onto the track and where there is a memorial plaque placed for her. We laid flowers in the WSPU colours of green, white and violet, sometimes said to represent 'Give Women the Vote', more often hope, purity and dignity. My friend Bonnie's son placed them in her memory, and with our thanks.

We also remembered Anmer's jockey, Herbert Jones, who said he never forgot "that poor woman's face" as his ride collided with her. A brave and blameless man, after the 1913 Derby Jones lived his life speaking out for women's rights and sadly took his own life in 1951. We marked his own place in history with flowers in red and royal blue, the colours of his jockey's silks on that day, laid down perfectly by Bonnie's two-year-old daughter.

Apart from gratitude for those that fought for equality, what we also marked yesterday was the memory of a time before women like me could have an interest in politics, let alone a say. Our gathering of women (and one marvellous man) was small, but intense. At one point three female Council candidates and a sitting female Councillor gathered round her memorial plaque and wondered at how far we have come; whilst remembering that there are millions around the word who are still fighting for the right to vote. As Dr Helen Pankhurst, descendant of the formidable Emmeline says: the work of the Suffragettes is not yet finished.

As we stood on that spot, one lady who had stepped out of her wheelchair to stand with us said "Memories are very important. You have to make memories and hold them in your heart, or you make mistakes."

If one comment summed up the occasion, this was it. Without holding close the memories of when times were harder, we cannot hope to truly appreciate what we achieve. Without keeping those memories in mind, we are doomed to return to the same damaging scenarios. Without them we lose what nourishes us, what makes us happy and what we hold onto of one another.

Hold your memories in your hearts and never forget what really matters to you.


  1. A little footnote: Emily did more than we know her for, and Tony Benn is a marvel.

  2. It is important to remember that this was a class struggle too. At the time of Emily's death 40% of men did not have the vote either.
    In fact men were not universally franchised until the Representation of the People Act 1918 - which was brought abouut by fear of a Russian-style revolution after the Great War.

    The 1918 Act gave women property owning women over 30 the vote - and so many men had been killed in the war that meant they accounted for over 40% of the electorate.

    Other women had to wait another 10 years in Britain - which was a lot quicker than in Switzerland where women, incredibly, did not get the vote until 1971!!

  3. An excellent point- and one that counters an accusation I read a few days ago that the Suffragettes were comprised wholly of middle and upper class ladies. Plenty of working class women were active too, but seem to have been lost to history.

    Denying women the vote in the 20th century is shameful- I had no idea on the Swiss situation. 1971... that's almost in my own lifetime.