"In 2005, I was first introduced to Chris (Laura Clarissa) Wakeham (née Hollings), with the view to be endorsed by her for my nomination for election as a St Helier No 2 Deputy, with the Jersey Democratic Alliance (JDA).
In a tiny State's (Council) flat in Caesarea Court, stood this tall, statuesque woman, in her early eighties, waiting for me with tea and biscuits already prepared. We sat down and talked, and it didn't take long before her rebelliousness, defiance, intelligence and attunement to what really mattered in life – humanity and social justice, beamed through. Knowing little at the time of this woman's huge part in Jersey's modern local socio-political history, I still felt awe struck and great respect as I listened.
Chris came to Jersey in 1946 in her early twenties, as a qualified and experienced Nursery Nurse, from Aberystwyth in southern Wales. She had already spent a number of years there, caring for orphans in a large country residence that had been converted for this purpose during the war.
After the war and four years of Nazi Occupation, Jersey found itself short of many essentials. As numerous children had lost their fathers, and some had lost both parents, there was obviously a great need for Nursery Nurses. Whilst caring for children in the country house in Wales, Chris and her friend had seen an advert for qualified Nursery Nurses, placed by the Jersey authorities.
Little did she know at the time of course, that before very long she would find herself fighting for the rights of islanders against social injustice and the then still rampant impacts of poverty, something which would often involve confronting Politicians and Parish Officials. This would all eventually lead to her standing for election. Chris Wakeham would accordingly become a local household name and be well known within political circles for generations.
Chris told me how she believed people learnt best by actually 'doing'; and so it was that, whilst she and her friend worked their profession in Jersey, she gained a deep insight into the family lives of these children and the very poor living standards that had been placed upon them. With this, grew a passion as fiery as her auburn hair, to fight to eradicate these inequities.
Early on in her undertakings, Chris would regularly find herself faced with Parish bureaucrats whilst standing in welfare lines with prospective applicants. Very rarely it seemed in those days, would such individuals be pleased to see her. She would tell me how she was once actually told by one of these male officials that: 'we are the educated one's here, so we know best as to how to deal with these people'.
In truth, the Parish Officials regularly treated welfare seekers with disrespect and disdain, even whilst Chris joined them in defiance. But she never wavered in support of these families, individuals and children: what they needed were simple basics - she knew.
Chris soon became politically active in a wider sense, involving herself with the Communist Party and she also became a member of the Jersey Democratic Movement (JDM), the forerunner of the JDA, founded by (former Senator) Ted Vibert in 2005. Though some may immediately associate Communism with the ideology of insidious malign corruption, the only social/political groupings at that time fighting (together) against social injustice for the ordinary classes, were the Communist Party and the JDM.
It was via her involvement with the Communist Party, where Chris would meet the young Norman Le Brocq - the only Communist Politician ever to be elected to the States of Jersey (Parliament) and well-known for his decades in office as one with a strong social conscience; and another truly formidable female campaigner for social justice, Stella Perkins.
At that time, politicians were not paid, so the Party would collect from each of it's members a small contribution to make up a wage for Norman, who even then would need to keep up additional work as a skilled stonemason. But being involved with these political groupings came a price – public ignorance and contempt fuelled by political propaganda and a bitter resentment on the part of the island's long-entrenched right-wing establishment.
I remember Chris once recalling a night, when she and Communist Party members were putting up posters around St Helier (Jersey's capital) advertising political meetings. They were spotted and subsequently chased by a gang of men, hurling abuse and threats at them because they were communists. They were ultimately pursued all the way to a house in Hue Street, rented by Chris and her partner.
Assuming they would be helped by a Police Officer patrolling his beat nearby, the Officer however shouted to the pursuers: 'good for you lads, I would be there with you if I wasn't in uniform'! Locked in there house, suddenly bricks came flying through windows, also without a word from the Policeman. Fortunately no-one was hurt.
On another occasion, Chris described how when the JDM held open air meetings, people would often drive past in their cars and throw missiles made of wood, tomatoes and other rotten foodstuffs at the speaker. It was thus decided at Chris' suggestion, that she should get up and speak because she thought that as a woman, some people might think differently and actually listen to what was being said.
Things did improve it seems, but Chris did not allow any missile to get in her way; and later she became Chairperson of the JDM and stood for election in the 1970s. Sadly for Jersey, she was not elected. However, unsuccessful in her attempt against the mighty force of the political male establishment and propagandist backers or not, there is triumph to be talked about when it comes to Chris Wakeham and the positive impact of her long life on Jersey.
Grands Vaux Youth Centre (the largest on the island) and the Women’s Refuge – were both co-founded by Chris; and she also founded the now famous Centre Point Trust (a children's nursery/charity, which was the first of it's kind in establishing professional standards when working with children). Seeing to date, thousands of islanders accessing these facilities.
And there were the people she so riled by her refusal to be intimidated. The landlord's whom were charging their tenants high rents for poor, often appalling accommodation; by organising the very first rent strike in Jersey. The petty officials and bureaucrats likewise, who would need to learn to think again before assuming that their decisions were gospel.
Further, in her mid-80's, so Chris once told me, she had even had Jersey's first Chief Minister by the tie for daring to say 'hello' to her. I cannot remember the exact reason given for this, but I have no doubt that it was the steel-conviction of her principles that took him off his feet, and stumbling off a step!
It was only at the age of 31, that I really learnt of Chris Wakeham, Norman Le Brocq, Stella Perkins and a number of others and their importance to the island, because I was becoming directly involved in 'front-line' left-wing politics.
I feel a little ashamed of this looking back. Yet at the same time, the reality is that I was given no chance to learn about these brave and very important people, and such movements, at school nor in any other institution in Jersey. For as time moves further away from the lives of these influential figures and events that positively shaped the social and political fabric of Jersey, what will remain in our collective memory?
What will remain are the memorial statues and names, in the streets of St Helier and throughout the island of historical figures of huge wealth, high power and position. Many of these can only be seen as wholly unworthy of such memorials if one is prepared to examine true history. And what can they really mean to the ordinary passer-by, someone who may well be one of the thousands of islanders who have benefited from Chris Wakeham's work?
The good that left-wing political figures such as Chris bring to a society, is often painted over by right-wing disinformation, turning it into something dark or erased completely. Yes, there will be those members of the great and good who have earnt their name engraved in stone, but Chris Wakeham warrants this mark in Jersey history too. The very people Chris fought so long and hard to help achieve a better life are testament to that.
As to me, if I were to immortalise Chris in stone, I would say this:
Many women whom are recorded in history for their great contribution to society, are remembered too often only for their compassion. They are more than this. Compassion and principle fired up Chris Wakeham's courage, defiance, intellect, unconformity and a deep connection with the human spirit, to fight for what was right and good. Without these attributes, one could not make the historical changes to Jersey's social psyche of why we, a community, should be looking after those in need i.e. the public provisions for young people, children and vulnerable women, that she played a major part in establishing; and all the lives she helped improve, with the endless cases of individuals and families she took upon herself to support and fight for throughout her time in Jersey.
To add another and important facet to Chris's character, in the word's of one of her greatest heroes whom was born of her generation, no less than Che Guevara. In commenting on women fighters, he says:
'In the tough life of the fighter, a woman is a comrade who brings the qualities peculiar to her sex but with the ability to work just as hard as a man. She can fight, she is weaker but no less resistant than he is'.
This was Chris Wakeham.
I will always admire her as much as she admired Che Guevara, and feel so very fortunate indeed that I knew her personally.
Many of our Political figures are notoriously known for forgetting the gravity that arises from caring for children, young people, the sick, elderly people and those who find themselves in exceptionally hard times. Chris Wakeham never did. Even in her nineties after a bout of bad health, she would fervently tell my husband and I, laying in her bed with a raised fist, that she wanted to be up and fighting. She never forgot.
Remember her. Chris Wakeham – 1923-2021."