Arthur Reginald Probert 1909-1975

 Labour politician

Picture of Arthur Reginald Probert

Arthur Reginald Probert 1909 – 1975

Arthur Probert was born in Aberaman, Aberdare in 1909, son of Albert John Probert and his mother Margaret in Regent Street, Aberaman, Aberdare, who was a local publican of the Penylan Inn. His schooling at first was Blaengwawr Elementary Aberaman after his father moved to Mountain Ash after his father became the steward of the Workmen’s Volunteer Band Club (now Mountain Ash Social Club). From there he went to Aberdare Boy’s Grammar School, he could have gone to Aberystwyth College where he was offered a place there, from the results he had.

His formative education came within the clubs and pubs in which his father served as Steward or publican. The South Wales workingmen’s clubs of an earlier generation were more than drinking places. They normally had good libraries and a room in which the local band practiced.

Some of his education came within the clubs and pubs in which his father served as Steward or publican. The South Wales workingmen’s clubs of an earlier generation were more than drinking places. They normally had good libraries and a room in which the local band practiced. He also remembered when Lloyd George banned Sunday drinking during World War I. “I remember them coming into the club in their Sunday best,” he calls, “and sitting down in front of a tankard of Oxo, cursing Lloyd George!”

During this time in the billiard rooms, he became attuned to the music played there. He then started learning to play the piano, then later the euphonium. He became then the Cwmaman Male Voice Party, accompanist. This was mainly made up of young men. Because so many of them were unemployed in 1930, many of them left to find jobs outside of Glamorgan. Not only could young Arthur take advantage of the billiard room, but his ears became attuned to music. He started playing the piano and later the euphonium. He became the Cwmaman Male Voice Party, accompanist. This was mainly made up of young men. Because so many of them were unemployed in 1930, many of them left to find jobs outside of Glamorgan.

Some of his experiences came from within the walls of the Mountain Ash Club or later Aberaman pub of which his father became the publican or in his uncle’s Aberaman Band Club. He learned about the life of the miners who were their regulars. He remembered the hard times after World War I from the miner who came in to apologise for not being able to wipe the slate clean at the end of the week. He explained he had only earned enough end of the week. He explained “Why didn’t you claim yon to pay the boy assisting him,” Arthur. The miner replied: “I could have had my minimum, the Sankey Award to the miners from a miner who came in flourishing the first-five pound note he had ever seen and then wiped his nose with it!”

Only on a few occasions in Arthur’s formal education helped him to learn about life was when he was on his way to grammar school during the 1926 general strike. From his school bus, he could see a single blackleg walking to work, surrounded by a hundred policemen. As they came opposite the mouths to the narrow streets coming down the hill, they would run to avoid the stones pelting them from the strikers and their families. When he got his first job, for Aberdare Urban District Council’s offices, for the housing department where he responsible for inspecting the maintenance and repair work of the housing estates, for ten years 1919-1929.

From 1930 onwards he got involved in left-wing politics, initially on the fringe of the local I.L.P. and C.P. His closest friends, a miner named Tom Howell Jones, was learning German, in order, to study Marx in the original. Another influence at that time was D.J. Evans was had been active in the Communist-influenced miners’ Unofficial Movement. He joined the Labour Party in 1935.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil war and the advent of the “glorious Left Book Club” gave the great flip to be Left-wing political activity in the valleys of Glamorgan. Young Arthur helped to organise local meetings for Harold Laski, Harry Pollitt, John Strachey and other luminaries as he knew. Because the young and poor they were edgy about asking Laski would take their sparsely furnished miner’s cottage. Laski walked in and exclaimed; “What a lovely fire you have!” Everyone was put at ease.

One of the highlights of this period was a concert in Mountain Ash to raise funds for the Spanish republicans. Arthur was much moved by the Spanish conflict. One of his closest friends at the time was Tom Howell Jones, they threw away the corset he had to wear because of a mining accident and went off to ask Paul Robeson to sing in Mountain Ash. It was one of the events of the decade to hear Robeson’s glorious voice on the mountainside.

Most of Arthur’s work at that time was as an activist and organiser and fund-collector. He still remembers with fondness, because of the generosity of his fellow townsmen who had hardly anything themselves but could find something to send to the embattled people of Spain. This inspired Arthur to participate in a demonstration which was an ordeal for him because of his shyness; a demonstration warning against the menace of fascism. He was risking his precious job. But the only concession they made to police warnings was to parade 100 yards apart. Arthur got married in 1938 to Muriel Taylor, a daughter of a butcher, from Abercwmboi.

When war came, he volunteered in 1940 and was called up in 1941. He went into the RAFVR (Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve), where he was trained extensively as a radar technician. After D-day, he went into Belgium and Holland and, after V-E Day he was posted to Technical Intelligence.

A team of 30 went in a convoy in pursuit of German technical equipment before it was destroyed. En route, they stopped by the roadside to brew up. On route, they saw two open-eyed German children, about the age of his own, who came to stare at the strange soldiers. Arthur and a friend offered them, bars of chocolate, to the annoyance of their colleagues. “Shoot the bastards!” was the consensus, until the children returned with half a dozen eggs for Arthur and his friend. They then asked a German, which he understood for soap.

The others, no longer critical, quickly got chocolate and soap out of their kitbags and loaded the children with these gifts. But before the children could return with more eggs, the convoy had to move off. Arthur and his friend were able to eat their six eggs, then a rarity on Luneburg Heath, where Montgomery had accepted the German capitulation.

He was an active member of the TGWU and served as secretary to the Aberdare Trades and Labour Council, 1949-54. He was a member of the executive committee of the Glamorgan Federation of Trades Councils, 1951-54. He was also a member of local employment and old-age pensioners’ welfare committees.

Return to Normality

He was demobilization in 1946, which meant a return to quiet normality, to the wife and two daughters, to the job in the Council Surveyor’s office in Aberdare in the utility conditions immediately after the war.

The beginning of his political work in Aberdare was unassuming. In 1949 he became Minutes Secretary of the Aberdare Trades and Labour Council, the organization which brought together the Labour Party and the local trades unions. The following year, on the death of the Secretary, he assumed that post.  In a real sense, 1950 was a crucial year for him. In protest against the refusal of his own, union, NALGO (National and Local Government Officers’ Association), to affiliate with the T. U. C., Probert also joined the Transport and General Workers Union. Later they asked whether he would go on their Parliament Panel. He refused, pointing out that he would not get the time off to go to selection conferences. “Fame was not my spur!”

Fate intervened. Aberdare’s sitting M.P., Emlyn Thomas, died in 1954. Local wards and trade union groups asked him to put his name forward. Although he had always identified with the miners, he agreed to stand against the miners’ candidate and won. (The seat had been a miners’ seat since 1922 at least.)

The result a majority of 19,000 was a foregone conclusion in one of South Wales’ safest Labour seats. When he was introduced to the House in October 1954 there was a curious incident. After he had taken the oath, and while he was going around the Government Front Bench to sign on, Prime Minister Winston Churchill crossed his legs and gave Probert such a kick in the shins that he had difficulty in suppressing a yell! It gave him a reason apart from Tonypandy, for not liking Churchill.

Parliament Years’

Once he was in the Houses of Parliament, he almost disappeared, from the sight of all except, those of his constituents who wanted is help. He was never a publicity-chasing extrovert. He wanted to do as much as he could for those in his constituency who needed is help. Once this became clear to them, they began to line up as his ‘surgery’ every Saturday and to keep the letters coming.

He was more interested in getting things done, rather than talking dramatically. Thus, in his Maiden speech in November 1954 he called for the establishment of more Remploy facilities for disabled men, particularly miners, in his area. His memory was littered with pictures of men brought back dead and maimed from local mines. He wanted something done for those who survived.

1954 Labour Holds Aberdare

Mr Arthur Probert Aberdare for the Socialists yesterday’s by-election.
The result, announced this afternoon, was. Mr Arthur Probert (Socialist) 24.658
Mr Michael Roberts, (Conservative) 5.156.
Mr Gwynfor Evans (Welsh Nationalist) 5.671
Socialist majority 18,987. No Change.

The concentration on doing the social service side of his job as M.P. did not mean that he had changed his views. When he arrived at the House of Parliament at the tail end of the ‘Bevanite’ controversy was still on. He became Secretary of the Welsh Labour Groups of M.P.’s. Then in 1959, he became Labour’s Welsh Whip. Perhaps Probert’s quiet manner misled Bert Bowden (later Lord Aylestone), who hailed from nearby Cardiff. Neither Bowden nor Hugh Gaitskell appeared to have noticed that, he had helped set up a Welsh Council for Nuclear Disarmament and that as, a T&GWU, sponsored M.P. he was more sympathetic to Frank Cousins and Harold Wilson than to George Brown and Hugh Gaitskell. Tension mounted with the Parliamentary Labour Party when Hugh Gaitskell foolishly tried to remove the little-noticed Clause Four (calling for nationalization of the means of production) from the Labour Party card. Then, as Scarborough in October 1960, nuclear disarmers and their allies won out over those supporting nuclear weapons. Tension mounted in the Parliamentary Labour Party where ‘unilateralists’ like he was in a minority.

Eisteddfod Rumpus 1956
M.P. calls all-Welsh rule harmful

Mr Arthur Probert, M.P. for Aberdare. who is the central figure in the National Eisteddfod controversy, yesterday talked about peace? He said, “If I had known it was going to arise, I would have taken the steps to stop it. I am sorry it happened.” Mr Probert has not been invited to appear on the platform of the Eisteddfod. which is being held at Aberdare this year because he cannot speak Welsh. When this snub was revealed the Eisteddfod Council and the all-Welsh rule were attacked by the Divisional Labour Party.

Evil genius Yesterday

Mr Probert said. “Fortunately, all thoughts of withdrawing support from the Eisteddfod were squashed at last Saturday’s meeting of the Divisional Labour Party. I think that the evil genius behind this is not the local committee. but the all-Welsh rule.  “I am sympathetic to the Welsh language, but I feel that adherence to a rigid all-Welsh rule is harmful.”

“There is one aspect of the selection of presidents for the various days that I am pleased about, and that is the honour done to Mr James Griffiths, M.P. for Llanelly. I feel the selection of Mr Griffiths has atoned for much of the harm done to him at Ystradgynlais when he was not invited to the Eisteddfod in his hometown.”

No grudge

“I do not blame the local committee for the situation; they are merely carrying out the policy of the National Eisteddfod Council.” “I feel no slight myself. We must go ahead with the protest, against the all-Welsh rule. I do feel that there is no blame to be laid at the door of the local committee.  “I shall be at the Eisteddfod, for my two children are taking part in it.” “My grandfather helped actively to organise the last National Eisteddfod held in Aberdare in 1885.”

Although he was worried about world peace and the soul of the Labour Party, he was most directly concerned with his Private Member’s Bill which he had launched in the autumn of 1960 and which came up for Second Reading in March 1961. This was the Highways (Liability for Animals) Bill, an effort to end the menace to life and limb of unfenced sheep who wander on to the roads of South Wales. He was not successful in this cause, which was later taken up by Leo Abse, with equal lack of success.

He reached then his own, personal crisis in 1960, when Hugh Gaitskell decided to put down an amendment, warning that 35 to 40 Labour M.P.’s would not be able to support it. When his view was rejected, he quietly submitted his resignation. In the event, fully 1971 Labour M.P.’s abstained from supporting Hugh Gaitskell amendment. It was typical of him that he neither attacked Gaitskell in public nor proclaimed his, own superiority of political analysis.

When, after the Whips’ Office he could find no successor for three months, he helped them to find one. In, the fact had he publicised his rebellion it might have done him some good locally. In October 1959 general election, Gwynfor Evans had contested the seat as leader of the Welsh Nationalists and pushed the Conservative candidate. Michael Roberts, into second place. One of the factors which helped the Nationalists was the feeling of young men in the valley that the Labour machined was too monolithic.

Even before resigning as Welsh Whip, he had shown where his heart lay. He was as proud as a peacock in November 1960 when, with Tudor Watkins, he served as a sponsor for Michael Foot, re-elected for Nye Bevan’s old seat of Ebbw Vale. While the Left of the Labour Party cheered, most of the Labour Front Bench, led by Hugh Gaitskell, sat in stony-faced silence. He then had no trouble in his constituency when he explained why he resigned as Welsh Whip. In, the fact the Aberdare party voted for Hugh Gaitskell to resign if he could riot accept the will of the 1960 Scarborough conference. Probert himself said he thought conference decisions were binding. “Too many of our people are placing themselves before the party, for various reasons.”

In March 1961 he was one of more than 70 Labour M.P.’s who signed a letter to Hugh Gaitskell urging that the party Whip be restored to five Left-wing Labour M.P.’S who had voted against the Army Estimates. He, himself then voted against the Air Estimates,

1959 Secret Probe into Death of Young Mother

Six men and four laymen and two doctors will inquire into the death of a young Welsh mother. But their report will not be made public. Mrs Jean Holt. aged 27, of Glanville Terrace, Mountain Ash, died at St. Tydfil’s Hospital, Merthyr, on January 3. This was 13 days after she gave birth to a baby at the Lady Aberdare Maternity Hospital, Mountain Ash. Following the inquest, an official of the Merthyr and Aberdare Hospital Management Committee said that a three-month-old recommendation to reduce the number of beds at the hospital from 18 to 15 had not been implemented because it had not yet been sanctioned d by the Welsh Regional Hospital Board.

At a meeting of the hospital management committee at Merthyr yesterday a demand for an inquiry was made. But some doctor members refused to take part in any investigations if the findings were made public.  Dr J. M. Swithinbank. consultant physician to the group. said the inquiry should be made by the Welsh Board of Health. He said he would participate only “if it is the intention that the report is for the management committee and the Regional Board and not in any shape or form going to be made public or the subject of Press comment.” Dr Pearson Cresswell said. “If the facts are for the use and the sole use of this committee, then possibly an investigation is justified. But if it is for public consumption, then I say no. That is a job for the Welsh Board of Health.”

His Private Life

The chairman. Mr W. J. Canton. said the Regional Hospital Board did not intend to hold an inquiry. “There is every possible reason for us to investigate this matter ourselves. but it must be private,” he said. He said the report could be given in committee where the Press would be excluded. Dr Swithinbank then agreed to sit on the investigating Committee together with Dr Rowland Williams. a consultant surgeon. and four non-medical members of the hospital management committee the chairman, the vice-chairman (Alderman H. I. Williams), Mr W. Bowden (Mountain Ash). and Mr J. A. Lewis Merthyr).  Trefelin Trecynon, Aberdare. last night. Mr Alfred Holt aged 30, the husband of the dead woman, said. “I, definitely think this inquiry should be made public. If I get my way, they are not going to hush-hush things. Everyone should know what it’s all about.”

Dog in Ward

Mr Holt has been to see a solicitor and he Is now collecting evidence for his case. “I have not told anybody before, but I will let It out now, l saw a dog running around the ward when I went to visit my wife in hospital,” he said.  If people and blankets can spread germs, I am sure that a dog can. “I was suffering enough before I heard this news. Now I will not hide anything, even if it costs me more. I like to say the truth.” Mr Arthur Probert, M.P. for Aberdare. said last night.  “I have interested myself in this case because I am concerned about the delay in implementing the committee’s recommendations on the Lady Aberdare Hospital.”  “I offered my services to the committee in obtaining the reasons for the delay. There has been some suggestion of legal consultations on the part of the husband, and this may have influenced the committee.” “Without being in full possession of the facts. it is difficult for me to judge, but I am opposed in principle to any kind of secrecy, where the public welfare is concerned.” “I shall be getting in touch with the committee to find out exactly what the circumstances are.”

Board report

Sir Frederick Alban, chairman of the Welsh Regional Hospital Board, said last night: “There must be a report to the Regional Board.” “I have no doubt, that the Minister is expecting us to furnish him with information which will enable him to answer questions which are to be asked in Parliament.” He said that even if the Merthyr and Aberdare Hospital Management Committee’s inquiry were held in secret It did not mean that its findings would not be made public.

1963 Welsh Guards enquiry sought

Three M.P.s have tabled a motion for a full enquiry into the administration of the Welsh Guards ” with particular reference to a bias against ex-grammar school candidates. The motion by Mr George Thomas (Cardiff. W.). Mr Arthur Probert (Aberdare), and Mr Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon) deplores “the statement of Lt.-Col. Anthony Charles La Trobe Leatham. Commanding Officer of the Welsh Guards. that grammar schools are not producing men fitted for commissioned rank.”

1970, Widows in a Slave Market, say M.P.’s

Widows are treated as if they are in a slave market under the present system of awarding them damages, two Labour M.P.’s said yesterday.

This had led to insurance companies employing snoopers to investigate widows’ lives. Mr Arthur Probert (Aberdare) and Mr Leo Abse (Pontypool) are trying to end the practice that requires judges to decide whether a widow is likely to marry again when awarding damages for her husband’s death in an accident. Mr Leo Abse, They are co-sponsors of a Bill to help those who suffer because of Industrial accidents. Mr Probert drew fourth place on the ballot for Private Members’ Bills. The widow is being treated as if she were in a slave market, and it may be her financial future depends on her vital statistics, the two M.P.’s said in a statement.

“Not only is the practice disliked by many judges, but it has led to insurance companies which are resisting claims employing snoopers to investigate the lives of widows claiming damages, in the hope that evidence can be given that they are likely to remarry.” The Bill also proposes to help widows whose husbands have died from lung cancer and pneumoconiosis when it is discovered only after the death of their husbands that it was due to their employers’ negligence.  To do this, the Bill will remove the 12-month limitation period within which a widow must now bring her action.

On January 29, 1971, Arthur Probert was able to move the Second Reading of his Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which was passed and went into Committee. It was expected to pass into law soon after Easter, 1971. It was estimated that in Wales alone there were several hundred miners who discovered too late that they suffered from mining diseases and would, as a result of the ending of the 12-month limit, be able to claim as a result of Probert’s Bill.

1971 Law on Widows’ claims is “Callous”

A woman M.P. spoke in the Commons yesterday of the cruelty of the courts in assessing the remarriage prospects of widows claiming damages under the present law. M.P.s gave an unopposed Second Reading to the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, a Private Member’s measure sponsored by Arthur Probert (Lab. Aberdare).

Mrs Jill Knight (Con. Edgbaston) declared “The law is not just being an ass in this instance but is being utterly callous. To subject a poor woman who has already suffered cruelty, to standing up in court like a houri in an Eastern market, or a horse at a bloodstock auction for some man to assess her, personal charms, is really, the most degrading practice in the whole of our judicial system.” Mrs Lena Jeger (Lab. Holborn and St. Pancras), who was widowed 17 years ago said it was impertinent and unacceptable for people to assume a widow was sure to re-marry.  “A quite cynical person ought to advise a widow to go to courts deliberately looking her plainest,” she said.

The Bill which amends the Limitation Act 1963, by extending the periods within which claims for death or injury may be instituted also contains a provision that a claimant’s remarriage prospects should be assessing the remarriage disregarded in the assessment of prospects should be disregarded in the assessment of damages for widows under the Fatal Accidents Acts. The Solicitor General Geoffrey Howe, described Bill, as “a very humane package if law reform measures.”

Wider Horizon

Although the emphasis of his activities had been on the needs of his constituents, Probert’s view has never been parochial. The young men of his generation were much more internationally minded than their successors, despite the instant information about foreign parts now available to anyone with a TV. Although little noticed, this has been evident from Probert’s travels.

A German-speaker with Left-wing sympathies, Probert had watched with mixed repulsion and admiration the development of East Germany. He has visited there three times in the last decade. He deplored the political character of the Ulbricht regime, but is astounded by the economic progress achieved in the “German Democratic Republic.” He thought it could not have been achieved without the much-abused Berlin Wall.

He had travelled as well in Latin America and Africa. He was a great admirer of Julius Nyerere, but no great-admirer of the political intelligence capabilities of certain types of British diplomats in Africa. In Kenya, he and others could find out things in a few days about which the High Commission was in ignorance. When he told some diplomats that he was on his way to Zanzibar, he was told he would never get in there because its extremist regime was controlled by the Chinese. But when he arrived in Zanzibar, he found American tourists there as well! He lived is final few years at Allt Fedw, Abernant, Aberdare. He died suddenly at his home on 14 February 1975 and was cremated at Llwydcoed Crematorium.

Mirror of His Times

No one could be further from the public image of a politician than Arthur Probert, the Member of Parliament for Aberdare since 1954. Unlike the thrusting extroverts, the best-known of the breed, Mr Probert hide his virtues out of a deep and real shyness. It is all the more striking, as a result, when he overcomes that shyness as he did in a famous local anti-Fascist demonstration in the 1930s.

He was a modest man who tends to hide his achievements, even when they amount to political bravery. Only-handful of people know that he resigned as Labour’s Welsh Whip in March 1961 because Hugh Gaitskell rejected his warning that he would split the Labour Party if he affirmed too strongly support for nuclear weapons.

Although a sweet and gentleman, there is a hidden hardcore underneath, a core not of ambition or of self-projection but, of principle. Great pressure was brought on him to back the Labour Government on subjects like the Prices and Incomes Policy. But, despite attempted brain-washings by his old friend, George Thomas, then-Secretary of State for Wales, Mr Probert stuck to his deep-rooted principles.

These conflicts were the character of Arthur Probert are little known partly because he meets very few pressmen. This is not only because of his modesty and shyness but also because he is a teetotaller. And this physical aversion for a drink is all the more remarkable because Arthur Probert learned about life as a youngster in the workingmen’s clubs and pubs of his part of Glamorgan.

Labour MP for Aberdare 1954-74. Entered local government service in 1928 his career was interrupted by war. Secretary to the Aberdare Trades and labour council 1949-1954, Opposition Whip “Welsh” 1959-61. P.P.S. to the minister of Technology 1965-66; one of Mr Speaker’s Chairmen of Committees 1966-74.

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