Olive Hawks joined the secretarial staff of British Union at the age of 16 and soon became assistant to George Sutton, the Director of Research. However, her commitment to “British Socialism” soon gained her a speakers warrant and she became Women’s Leader for the Peckham Branch. In 1937 Olive was also appointed British Union Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Peckham: even though only 19 years of age. If a snap General Election had been held then, she would not have been old enough to stand, but no election was expected until 1940.

The most important period of Olive’s service to British Union was after the outbreak of war. She was one of a large group of women activists who doubled their efforts to “fill in” for the many male members who had been called up for the armed services. During this time she devoted all of her energies to persuading the British people to call for “Peace with Honour and British people safe, and Empire intact”. Early in 1940 Olive was appointed to the top women’s post in British Union: a promotion then categorised her among the leaders of British Union and earned her a lengthy period of internment under Defence Regulation 18B in Holloway Prison and later the Isle of Man.

During the latter part of her detention, she began writing her first novel “What Hope for Green Street” * (Jarrolds 1945): a telling explanation of why so many working class families in London came to support “Imperial Socialism” and the social factors that prevented the wishes of ordinary people from materialising.

Olive’s wartime marriage to British Union’s Frederick Burdett did not survive her internment of over four years.

Although she retained her original beliefs, Olive was one of those who did not return to active politics after the war. She had spent all her adult life within the close confines of British Union and later His Majesty’s Prisons. She was still young and the post-war world seemed an exciting place and Olive determined to explore it. Whilst continuing to write novels, she went to Greece where she married for the second time. her last book “Life Lies Ahead” 1951, was a book of practical advice for young wives setting up home. It was co-authored by Eustace Chesser.

After the birth of two sons, Olive and her family emigrated to a Dominion country where she died in March 1992 aged 75. The courageous life of this women patriot and her like formed the bedrock of inspiration for those who followed.

Gordon Beckwell

* Green Street, West London, not East London as most people imagine

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