CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

‘Formidable’ war heroine Irene Wagne dies at 99

As the war came, Irene’s political knowledge saw her recruited to the secret Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office, based at Woburn Abbey, the country estate where Bletchley Park Wrens were billeted. Her work there involved writing propaganda leaflets that were airdropped in Germany, and compiling weekly intelligence summaries.

18 February, 2016

They met at a Fabian Society dance and married three months later, forming a “solid partnership” for life from their flat in Bury Place, Bloomsbury, where they were neighbours of former Labour MP for Holborn & St Pancras, Frank Dobson.

As the war came, Irene’s political knowledge saw her recruited to the secret Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office, based at Woburn Abbey, the country estate where Bletchley Park Wrens were billeted. Her work there involved writing propaganda leaflets that were airdropped in Germany, and compiling weekly intelligence summaries.
Through her aunt, Irene landed a job as a nanny for the young Peter Jay, son of Hampstead’s famous Labour power couple, Peggy and Douglas, who introduced her to the socialist set.

Peggy Jay conspired with her friend, Ruth Dalton, to set Irene up with a young German political refugee that her husband Hugh Dalton, a government minister at the time, was mentoring.

 

In 1945 they had a daughter, Liz, and later threw themselves into local political life. George founded the Bloomsbury Association to fight plans against homes being knocked down by the British Library’s expansion, and Irene became the Labour Party librarian and archivist at Transport House, as well as being an unflagging campaigner for the Holborn and St Pancras Labour Party.

“You name it, they were part of it,” said Liz, “she was a fixer and a doer”.

Chairman of the Bloomsbury Association, Jim Murray, said Irene was respected for her “feisty” attitude and extensive knowledge of post-war Bloomsbury.

So strong was her relationship with George that when he died in 1995 Irene found it hard to cope. Knowing her mother’s insatiable thirst for knowledge, Liz enrolled her on a course at the City Literary Institute, which became her “lifeline”.

In her 90th year she won adult education “student of the year” and took a trip back to Dresden – her first return since it was firebombed in the war.

In her old age she suffered from dementia and had to leave her beloved Bloomsbury to move into a care home in Sheffield where her daughter and grandchildren could look after her.

Irene died in her sleep last Thursday.

She is survived by Liz, her grandchildren Ben and Harriet and a great-grand-daughter, Zoe.

Her funeral will be held on Friday, February 26 in the East Chapel of Golders Green Crematorium at 12.30pm.

 

Categories

Share this story

Post a comment

,