Jeanne Hoban bigraphy, stories - Trade unionist

Jeanne Hoban : biography

03 August 1924 - 18 April 1997

Jeanne Hoban (3 August 1924 Gillingham, Kent - 18 April 1997 Sri Lanka), known after her marriage as Jeanne Moonesinghe, was a British Trotskyist who became active in trade unionism and politics in Sri Lanka. She was one of the handful of European Radicals in Sri Lanka.

RCP and Labour Party

The three of them joined the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), and Jeanne was elected to its National Executive. She fell out early with Gerry Healy, who was most prominent in the RCP at the time, but remained close to Ted Grant. She was associated with the group around Tony Cliff, the so-called 'State-Caps' after their characterisation of the USSR as 'State-Capitalist'. The group would later become the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

She married Anil Moonesinghe in 1948 and they moved into a houseboat called 'Red October', which they built together, on the Thames near Marlow. They both entered the Labour Party in Slough, on the orders of the RCP. Jeanne was elected to the Executive of the Labour Leagues of Youth, later being put on the list of Labour Party Parliamentary candidates. She and Anil were associated with the MP for Slough Fenner Brockway and with George Padmore, the prophet of Black African Liberation.

After graduating from University College, she studied International Law at the London School of Economics. However, she was unable to complete her Masters Degree as she was forced urgently to accompany Anil to Sri Lanka in 1952.

Early years

She was born in Gillingham, Kent. Her father, Major William Leo Hoban was a British featherweight boxer and former soldier of Irish roots, her mother, May Irene Free, was a small businesswoman of partly Jewish extraction. Her early life was spent in a variety of Army camps. In 1936 her father was appointed an instructor at Eton College, and they settled in Slough. She attended Slough High School for Girls, where she became Head Girl in 1942.

During the Second World War, she was once machine-gunned by a Nazi Luftwaffe aircraft. Although selected for London University, she had to do her two-year National Service as a government inspector in the Bristol aircraft factory at Staines. There she joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1943. She was a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union and anyway came from a fairly radical background - the Merseyside branch of what would later become the Militant Tendency used to meet in her aunt's house in Birkenhead. To the end of her life she was to maintain that the members of the CPGB were the most dedicated and conscientious political workers she was ever to know

At University College London and LSE, she studied law. There she met her future husband, Anil Moonesinghe, who converted her to Trotskyism. and also a young conscientious objector called Stan Newens, who would later become a Labour Party MP and MEP.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, Jeanne joined the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and worked in the Lanka Estate Workers' Union (LEWU), which organised labourers on the tea and rubber plantations. At the time the British were still very powerful on the island, in spite of the country having obtained a form of independence in 1948. The British planters, aghast at the idea of a white woman speaking on behalf of coolies, prevailed upon the government to deport Jeanne, but she went into hiding with Vivienne Goonewardena and the LSSP fought successfully to prevent the deportation, in a repeat of the Bracegirdle affair.

Lake House and the CMU

She joined the Lake House group of newspapers as a journalist, recruited by chief editor Esmond Wickremasinghe (the father of Ranil Wickremasinghe) along with other left-oriented intellectuals such as Herbert Keuneman and Regi Siriwardena. She had a column (under the pseudonym 'Jane Freeman') in The Observer and also worked on the Jana magazine. In 1955 she was called upon by Wickremasinghe to help write the a speech for Sir John Kotelawala, the then Prime Minister. This was the Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned Movement, and the speech, which became quite famous, was a joint effort with the brilliant B.J.B Fernando ('Bonnie').

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine