Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edmonds, Frederick John Lloyd (1906–1994)

by Peter Love

This article was published online in 2019

Lloyd Edmonds, by John Ellis, 1992

Lloyd Edmonds, by John Ellis, 1992

University of Melbourne Archives, 11343/​76050

Frederick John Lloyd Edmonds (1906–1994), teacher, public servant, and political activist, was born on 3 July 1906 in London, second of three children of English-born Frederick John Edmonds, printer’s compositor, and his Welsh-born wife Mary (Mollie), née Lloyd. Migrating to Australia in 1911, the family settled in Melbourne where his father, being an admirer of Tom Mann, joined the Victorian Socialist Party and later established the Ruskin Press. His mother (d. 1933) was a member of the VSP’s Women’s League and was elected to the party executive in 1914. Lloyd remembered handing out anti-conscription leaflets during World War I and reciting the socialist catechism at the Socialist Sunday School at Sandringham, where the family moved in 1917.

Completing his education at Melbourne High School (1924–25), Edmonds became a probationary junior teacher at Black Rock State School in 1926. He qualified for a studentship at the Melbourne Teachers’ College the next year, subsequently teaching under bond at one-teacher schools at Tonimbuk (from 1928) and Cocoroc South (from 1934). During a leave of absence in 1931, he returned to Melbourne and, with his brother Phillip, formed the Teachers’ Industrial Union. As secretary of the Sandringham branch of the Australian Labor Party, he was a delegate to the 1931 State conference, where he saw, to his dismay, the party endorse the deflationary Premiers’ Plan. At the same time, he was studying philosophy at the University of Melbourne (BA, 1934). There he was secretary of the Labor Club, the socialist and internationalist stance of which he found more attractive than the demoralised and isolationist ALP. In 1935 he was expelled from the party for supporting Maurice Blackburn’s advocacy of sanctions against Mussolini’s Italy for its invasion of Abyssinia.

Despondent about the left’s prospects in Australia, Edmonds travelled to England in July 1936, intending to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Although he did not formally enrol, he likely attended lectures as an occasional student. He became deeply committed to the anti-fascist cause in the Spanish Civil War and, encouraged by the LSE Professor Harold Laski, he found his way via the Pyrenees to Spain. There he joined a transport regiment of the International Brigades in mid-1937. Although not an infantryman, he saw action as he ferried supplies to the front line and, along the way, encountered writers such as Ernest Hemingway. He often referred to his role in the war as a mere ‘spear carrier’ (Inglis 1994, 5), but it inspired his political commitment to communism, which was ‘born of a deep idealism, tempered by the dogged work of soldiering but steeled by the conviction that he and his “premature anti-fascist” comrades were on the side of history’ (Love 1994, 2). This conviction survived both the messy collapse of the Republican cause and his own harrowing escape from Spain.

Returning to Australia in March 1939, Edmonds resumed teaching at Alexandra State School (1940–42). On 20 April 1940 he married South Australian-born Jean Campbell Good, a hairdresser, at Mentone Register Office. During World War II he served part time in the 16th Battalion (1943) and 18th Battalion (1943–45) of the Volunteer Defence Corps and became an industrial welfare officer in the Commonwealth Department of Labour and National Service. Remaining with the department until his retirement in 1971, he was active in the Federated Clerks’ Union of Australia and organised to bring white-collar workers into the union movement. As a communist, he campaigned energetically to defeat the Menzies government’s Communist Party Dissolution Act (1950) and worked behind the scenes to support John Cain senior in his factional fight with the ‘groupers’ in the Victorian Labor Party. Having first attracted the attention of the Commonwealth Investigation Branch when he applied for a passport in 1936, he was subject to surveillance by security agencies for several decades.

Steady and purposeful in style, Edmonds was an indefatigable activist across a remarkable range of progressive causes, from the Victorian National Parks Association to his local Meals on Wheels service. He was active in the Essendon branch of the Communist Party of Australia, was a regular delegate to state conferences, and gave long service to the distribution of the CPA’s Tribune newspaper. For more than a decade he was secretary of the Melbourne Branch of the Labour History Society as well as editor of its newsletter, Recorder.

In 1985 a collection of Edmonds’s Letters from Spain was published, edited by Amirah Inglis. When Edmonds unveiled the Spanish Civil War Memorial in Canberra in 1993, the Spanish ambassador was delighted to meet an Australian who had fought on the same side as his parents. The ceremony also allowed him to lay to rest the ghosts of screaming Stuka dive bombers that had haunted him since the 1930s. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he died on 18 September 1994 at Parkville, Melbourne, and was cremated. The memorial celebration of his life that filled the Council Chamber of the Melbourne Trades Hall on 16 October 1994 paid tribute to a modest, courageous, courteous, and generous-spirited man.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Aarons, Laurie. ‘Ardent Communist Joined Freedom Fighters in Spain.’ Australian, 6 October 1994, 15
  • Edmonds, Lloyd. Letters from Spain. Edited by Amirah Inglis. Sydney: George Allen and Unwin, 1985
  • Inglis, Amirah. Australians in the Spanish Civil War. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1987
  • Inglis, Amirah. ‘Lloyd Edmonds.’ Labour History 67 (November 1994): 4—5
  • Love, Peter. ‘Lloyd Edmonds 3 July 1906 – 18 September 1994.’ Labour History 67 (November 1994): 1—3
  • National Archives of Australia. A6119, 1767, 1768, 2974, 3268
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, V371467
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Love, 'Edmonds, Frederick John Lloyd (1906–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edmonds-frederick-john-lloyd-27616/text35031, published online 2019, accessed online 13 November 2019.

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