Today’s hero was submitted by Findmypast subscriber Jenni Phillips.
“Elizabeth Leah Manning (nee Perrett) was my grandmother’s second cousin. The principal reason for her nomination is the role she played in evacuating Basque children from Spain following the bombing of Guernica, for which a square in Bilbao has been named in her honour.”
Elizabeth, known as Leah, was born on 14th April 1886 in Droitwich. She spent her formative years living in the household of her grandfather, George Tappin, a dedicated Methodist and Liberal, in London. Her parents, Charles William Perrett and Harriett Margaret Perrett (nee Tappin), and siblings had gone to America to pursue her parents’ work in the Salvation Army.
Leah was heavily influenced by her grandfather’s religious and political views. She attended Homerton College in Cambridge, where she became involved in the Fabian Society and met – among others – Hugh Dalton and the poet Rupert Brooke. After college, she became a teacher and was heavily involved in the trade union and Labour movement. She married William Henry Manning on 26th July 1913 in Cambridge.
William’s mother lived with the couple until her death, followed by his father (his parents were estranged). In her autobiography, ‘A Life for Education’, she noted that both her brothers fought in WWI, as did her nephew, who was killed in the first few weeks, and an uncle who died of pneumonia during the first winter. Leah reported in her autobiography that she gave birth to a daughter towards the end of the war, but the child lived for just three weeks – no official record of this has been found. This was Leah & Will’s only child.
Leah briefly served as MP for Islington in 1931. She was a member of the Labour Party and one-time President of the National Union of Teachers (NUT). She regularly visited Germany, where on one occasion she met Rosa Luxembourg, who she recalls as being “full of fun and a bit of a comic”.
During the Spanish Civil War, Leah was appointed as Secretary of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee. She personally witnessed the German bombing of Guernica and the terrible destruction it caused and facilitated the evacuation of around 4000 Basque children on the SS Habana. In honour of this, a square in Bilbao was renamed in 2002 as Plaza de Mrs Leah Manning.
She continued to work for the NUT during WWII and assisted with evacuation surveys and in 1945 became MP for Epping (succeeding Winston Churchill). The Leah Manning Centre for older people in Harlow, Essex, features a stone relief of her portrait. After leaving the House of Commons in 1950, she continued her work in education (and unsuccessfully contested Epping in 1951 & 1955).
Leah was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966. Her autobiography (A Life for Education) was published in 1970 and, in later years, she lived at the NUT Home for Retired Teachers in Elstree. Dame Leah Manning died on 15th September 1977 at the age of 91.
Jenni says –
“When I began researching my family history I had no idea that my grandmother had a second cousin who led such a remarkable life. Since finding out about Leah I’ve read her autobiography and a biography of her life, both of which also make reference to other members of the family.
I’m a member of the P*rr*tt Society and have made contact with other members who are related to Leah, including two daughters of her cousin, Thomas Herbert Martin, who live in America and remember meeting her at her home in England many years ago. I have also met the grandson of her sister Helena Ivy Perrett, also living in America. I feel proud to have such a strong and interesting woman as a member of the family.”