|G - I - G|
Definitely a leading Communist in the mid-part of the 20th century, Duke Grandjean’s birth – indeed a good deal about his whole life even - is shrouded in mystery. There being no Grandjean ever born, married or died in England with the name Duke, it has proved difficult to fix his history.
The best guess for his real identity is, thus far, one Casimir Grandjean, born in Edmonton, Middlesex, in early 1917 to a mother named Pelsmarkers, according to the records. (Though this latter name does not seem to exist!) Close versions of this name – Pelsmakers or Pelsmaker, or even more likely Pelsmacker – are known and seem to be very rare colonial Dutch-Jewish versions of a name for a furrier, or fur trader, a business generally much noted for its Jewish connotations.
The circumstances suggest a pairing between a French-born father and an immigrant unregistered mother, just possibly of American or Latin American origin. Though Casimir is a name with Slavic, especially Polish origins, this might have its origins in the family’s history in France, where the name Grandjean is common, especially in leftist circles.(Moreover, the British Grandjean family has an evident tradition – even to modern times - of applying French names to newborns.)
The first time we can definitely connect the name Grandjean to the British Communist Party is in the mid-1930s. Mrs A Grandjean (a name starting with `A’ cannot yet be located in English records) of 5 Brent Road, Southall, was very active in local and national Communist Party organisations in this period. She also was the co-ordinator for Southall Aid to Spain. Mrs Grandjean’s date of marriage is virtually impossible to identify without the identity of her husband, so it is impossible to say whether she was once Miss Pelsmacker and hence Casimir’s mother but there is a very good chance that this Southall Communist family was the young Duke’s. Certainly, he himself was definitely linked to Southall even some decades later.
It’s not known exactly why the young Casimir adopted the name Duke, beyond the obvious fact that his given name hardly sounded very English. (It was a common act by Jewish Communists in Britain in the 1930s to anglicise their names.) It’s possible that, since there is a Duke Casimir (as in the landed title, Duke) in Polish early medieval history, he was inspired by this fact. Maybe his rather grand given name invoked something like Duke as a more appealing alternative monicker, which also had a levelling feel to it, becoming as it was at the time a popular American nickname. (John Wayne and Ellington the jazz musician were the most famous Dukes.)
Whatever the case, the young Duke joined the Party in 1935 and was almost immediately being called just that. The London Communist Party published his “Ward groups - the way forward”, a pamphlet focused on local Party organisation, in 1939.
A Dora Grandjean enters Party history in the wartime period in Yorkshire and the question must arise whether this was a coincidence or whether there was a more related link. Although two Grandjean women with the same or similar names were born in relevant decades, Dora is always referred to as “Mrs”, so she could not be either of these, as they would be a Miss and any Dora Grandjean by marriage would be born something else. Of course, being called “Mrs”, especially if you’re a Communist, does not imply marriage; but, certainly, the only legal marriage between a Grandjean and a Dora (or similar name) ever was one with an Alfred F Grandjean in Brentford, Middlesex, in 1932, who married Dora Thiel. But this could not possibly be Casimir, who was only 13 years old then. But no other Grandjean male has ever married a Dora – at least legally – in England & Wales.
Dora Grandjean, therefore, is a slight mystery but a woman of that name was certainly a Communist Party organiser for Leeds in 1942, for she wrote a piece in “Organising to Win”: saying that "flexibility in organisation and in approach is the key to utilising all the valuable new members who are coming into our Party".
Being in Yorkshire is not necessarily out of kilter – given the large number of conscriptions to the forces, augmented by considerable voluntary signing up, the Party’s infrastructure was stretchjed and much loaning out of organisers from one district to another took place.
A Grandjean was active in Cardiff in the early years of the war as possibly a city or district treasurer but this is thought to be Duke, who was personally definitely occasionally `loaned’ out by the London District of the Party elsewhere for short periods – as in Fife in the early 1950s.
Duke was certainly a London DC member in 1944 and in 1945, was the full-time London District Treasurer. He was variously recorded as the Southall and Southgate Branch Secretary and as a member of the Camberwell Party branch, suggesting a move around this time away from his parents.
It is thought that Duke was moved from Party organisation work in the late 1950s and by 1960 Duke Grandjean was certainly full-time Secretary of the British Society for Friendship with Bulgaria, a role which he seems to have retained until his retirement.