The peaceful, natural setting of Chesham Bois Burial Ground is the final resting place of several notable people. It includes four Commonwealth War Graves and the grave of the celebrated Victorian artist and writer Louise Jopling. Climbing the hill, on the left, just above the lovely chapel is the comparatively grand memorial to the Right Honourable Charles Dukes, Baron Dukeston CBE, shown here.

Charles Dukes who lived at Highfield, 41 Copperkins Lane in Amersham was a British trade unionist and Labour Party politician who was ennobled in 1947. However, his origins were surprisingly humble, and his road to success a bumpy one.

Charles Dukes left school at the age of eleven to work as an errand-boy for a shopkeeper in Stourbridge, where he was born in 1881. When his family moved to Warrington, he earnt four shillings a week working with his father in a Lancashire forge. 6ft tall and strong, he then found casual work, usually as a bricklayer, on construction sites. He often had to travel long distances around the north west of England to find employment and at one time, worked as a navvy on the Manchester Ship Canal for four pence an hour. His early experiences inspired him to become a radical campaigner for workers’ rights.

At 17, he joined the Builders’ Labourers’ Union and a year later was involved in his first strike. He was soon taking a leading part in local disputes and earnt a reputation for being a firebrand and rabble-rouser, which meant he found it increasingly difficult to find work. In 1909 his career in trade unions started when he was taken on as a trade union secretary at the Warrington branch of the National Union of Gasworkers. Paid by commission, within 3 years he had increased the membership from 30 to 3000.

Dukes was a founder member of the British Socialist Party and was elected to the party’s national executive in 1914. In Warrington he joined the Independent Labour Party which grew out of the trade union movement and here he met his wife, Emily Forster. WWI broke out before they could marry, and Dukes was conscripted into the Cheshire Regiment. He was soon in trouble for refusing to wear the uniform or obey orders! Court martialled; he was sentenced to two years hard labour but was later acquitted as a Conscientious Objector. A son, Reginald was born, and Charles and Emily were married after the war.

At the 1923 general election, Dukes was elected as the Labour Member of Parliament for Warrington, narrowly defeating the sitting Conservative MP, Alec Cunningham-Reid. With 191 MPs, the Labour Party was now the second largest political group in the House of Commons. Within a year, Dukes was serving in the first Labour Government. On January 21 1924, the Conservatives were defeated on an amendment to the King’s Speech and, the following day, Stanley Baldwin announced his resignation. He was replaced by Labour’s James Ramsay MacDonald. Macdonald had a house in Chesham Bois for many years and may have introduced Dukes to South Bucks although he did not settle here until WWII.

On January 9 1924, Dukes attended the “Fetters and Roses” Dinner at the House of Commons. This was a dinner for Members of Parliament who had been imprisoned for political or religious reasons. A number of other conscientious objectors were present, as were several former suffragettes, including Barbara Ayrton Gould, Viscountess Rhondda, and Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence.

The first MacDonald administration was short-lived, falling in 1924 and Dukes was unseated by his predecessor Cunningham-Reid in the resulting general election. However, at the 1929 election, Dukes was returned to the House of Commons. When Labour split in 1931, over its handling of the economic crash, another election was called, and Dukes was defeated. He did not stand for election again.

After witnessing the Great Depression and the failure of the General Strike, Dukes had become more moderate in his political views. He now devoted himself fulltime to his trade union work. From 1934 to 1946, he was General Secretary of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (now GMB Union), carrying out a much-needed reorganization. The general secretaryship gave Dukes a seat on the General Council of the Trade Union Congress where he was recognized as one of its strongest personalities. He was president of the TUC from 1946-47.

In 1946 he was appointed adviser to the Paris Peace Conference and was the British delegate to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. With Eleanor Roosevelt and other international dignitaries, he was on the commission to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Dukes was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1942 and in 1947, he received a peerage in the new year’s honours, becoming Baron Dukeston of Warrington. Later that same year he was appointed a director of the Bank of England. Remarkable achievements for a working-class man with little formal education.

However, in Amersham, Charlie, as he was known, was more famous for being a breeder of rabbits! A man of many hobbies, including photography, he kept chickens, rabbits and dogs in his extensive gardens at Highfield. After being widowed, Lady Dukeston stayed at the house with her son Reginald (also a trade unionist) and his wife Ida.

Chesham Bois Parish Council is holding an Open Day at the Chesham Bois Burial Ground Saturday 18 September from 12 until 4pm when we will be leading walks around some of the interesting graves. Come also to enjoy the breath-taking views of the Chiltern countryside in this uniquely tranquil spot.