Reg Groves was a young member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) when he first heard the name Victor Grayson mentioned. Older members of Groves’ ILP branch spoke of Grayson as a great orator, a maverick and a lost hero. At that time, in 1924, it was taken for granted that Grayson was alive and well but retired from public life.
Throughout the years of the Second World War Groves investigated Grayson’s life and fate. He visited Huddersfield and the Colne Valley and under German bombs scoured the streets and apartments of London that Grayson was known to have earlier frequented. So thorough was his search becoming that Groves was pulled in by Scotland Yard for their 1942 investigation which they then spent decades denying had ever taken place.
In 1946 Groves was able to have his book published as The Mystery of Victor Grayson which, though unadvertised and poorly produced, sold its entire print run of 10,000 copies in twelve weeks. It was never republished, probably owing to restrictions in those immediate postwar years in Britain.
The Mystery collected first-hand accounts of Grayson’s life and speculated on his fate with the real possibility that he was still alive. After-all, Grayson was just three years older than Clement Attlee who had just the previous year been swept to power so it wasn’t out of the question. The book’s real legacy however was to kick-start more searches and memory-racking. The surviving documentary evidence was slim. Grayson had destroyed the majority of his papers prior to 1918 and his surviving family appeared to be less than forthcoming in Groves’ quest for answers. But Groves received a number of detailed letters from people with leads and others offering professional help to hunt the illusive former MP.
A significant amount of this information did not make its way into Groves’ second book on Grayson, The Strange Case of Victor Grayson published by Pluto Press in 1975. It was much updated from his previous work but lacked any real sense of new and grounbreaking research. Instead it contained a line of attack on established Labour leaders which made it seem more a means of settling a personal grudge (Groves was a Trotskyist with a loathing for Labour’s Parliamentary record). It seems in retrospect like a lost opportunity to collect the stories of the few survivors who remembered Grayson and to fill significant gaps in his story.
However, a search through Reg Groves’ personal papers held at the University of Warwick show that he had made a serious attempt to solve the mystery once and for all. Together with London solicitor Reginald de Mornay Davies in the early 1950s he scoured records in Britain and Ireland looking for a death, burial or immigration records. By this time they expected Grayson to be dead due to him suffering from chirosis of the liver many years previous. Yet, a thorough search to March 1953 revealed no death or burial record for Albert Victor Grayson. The pair concluded that the most likely explanation was that Grayson either died abroad or changed his name.
The odd thing about this investigation was that though Groves was very public about his mission in the 1940s this time around he kept his search secret. De Mornay Davies wrote to Groves, “Yes, great care must be taken to keep our enquiries as secret as possible as one small slip and the whole of our mutual exertions will be completely ruined.” It was also clear that Groves was blocked by making any contact with Grayson’s surviving daughter Elaine for whom his sister Augusta would not pass Groves the address. Augusta had previously threatened Groves with legal action over his portrayal of Grayson whilst also claiming to be in the process of writing a biography of her lost brother herself. Her book never appeared and apart from a nine page potted biography nothing exists in the archives resembling one. Grayson’s daughter Elaine also told the press in the 1970s that she was writing a biography of her father but again nothing materialised.
Groves didn’t mention his investigation in his later book, nor make reference to the many obstacles that had been put in his way. If he had he may have received some better press at the time and a kinder treatment from historians.
Credible sightings of Grayson came to abrupt end during the Second World War and it is striking that his daughter Elaine, Sidney Campion (who worked for and had contacts in the wartime government) and seemingly Grayson’s mother-in-law believed him to have died in 1941, most likely in an air raid on the capital.
More can be read on Reg Groves here: