Person - Wally Clayton

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Wally Clayton was the chief source of Soviet intelligence gathering in Australia 1944-50. He was identified by Dorothy Hewett as "Comrade X" in the Petrov affair, and was on the CPA payroll from the 1930s to the 1950s. His CPA code name was “Curl” and his KGB code name “Klod”. His Security file covered the years 1939-62. ASIO said they had a good source checking him 1949-50 but this person died prior to 22 August 1951 and they had nothing useful on file.

An early member of Melbourne New Theatre, Clayton built its first audience seats out of packing cases. He was also connected with Sydney NT ~ Miriam Hampson’s sister Millie was his secretary in the 1940s. During the Second World War Oriel Gray was hauled before the CPA Cultural Council of the Central Control Commission which kept a close eye on the ideology and morality of Communist artists and chastised by Wally Clayton for her “blue” revue material. Clayton is almost certainly spectacle-wearing Peter “Possum” Pearson in her memoir Exit Left.

Wally was the son of Thomas Ernest Clayton who migrated from Sheffield to New Zealand where he married Alice Maud Bean and worked as an ironmonger and merchant. Born on 24 March 1906 at Ashburton on the Canterbury Plains and educated at Christ College Christchurch, Wally left school at age 16 to work in sports dealers’ stores. In 1930 he became besotted with visiting opera singer Paraguay-born Hilda Mary Lane, a niece of pioneering socialist William Lane, and followed her to Sydney, then to Melbourne where they married in 1931. According to ASIO Clayton never had a passport.

Galvanised by the Depression, he joined the CPA in 1933, and within two years had become a full-time Party functionary in Melbourne. From 1936-9 he organised and spoke at public meetings and demonstrations, wrote articles and distributed pamphlets. He was arrested at a demonstration on 6 July 1938 and fined 10/- for offensive behaviour. Active in the Movement Against War and Fascism, and the Spanish Relief Committee, he was by January 1939 CPA District Committee Secretary Melbourne. He moved to Sydney and was appointed to the State committee with responsibilities for reorganising finances and sales of the Party’s paper the Workers’ Weekly and its successor Tribune. When the CPA was declared illegal he separated Tribune's printing from its distribution, and adopted clandestine measures including aliases to exchange messages and material with secret contacts. (On 15 June 1940 a CPA member’s Petersham house was raided by Special Branch who found Clayton hiding in the toilet with a copy of The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.)

From 1944 -51 Clayton was a member of the Central Control Commission, the CPA’s “Inquisition”. It was in this capacity that he chastised Oriel Gray. Many in the CPA male hierarchy were puritanical ~ except in their own behaviour ~ and made it their business to decide whether female members should be allowed abortions or divorces. Jean Devanny was expelled from the Party in 1941 for “infamous conduct” but was readmitted after she threatened to publish letters from her ex-lover CPA General Secretary J B Miles . Clayton himself was sexually involved with CPA women (including, it was said, Jean Blue ) and in late 1944 deserted his wife to set up house with Shirley May Agnes Hallett until her death, at age 25, in February 1946.

It was during the Second World War that Clayton was recruited by the KGB. He used the temporary Sydney flat of Katharine Susannah Prichard as a drop-off and pick-up point and passed on political gossip she’d gleaned from her son Ric Throssell in Canberra. Postwar he put together a network of people prepared to allow their properties to be used to hide printeries should the CPA be again banned. To avoid ASIO he then dropped from view.

By the 1990s Wally was “The Snapper King”, a professional fisherman at Salt Ash near Port Stephens where he lived with his wife Peace Joy née Gowland whom he had married in Sydney in 1956 when she was working at Mick Simmons with “Tilly” Mary Catherine Crisp who also had an ASIO file. Born on the last day of the First World War, Peace was one of 11 children (nine of whom became CPA members). She moved from Adelaide in 1940 to work as a typist in the Sydney CPA office where she met Clayton. A nephew Lance Gowland (1935-2008) as a schoolboy joined the Eureka Youth League, became a gay rights activist and one of the 78ers.

Wally Clayton died at Newcastle on 22 October 1997. He has a Wikipedia entry and an obituary in Search News vol. 4 no. 5 November 1997.

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