Update July 23rd 2008
Most of the material here was taken from the Mick Jenkins pamphlet on George Brown.
When I received copies of material from the Inistioge George Brown Memorial Committee, who’d undertaken work in the Salford archives, I realised that there were 2 additional letters present, as well as some typing errors. There were also a small number of cases where lines were missed from the original letters. These either consisted of internal communist party politics, or in some cases where remarks were being made about men suspected of desertion.
I have added all the additional material and as many corrections as possible, but would welcome any contributions from proof readers out there who spot errors.
There are several letters by George, and mixed through them are a few short extracts from letters by other comrades, people like Sam Wild, etc.
July 23rd 2008.
GB Letter One
17th February, 1937
Dear Mick [Jenkins],
Sorry to have delayed writing and I am afraid I am unable to answer all those questions which I know that you want answering.
You will have to rely on the Daily [Worker] for your answers and the Daily gives a very good picture of the situation and the needs, more than we sometimes realise back home.
I have met all the boys and they are doing magnificently. We can be proud. I hope that my vacation, far from having any weakening effect, has got the boys together more than before. I have read of the tremendous success of the unity meeting. (1) I am sorry in a way that I missed it. You can bet I felt pretty proud of Manchester when I saw the results.
The serious thing which remains, I think, is to really establish the movement in the 'public' organisation. By the way, was the Mosley Division, a Manchester Division or was it the Mosley Division? The signed appeal from Manchester to the EC was good, but it requires a lot more to move them. We will have to give more attention to the fraction and insist on some of the branches placing more of the comrades inside [the Labour Party.]
I am wondering if Teddy [Ainley] got any further with the Social Programme, it being typed when I left. We should be able to get quite a number of the Labour chaps to discuss it. The opinions of men like W Robinson and Dr E Jones, even if we didn't entirely agree with them, should be invaluable. Young Heaton of Salford is keen on this. I should like a copy of the Programme if it could be brought though.
I was wondering how the finance was faring. I hope it hasn't been tough. It should be much better now, as the position generally was improved, and an effort in one or two places should have definitely brought us into the home stretch. The other accounts should be straight as I left them in London. Did you get a copy of the previous account? How did the Buckley account finally divide out?
I see there is a lot of discussion now on the Rail Unions demands. This might give us the opportunity to strengthen our group in Manchester where we have a direct control in place of Charlie. (That reminds me. Give my regards to any of the Warrington boys if you see them.) Are the members still coming in? In view of my later experience I think we are in a position now to demand more intensive building from the branches. Are you still keeping an eye on the metal group? I don't think you should let up on them just now, as they do seem to be getting together better. I wonder if the metal paper is making much headway.
You might drop me a note on the sale of the B Punch (2) if you write me and the progress of the Daily Worker campaign.
I don't see any publicity about the Patronage Committees. I was wondering how they were faring.
I reckon by now you have a full-time job and the only luxury you can allow yourself is an occasional grumble. Still, I bet you find it interesting. How is your case going on? (3 ) Still at the same stage, I suppose. "The mills of the Gods grind slowly", etc. I saw the other case reported in the Daily but the facts of the case were different, I think.
I suppose by now you realise that I am in greater need of information than yourself. Well, that's the position. I hope you can oblige me.
It is a wonderful country. There seem to be mountains and hills everywhere. The drive over the Pyrenees is simply breathtaking, sheer mountains on one side, and steep gorges on the other and away up above the snow covered peaks of the mountains in clear sunlight. No, I haven't been drinking. The people have backed the natural beauty horse each way - to win and lose and they draw both ways. They can admire the snow from a distance and still keep their feet warm.
Just now the weather is changing brilliantly even though it hasn't been really cold. The skies are flawless and the sun shines for hours. I miss the smoke a hell of a lot.
The people here seem quietly confident, too quiet I have felt, but they are being welded into a powerful mass. The recent document of the Spanish party correctly placed the main requirements of the situation.
Just now I am listening to some fifty young girls in a clothing factory singing workers' songs as they work. A little different from your factory, eh? No, they will never be defeated if the workers in Britain pull their weight.
Give my regards to all the boys and than those comrades who made me the very excellent jacket.
All the best,
PS, Please hand the enclosure to Frank Williams.
GB Letter Two
21st March, 1937
Received your letter only yesterday. The delay was bad as when I received it, I really felt how things were going back home. One thing any other delay will not be forgiven unless the letter when it does arrive contains a pack or two of Woodbines (4).
I guess you would be worried at first and that is the hard part of it. Responsibility and worry seem a half of the job. Anyway I am glad you are getting through it and Manchester seems to be facing up to the situation.
The news about the Borough [Labour] Party is excellent. If only we can develop the work of the Unity Campaign Committee, and our work in the wards and divisions. What a transformation can take place.
It is great news about the ambulance and I am dying to see it out here. The British [Medical] Unit is excellent in its efficiency and equipment, but more is required for the Herculean task.
I saw the announcement about the committee for the relief of the dependents. Good work. Give my regards to Harry Frankland.
It is good that the preparations for the Manchester and Salford Conference were advanced, and I am most anxious to see the material you are sending me. I am very pleased that the metal group is doing so well and that Eddie is doing a good job.(5)
You mention a pamphlet Radium. I don't know about it and should like more [information.]
I do think that everything at the Congress should be linked in the clearst manner with a mass recruiting in Manchester District commensurate with strengthened influence. Christ we will need more comrades now to carry the fight through.
You should take advantage of Mick Bennett's visit to life the League out of its present position. Out here the YCLers have done marvellously. (6)
I have not been in touch with all the Manchester comrades, but I will let them know how things are as I see them. George W is here just now going convalescent after his wound.(7 ) He is okay. I will let Maurice know about the position at home.(8)
Our comrades are doing magnificently. They went through hell but held the Fascist barbarians. They are barbarians. I was six hours in an air-raid, when the Fascist bombers killed men, women and children. A monstrous carnage. It rests with the British people and above all our Party to smash the pro-Fascist policy of the National government.
My regards to all the comrades.
PS. Excuse the hurried note, but a comrade is waiting to take this letter. I have various reports of Manchester comrades killed and wounded, but it is not safe to work on anything but the official list you will get back there. GB.
….George Brown was down here [at the front] from Madrid for the weekend. We had a yarn and he showed me your report of the Coliseum meeting: it must have been great.
Sam Wild (9 )
GB Letter Three
Plaza Del Altagoz (?)
29th March 37
Thanks for your good wishes to myself and the boys. Such good wishes from the comrades back home help to hearten us in out task. It is good to hear that the movement back in Manchester is working hard to bring the British people into supporting the Spanish people.
It is a big job for the Spanish people alone although I have no fears for the result. But with the help of the British people they could much sooner stop these murderers who are annihilating women and children, and laying waste a country which in any case was held back from developing by reactionary parasites.
I wish too we could et rid of the National Government but we can only do this by strengthening the Minority Movement which had such a glorious send off in Manchester.
I hope you are doing a bit in the working class organisations to bring this unity about. I am glad to hear that you are working to send out medical aid ambulances to Spain. They are sorely needed.
I hope to see the Manchester ambulance when it arrives [as] well. Our Manchester lads have acquitted themselves well. The movement can be proud of them and they deserve all the support the movement can give the,
All the best,
PS How are you getting on ….the Labour Party……………
[this postscript is in the bottom of the page and the paper is folded over.]
3rd April, 1937
………..George Brown is now with us at the front and he handed me your letter to him to read. George has been with us for a few days now and he is settling down to the front line activity and atmosphere of the first line against Fascism.
GB Letter Four
22nd April 1937
Many thanks for the letter Mick. It's great to hear the good news about the District.
I am very pleased that the Conference was such a success and that the steps were being taken to carry the decision into effect.(10) I can imagine the fight to get David [Ainley] into Gorton, but it will be much better for the Party as a whole, to bring Gorton into line. I think the preparations were good and the pamphlet is a sight for sore eyes. (11) It gives us a real basis to build upon. I can see the programme becoming the catechism for our comrades in Manchester. I have not studied it fully. I was so pleased that I immediately ran off to show it one of the lads and of course he borrowed it. That always happens.
I can see much of the activity reflected in the Daily Worker and from the letters we receive here the enthusiasm and drive of the Party appears to be general.
I have not been able to ascertain the fate of all the parcels but neither Goldman's nor Smith's have arrived. I am making enquiries further. Here at the front things have been quieter after the terrific battle of the first days. Occasional attacks which have resulted in few causalities.
Maurice [Levine] got wounded a few days ago. He volunteered for a patrol to go over towards the enemy lines on reconnaissance, and was unfortunate enough to get a bullet through the arm although not serious. He will back with us in a few days. I think Maurice is one of the most courageous men in our battalion which has already displayed its supreme courage to the world, and I may say with all fairness that our comrades from [the] Manchester and Salford area are second to none. Our comrades here are concerned with information that E Starr is back there. This man was not given leave and has deserted and therefore should be prevented from speaking as a representative of the Brigade.
Up to now I have been reluctant to write about the fate of any of our comrades until it had appeared officially, but from my own enquiries I am certain that Frank Whitehead of Manchester, and Maurice Stott of Rochdale and Blackpool are killed. Fred Killick, Alec Armstrong, Pat Kenny, Norman Wilkinson, Eddie Swindells, McGhee and Bert Maskey of Manchester are missing, and of these I have reliable information that Fred Killick and Alec Armstrong are killed.(12)
Frank Whitehead was a lad of great promise. He stood out in his enthusiasm for the struggle and his keenness for military training. Everyone liked him, even the more experienced comrades during the training period were pleased to work under him as section leader. He met his death in a manner I can easily visualise. His comrades tell me that they were being harassed by snipers and Frank stood up in the trench to get one of them but was shot through the head.
He was as sincere as the day and his courage remarkable. He has demonstrated what really fine comrades there are in the Labour Party. With him you got the feeling that no Party barriers existed. Unity against Fascism was the only thing that mattered.
Fred Newbury was a fine man too. I saw a great deal of Fred. It felt good to have a veteran of the Great War along with you. He radiated a quiet confidence that was infectious. He was the soul of gaiety. Wherever there was a sing song or a piano he would keep the lads alive with his songs and his playing. He knew what the struggle was like and to me, his manly confident figure epitomised the unconquerable strength of our class.
Maurice Stott was also a sound confident man, one who didn't hesitate for business reasons to come out and take the greatest personal risks in the battle against a foul autocracy. He became a great chum of one of our company commanders, a Manchester man, who still feels his loss keenly. Pat Doran, you will not know, but he is a great soldier; another one of those great comrades who are standing outside the Party but who must be won if our movement is to face up to the gigantic battles which lie ahead. (13)
The other comrades, young Pat Kenny, Norman Wilkie, Eddie Swindells, Alec Armstrong, you all know. They were great lads. Greater than we could imagine back home. I knew the lads so well that to lose them or to be in the dark concerning their fate, is like losing a brother.
Quite a number of the comrades for wounded. Booth of Pendlebury - Sys Booth's brother - Sam Wild - Sam Langley - Hughie Barker - W McGinley of Salford - Bill Benson, George Westfield, Frank Carney and Ed. Billington. Bill Benson has an exceptionally good record, and Hughie Barker is as usual, calm under all circumstances.
Tommy Fanning I hear has had a bad wound and Bob Goodman and A Porter are both missing and I believe dead. I see the Daily Worker had reported the death of Clem Beckett. The other comrades are okay, and I expect you are hearing from them.
You will see that we have paid a big price, but a tremendous blow was given to Fascism. Yet there is not a life lost, the responsibility for which I wouldn't place at the door of the National Government and without whose aid these atavistic bastards would have been swept into history long ago by the Spanish people themselves. And that places a big responsibility on the British people.
It is good to know that the feeling against Franco us rising in Britain and that the general opinion is that he is on the run. Everybody here has the same opinion. The morale of the people is great. We have had a quiet time lately and in the middle of it the surprise visit of Willie Gallacher.(14) He went through our trenches and those of the Americans and afterwards he addressed our boys just behind the line next to the graves of our comrades who are buried in that sector. It was an unforgettable experience. When he finished the comrades were filled with emotion and old Bill was moved as never before in his life.
His visit bucked up and strengthened us all. We felt our Party close behind us and the guarantee of new help and support. Our greatest help though is the conviction that we are winning. I must close now. Give my regards to all the comrades. Please don't get behind in my Trade Union subs. Ask Bill and Tamara [Rust] to drop me a line. I have written twice and received no reply.(15) Ask all comrades to keep writing to the boys, even if they get no reply immediately, as many letters go astray. A letter means a hell of a lot out here.
Let my mother know if you receive this, as she has evidently not received my others.
Good-bye and keep writing.
PS I saw Maurice Levine as I was hitch-hiking yesterday. He will be okay in a week.
5th May, 1937
Sorry I have been so long in answering your letter. Bill will tell you the reason. I have seen quite a few of the Cheetham comrades here and let them read your letter. They all wish to thank you for your good wishes. Cheetham Communist Party and YCL have every reason to be proud of their comrades.
…………lead flying around like hailstones. There were seven of us together and the parapet about 18 inches high, out of the seven two got badly wounded and two killed. Bob Ward (16) did one of the bravest things I know. We were in an absolute death trap and had to get out, one at a time, and the second comrade for out badly wounded. Bob rushed out, a matter of fifty yards from safety and brought him in; two minutes later the fourth man got wounded. Again Bob ran out and again brought him in safe. When I tell you that it was quite open ground and no shelter for fifty yards and their machine-guns trained on it by the Fascists, besides snipers using explosive bullets, it will give you a slight idea of the guts required to run out in face of heavy firing and bring in not once, but twice, wounded comrades, and that is the kind of man Bob Ward is……
Randolph Garrett (17)
GB Letter Five
Plaza Del Alleyana
6th June 37
Many thanks for your kind regards to myself and the wife. I suppose we must all take the plunge someday. Anyway it doesn’t seem that we will see enough of each other to get tired quickly heigho! [ I assume this is a reference to his short time with his wife, Eileen, CC.]
Yes I did hear the good news about the Manchester Boro [Borough] Party. It’s an augury of great things to come. I understand that the unity campaign in the Labour Party in Lancs is going great guns.
It seems that the financial crisis caused some money back there among the people ‘who matter’. Another thing which seems to be causing real worry among the people who really matter is the rise in the cost of living. It will give a big impetus to the wages movement.
Over here things are much better. Things had been going slow – too slow – but with the new government things are being tackled immediately. I am of the opinion that Franco will shortly be in a real war and he’ll wish himself bloody far out of it. The new government demands the adoption of all production and every effort to the speedy end of the war, atta boy!
Our lads here borne up tremendously under great burdens. Big battles and long periods in the trenches. Our people have certainly better morale than the Fascists. I understand the position behind their lines is acute. Franco has been feeding them on promises and it doesn’t require a very bad stomach to revolt and that.
He told them it was a dead sinch. First he would walk into Madrid. Then he said no, he’d wait until Madrid fell into his hands. Well Madrid didn’t swoon. So he said he never really wanted to walk into Madrid, he’d just cut the roads to the north and the south and encircle Madrid. Well he got chucked back where our Battalion was on the Jarama and when he ventured around Guadalajara with his Olive Oil fighters he forgot the Spaniards liked olive oil too, so he took a basinful there. A couple of days ago he took a belting on the Guadarrama and he won’t get Bilbao. He’ll be hauled up there with another army and in the meantime he is pressing to the colours all classes and I’ve seen them desert to us within 48 hours. Franco’s promises are wearing thin.
I see O’Duffy’s crew have gone back home leaving “7” dead in the field of ‘honour’. He complains a great deal about the ‘wet trenches’ and his big causality list of rhumatic and pulmonary diseases.
It’s easy to see that the men he brought to Spain to fight for ‘Religion’ hadn’t fought in their own country – for freedom and independence when they had a chance. The lads who fought on the hillsides for months on end didn’t complain that the hills and the trenches weren’t aired. Maybe they discovered tin Spain they the people who peddle religion are not generally the ones who practice it. Maybe Guernica helped to make up their minds.
Well ‘our’ Irishmen have been of different calibre. They have fought magnificently in the best traditions of the Irish struggle.
I am bucked about the news from home. The movement seems to be developing strength rapidly. It is heartening to know that here. Keep it up.
Many thanks for the cigs which arrived ok. Please give my many best wishes to your mother and Joe and all at home.
All the best to yourself,
GB Letter Six
27th June 1937
Please excuse the delay in answering your last letter, but really I have been very busy. Your letter was very heartening indeed and I showed it to as many comrades as I could in the line, and all of them were pleased at the activities reported. The reports of the recruitments and the great attendance at Springie's meeting were very well appreciated by all the boys here.(18)
The Coliseum meeting must have had a great effect in Manchester.(19) I saw a report in the Manchester Guardian. (By the way, could you get some comrade to put me on the mailing list of the Guardian so that I could get it regularly and the Weekly too. A comrade could post me his or hers if they would remember to post it in time.)
On the other hand I have been sending you and a number of comrades, copies of some of the journals we produce in the Brigades. I would like to know if you receive the Notre Combat, the one in English, Spanish and French is the organ of the 15th Brigade to which our Battalion is attached along with other Battalions of French, Spanish, etc. and Americans. Actually there are other nationalities but those are the main languages spoken in the 15th Brigade. That is not the whole of the press for our battalion - we have a bulletin (duplicated) published every morning in English in which we have the latest news translated from the Spanish and other press and occasional gleanings from the wireless. I say occasional because you know what the wireless is, it was made to try man.
We also have our Trench Wall Paper which features the life of our Battalion and is developing very well indeed. Actually some of the contributions are great, particularly the humorous ones which are bloody marvellous, yet have a sting in them. In the Battalion we also have a 'suggestion' box next to the 'wall paper' into which comrades can place their written ideas which are gratefully received so long as they don't ask for 'bacon and eggs'!
Apart from this we have the Volunteer for Liberty, which is the organ of the International Brigades as a whole and is produced in a number of languages, including English. I have been doing some work on this lately. Of course all their papers are in the process of developing but you can readily see that there is a vast field for expression, such as has never been seen in any other army outside of the Soviet Union.
Allied to this is the system of political delegates of the sections and the Commissars of the Companies, Battalions and Brigades with whom grievances can be raised and advice requested. There are regular meetings of the sections and of section delegates where questions of welfare and organisation are discussed. There are frequent meetings of section, company and Battalion military and political leaders, at which wider questions are discussed embracing the military life and organisation of the Battalion. This method is continued through the Brigade and throughout the Brigades as a whole.
I didn't intend to digress at such length but I wanted to explain the role of some of the papers you may receive from me, and I think some idea of the life of the Battalion would be interesting to the comrades back home.
Linked with all this is our social life, concerts, games and sports and canteen which goes on even in the line, when actual attacks are on. Just now the comrades are resting out of the line and the social life is developing fast.
"Smytchas" have been held with other Battalions and with the local Popular Front committee. We have held joint concerts and concerts within the Battalion, football matches and boxing tournaments. By the way, the boxing tournament was held in the local bull ring and during one of the more scientific contests when little blood flowed, one of our 'warriors' was horrified to overhear a young girl say to her friend that it was not as exciting as bull fighting. The next contest was a needle match between two strong armed merchants from the 'Sappers'. You should have heard the crowd then! I'd have been sorry for any poor bull what strolled in just at that time.(20)
The Spanish lads are great football players and our lads have all their work cut out when opposing them Young Lal Jordan played a great game the other day in a mixed team of English and Spanish lads from the Battalion. (21)
The Battalion is getting very close to the people in the District, winning their friendship as they did in the early days in the village where they trained. Already our comrades have volunteered to help in bringing in the harvest and the Popular Front Committee is considering how best to harness the men.
We have had the unfortunate experience of losing one more or our Manchester boys. Bob Ward was killed by a trench mortar at 10 o'clock on the night before the Battalion came out on rest. Another few seconds and he would have been under cover in his dugout. It was terribly depressing coming at such a time. A few seconds and he would have missed it. A few more hours and he would have been away with the rest of the boys. Everybody felt it keenly, as Bob had won the affection of al his comrades in his own inimitable manner. He was always devil-may-care, and he was the same here. But he was serious in his fighting. Only recently when I was joking with him, he said to me in a suddenly serious manner, that he was going to learn all he could about machine guns and that later he hoped to be an artillery man. He was very keen on his work in the machine gun company. Comrades have told me that he was the embodiment of coolness in the most difficult circumstances. That we can all understand who knew him. Even when he was hit suddenly, when nothing had been expected, he was the first to recover himself from the confusion and call for one of the comrades to bring a stretcher. He knew that he had been hit badly and he died on the way to hospital. One of the pieces had entered his lung and he died on the way to hospital. I had hoped that it would be a long time before I again had the distressing job of writing to you about any other of our boys being killed. Still I suppose that will go on while the National Government is allowed to continue its policy of support for Hitler and Franco. (22) I have sent home a photograph by Harry Pollitt of Bob and a number of the lads in the machine gun company. I hope that you will see to it that the Centre or somebody in conjunction with the Centre officially notify his people.
I think I wrote you that the other platting boys had arrived and were in the Battalion in good spirits. I had a letter from Wolfe, who is in training and he is very enthusiastic and anxious to come up to the Battalion. Maurice [Levine] is in good health and Bill Benson is now recovered from his wound. The other boys are all okay. Tommy Fanning who writes me that he is expecting to soon be out of bed was very pleased to receive a parcel from the Group.(23) And that reminds me, I still think that much more could be done in writing to the other comrades from the groups and individuals than has been. This should also be taken up with the [Young Communist] League.
Bill Rust wrote me that had the cheek to ramble in[to] the office and ask for money. I think that he is more fool than knave and he will probably be well rewarded for his foolishness in his return to his wife. She knew he was coming home. At the same time the other fellow was the prime mover in the desertion even though he may not have acted as badly back home.
I have read a good deal of the reception given in Lancashire and other places to the Basque kiddies and I can appreciate the vast amount of work which it has entailed for many comrades. I am sure that the savagery exercised by the Fascists on Viscaye has had its effect on many Catholics in Great Britain.
The exposure of the Manchester police and the Economic League has done a good job.(24) Unfortunately it all smells worse with the lid off. Please give my congratulations in the right quarters.
The new Government here is preparing for big things ahead. It has taken rapid steps to implement its programme. Recruiting is really being undertaken with the firmness and decision necessary. Already measures have been taken which are eliminating abuses in the rear. They are handling the Trotskyist POUM leaders in the way necessary in war. The Aragon front, where the POUM and the ILP were sleeping has at last awakened. The new Government even at that late hour did undertake practical steps to give help to the Basque people. A tremendous struggle has still to be fought here, although confidence is with the Government and the position of Bilbao has not shaken it. Although a great deal was hoped from the meeting of the intellectuals I am afraid a stiff fight will yet have to be waged in Britain of the Labour Movement is to be forced in to doing something practical.
Harry (Pollitt) was over here and everybody was bucked tremendously. I went with him around Madrid and he was impressed terrifically at the destruction caused by the Fascist onslaught. He swore that when he went back he would mobilise the Party as never before. He said that Eden ought to be made to see it.(25)
Well I reckon Manchester will pull its weight. I am letting the comrades know of the enormity of the work that lies ahead in order that all the comrades will pull their weight on the rope.
I will close now with my best wishes to yourself and all the comrades.
PS I got the Hugos Spanish. Many thanks. I omitted to tell you that Sam Wild who came out with Albert Parkes and Bert Maskey has been back from hospital some time. Sam was very badly wounded and fought very courageously indeed. It's a good job that he's a tough marine or he wouldn't have pulled through. He is working very hard now.
I hear that some comrades back home are telling relatives that comrades can go home when they like. This isn't so. After all it's an army and must have discipline. The time when comrades want to go might not always be the time when it is militarily possible to let them go on leave.
I am expecting that you may learn of Doran returning to England in the near future. He deserted some time ago. Up to that time he had shown himself to be a very efficient soldier, and I must say that I was terribly disappointed in his action. Particularly as he had a post of responsibility. Anyway, he left under very bad circumstances and should be watched carefully.
This is the last letter from him in this pamphlet. George Brown was wounded at Brunete and summarily shot by the Rebels on July 6th 1937.
Short comments by other volunteers
Comrade McGinley and myself hasten to express our deep regrets at the news we have just received of the death of George Brown. We were deeply shocked, I can tell you, and we would like this Salford comrade and I for you to give our condolences to comrade Mrs Brown. I can assure you that the other comrades here, English and American, feel his loss, no less than we ourselves who worked along with him in Lancashire in the working class struggle against poverty and for political freedom and democracy. We two comrades, owing to our early injuries, did not have the opportunity of serving with George at the front, but we know from comrades who arrived wounded at Murcia in a later period than ourselves, that George had become a popular figure noted for his courage and able leadership.
Well, comrades, there is one way we can avenge the death of our comrades; redouble our efforts for working class unity and ARMS for the Spanish Government.
Comrade McGinley and myself are looking forward when we arrive home to some hard work. Because we have finished the fight here does not mean that our physical injuries will prevent us from continuing the fight for democracy at home. Before closing this letter we would like to thank al workers who by their efforts have enabled us to receive medical treatment which is second to none, and for cigarettes, etc.
Tommy Fanning also on behalf of Comrade McGinley, Salford.
[McGinley, a member of Salford Labour Party, had been wounded in the foot. Fanning lost a leg in Spain.]
To the Comrades of the English Battalion – from Volunteer for Liberty
Comrades; it is not the most fitting that one man alone should write what he feels about the loss of our comrade. I have telegraphed to London for a biography of Comrade Brown, but so far it has not arrived. When it does it will be published in full.
George and I slept in the same room while he was stationed here in Madrid. I had never met him before, but w soon became good friends; those who have worked with him will know why. We used often to talk of political work. He always spoke humorously of his own work, but listening to his shrewd accounts and analyses, and feeling his sincerity and steady conviction, one could understand his great worth to the workers’ movement.
There was affectionate warmth in Comrade George Brown, combined with a hard and clear understanding that made him a splendid companion in work. Dry and mechanical formality had no place in our comrade, everything was living material, to be handled with sympathy and care. I never saw him treat a single problem as a mere matter of routine. He was always anxious to return to the comrades of the Battalion. I remember how Harry Pollitt, George and I rode down past the North Station in Madrid through the ruined outskirts of the city. That afternoon he told me again that he wanted to get back with you comrades. A day later he came excitedly to me, obviously very happy, and said he was indeed returning to you. We talked a long time on the stairs of this building, over an hour; he had a humorous remark about that also. The next day I was sent to Valencia. When I returned I heard of his death. Well, comrades, you knew him better than we did, but it was a very sad day for us.
The battle for liberty cannot be fought without losses. His was a very great loss. Comrade Lenin once said that for every Communist who falls a hundred will take his place. There will be, there must be, someone who will replace our comrade, because History has signalled us out for Victory. Nevertheless, we mourn him as a grand fighter and as a man. Whoever follows him will have a fine example.
I said that it seemed wrong to me that I should write about Comrade Brown, because he was the battalion’s comrade. But I knew him, I knew his great worth and his fine manliness and that is why I have written.
“I’ll be seeing you soon”, said George Brown, when he was seeing a bunch of us off in December of 1936.
About three weeks later great excitement prevailed amongst the Mancunians in the village where we were training – Manchester’s latest contribution to our Battalion had arrived in the shape of its District Organiser. We kept him busy telling us all the latest from Manchester, as if we’d been away for years.
When the Battalion moved to the front of Jarama, George, who had been attached to the Commissariat, took over his duties in Madrid.
The next time I saw him he was roaming round the trenches at Jarama. I’d just returned from hospital after getting over my first wounds, and I find out that George spends all his weekends off duty from the Commissariat in the Jarama trenches – just the type of relaxation an energetic comrade like George would indulge in.
In July, when we moved up for the first big offensive the Republican Government launched the battle of Brunete. I was disturbed in the middle of the night by a group of comrades shouting for rifles, gas masks and ammunition. I was serving as Battalion Armourer at the time and George was one of the group who wanted fixing up. While I was rigging them out, George told me he had asked to be allowed to join the Battalion as soldier. “After all, that’s what I came out for,” he said in reply to my bantering.
Midnight, 6th July, found George moving up with the Battalion towards its first objective, the town of Villaneuva de la Canada, a highly fortified position surrounded by trenches and well placed machine-gun nests. It was during the attacks on this town that George was killed. He died as he lived, in the vanguard of the fight against Fascism and reaction.
Mainly by Mick Jenkins, with some by CC. Some of MJs smaller notes are incorporated into the body of the letters inside [square brackets.]
1. Great Unity Meeting, held in the Free Trades Hall, Theatre Road and Gaiety Theatre, January 1937, with Harry Pollitt, Jimmy Maxton, Stafford Cripps and others. Back to the Text
2. The Busman's Punch, from Socialist Worker, 10 February 2007 Back to the Text
Back to the Text
Against a backdrop of mass unemployment and the recent memory of the defeat of the 1926 General Strike, trade union activists on London's buses set out to build a new rank and file organisation. Matt Perry tells their story
In 1932 the T&G transport union, headed by future government minister Ernest Bevin, failed to organise a fight after the General Omnibus Company London threatened to scrap its existing wage agreement and sack 300 workers.
Militants around the Communist Party (CP) at the Chelverton Road bus garage in Putney called a meeting of union delegates from 21 London bus garages.
The meeting, which was to form the basis of a new rank and file movement, forced the union to call a fleet-wide delegates meeting. Those delegates went on to reject Bevin's strategy and voted for a strategy of strike action instead.
By now the T&G's central bus committee, made up of elected representatives from each garage in the capital, had little option but to organise a strike ballot.
The show of hands produced a four to one vote for action. Bevin hurried back to management and secured a deal in which the wage cuts and redundancies were withdrawn.
With a big victory under its belt, the new rank and file body continued to meet and started to produce a new magazine called Busman's Punch. The magazine was edited by a CP full timer, Emile Burns, and was soon selling 30,000 copies.
Every union, then and now, had their own periodical to spread the views of the union's leadership to its membership. Editorial control rests firmly in the hands of the union bureaucracy and is generally unresponsive to the mood of the membership.
Certainly it is not the aim of these publications to develop the involvement, independence and initiative of the union's grassroots.
But Busman's Punch was not the typical union magazine. It was born out of the frustration of rank and file activists with the failure of their union's bureaucracy to seriously confront management and aimed to encourage independent initiative.
The new magazine acted as a bridge between activists who wanted to network with each other in order to go beyond what the union officials are willing to do.
The CP was to play a critical role in the development of the rank and file movement on the buses. At the beginning of 1932 it had just 12 members working on London buses.
Its participation in the rank and file movement meant that by the end of the year, that had risen to 40 and by 1935 it stood at 98.
In addition to Chelverton, there was a party cell at Cricklewood garage and a number of key individuals at Holloway, Edgware, Enfield and Willesden - where Bernard Sharkey, an ex-policemen sacked during the infamous 1919 police strike, worked.
In Busman's Punch, the CP's belief in the potential strength of the rank and file is reiterated time and again. In 1933, after Bevin's recommendation to accept a pay cut was defeated in a ballot, Busman's Punch wrote:
"As far as our organisation is concerned the [T&G] Executive Council and officers have received a lesson to which there is no parallel in bus history. It was a solid demonstration by the men that they are the union, that they pay the piper and will call the tune."
When industrial action did break out, the paper and its network of supporters was able to spread the action independently of the union officials.
Despite its opposition to the weak leadership of the T&G, Busman's Punch was keen to stress the importance of strengthening the union through recruitment and it worked to establish 100 percent membership in every workplace.
It also recognised the need to work with trade union officials whenever possible and to push for the election of left wing and rank and file candidates to union positions.
Indeed, rank and file candidates were able to win a number of key positions inside the union. One example is Bert Papworth, a leading figure associated with Busman's Punch, who was ultimately elected to the TUC general council.
In January 1933 - after the rank and file movement won control of the union's central bus committee - CP general secretary Harry Pollitt wrote in the magazine, Labour Monthly, about the success of the rank and file strategy:
"The experience of the London Busmen's rank and file movement should be carefully studied by militant workers in every industry. The determination of the mass of London's busmen was expressed through the setting up of a rank and file committee consisting of branch representatives who reported back to the branches and secured confirmation of the committee's decisions. Funds to carry out a propaganda campaign were raised through the branches - leaflets, pamphlets, and the Busman's Punch were sold through the branches.
"Speakers from the rank and file committees addressed the branches. And all this work was carried out by a committee drawing its authority from the garages and branches, who looked to it to lead the fight against the company independently of the trade union officials, but with the full force of the trade union branches and garages behind it."
In 1935 an unofficial strike broke out at Nunhead garage in south London. It spread rapidly and soon 5,000 bus workers were out on strike. The Daily Worker reported:
"At every bus stop stood young men. They gave out pamphlets entitled 'Bus Strike'. They shouted, 'Facts about the bus strike!'
"These were the Communists. At each place I went, I saw these workers mobilising at the bus stops giving out leaflets. It was the same all over London.
"The CP mobilised quickly - they played their part well as the vanguard of the army of the working class and they drew in many Londoners into that army that night."
Busman's Punch spearheaded a campaign to secure a seven hour working day and better conditions - issues that were taken up at a special delegate conference of London bus workers in December 1936.
Union leaders, including Bevin, understood that pressure was building from the grassroots for a showdown with London buses bosses but they were determined that it would be them, not the rank and file, that would control the coming fight. But management refused to negotiate with the union leaders and an official bus strike began in May 1937.
Bevin won acceptance from the leadership of the rank and file that the strike would not involve trams or the London Underground. But with those working, the bus strike was crippled from the start.
Bevin bided his time and then moved to stop the strike. He began by dismissing the bus workers' reps who were running the strike. He then ordered a return to work.
The resulting defeat saw a section of the rank and file movement move to form a breakaway union. The CP won a majority of rank and file activists away from this strategy, and because they had such influence, Bevin could not afford to purge them from the union completely.
In a trade off with T&G leaders, CP members maintained some of their union positions - though leading members were barred from union office for a time. But the price the CP paid for being allowed to stay in the union was the folding up of the rank and file movement and the closure of Busman's Punch.
Nevertheless, Busman's Punch had played a significant role in rebuilding trade union organisation in the difficult times of the 1930s. Shop stewards on the buses showed that even in conditions of mass unemployment, pockets of trade union strength could be established through rank and file organisation and action.
Busman's Punch inspired bus drivers all over the country and copycat tactics were adopted in strikes elsewhere in Britain. The magazine also went a long way to establishing the industrial credentials of the CP, which came to be seen by many working class activists as the best fighters in the workplace. In many ways Busman's Punch provides a model for rank and file papers today. Back to the Text
3 He was under attack by the implementation of the Black Circulars. Back to the Text
4 A brand of cigarettes. Back to the Text
5.. Eddie Frow - lifelong communist and founder of the Working Class Movement Library. It's site, http://www.wcml.org.uk/wcml/wcmlpast.htm, gives the following note, accessed 29/12/7:
Eddie was born on June 6th, 1906, the son of a tenant farmer of 18 acres, in the village of Harrington in Lincolnshire. He left school aged 14 and after a year at trade school commenced his working life, as an apprentice in the drawing office of an engineering firm. Later he became a toolmaker.
In 1924, aged 17 he joined the Communist Party, remaining a member until the day he died. He was 20 when he joined the General Strike in 1926. The engineers union had not been called out. It was a move of personal solidarity for which he lost his job. Eddie reckoned that over the following 20 years he lost 20 out of 21 jobs because of his union activity. Always a shop steward or convener, he served for 20 years on the National Committee of the AEU, standing down in 1961 when he was elected as the full time Secretary for the Manchester District. He was 23 when the stock market crash of 1929 destroyed the economy, and 27 before he worked again.
During those years he was an active member of the National Unemployed Worker's Movement, and chairman of the Salford branch. The scar on his nose was given to him by the police, in a temporary cell in Salford Town Hall. Eddie was one of the leaders of a march to the Town Hall. The police wouldn't let a deputation through to meet the council. They broke up the march and arrested the leaders. Eddie got a beating. They also gave him five months in prison. The scar stayed for life.
Walter Greenwood, a council worker at the time, wrote the novel _Love On The Dole_(1933) in which the "Battle of Bexley Square" is a climactic event. The character based on Eddie is described in the novel as "a finely featured young man...heaping invective upon all with whom he disassociated himself on the social scale".
Eddie was 47 when he met Ruth and began a relationship which lasted for over 40 years and produced among other virtues the WCML.
Eddie died on May 15th 1997, less than a month short of his 91st birthday. Of live and enquiring mind until the day of his demise, his lifelong commitment to the causes of human emancipation has a fine memorial in the continued development of the library he and Ruth founded.
6. League and YCLers refers to members of the Young Communist League, the CPGB youth organisation. Back to the Text
7 George Westfield, Liverpool volunteer. Killed on Aragon Front, October 1937. Back to the Text
8 Maurice Levine, Manchester Jewish volunteer. Later wrote a pamphlet of memoirs from Spain, From Cheetham to Cordoba Back to the Text
9 Sam Wild – was to become Commander of the Britsh batt; of the International Brigades. A 2nd generation Irish volunteer. Back to the Text
10 Manchester and Salford Communist Party Conference. Back to the Text
11. This is our city Back to the Text
12. Of those mentioned the following died in Spain.
Maurice Stott (1898-1937); KIA at Jarama, 12th Feb. 1937: Frank Whitehead (1912-1937); Shot by sniper at Jarama, 24th Feb. 1937: Fred Killick - KIA at Jarama, 12th Feb. 1937: Alec Armstrong (1909-1937): KIA at Jarama, 12th Feb. 1937: Norman Wilkinson; Listed as being KIA at Jarama, Feb. 1937: Fred Newbury (1900 - 1937); Wounded and died in hospital 20th Feb. 1937. WW1 veteran; Bob Goodman (KIA 12th Feb. 1937); Arthur Porter was in Spain for only 8 days when he was KIA on Feb. 12th. Clem Beckett was a well known speedway racer. He had driven an ambulance out from Britain to Spain. Served in the No 1 Company at Jarama. Arrived in Dec. 1936, KIA 12th Feb. 1937. Back to the Text
13.Jim Carmody, the IBMT researcher, sent me the following note on Doran:
“He mentions this man Patrick'Pat'.Doran, a Company Commander. He seems to have been originally from Manchester, though he gave a London Address when enlisting. He was a World War 1 vet/RAF?
I know he allegedly became involved with some Anarchists in Madrid, who helped him and others to escape, via the Scottish Ambulance Unit to Valencia, and to board a British ship carrying refugees to France.
According to GB he deserted around early/Mid June, 1937. GB also states he was not in the CP, but in an IB List it has him as CPGB, but it has been crossed out.”
JC email to CC, 18th July 2008.
Back to the Text
14. The Wikipedia refernce for him says: William Gallacher (popularly known as Willie Gallacher, born December 25, 1881-died August 12, 1965) was a Scottish trade unionist, activist and communist. He was one of the leading figures of the Shop Stewards' Movement in wartime Glasgow and a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. He served two terms as a Communist Member of Parliament. Back to the Text
15. Bill Rust is best known as the Editor of the Daily Worker and an International Brigade Commissar from November 1937 to June 1938. He later wrote the book on British volunteers, Britons in Spain. Back to the Text
16. Bob Ward was killed later in Jarama, see GB, 27th June. He was a YCL member. Back to the Text
17. Randy Garret was an older volunteer. He saw active service with the British Battalion and on return home was engaged in propaganda work. Back to the Text
18 A meeting addressed by D F Springhall. The Communist History Network Newsletter has the following note: http://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/chnn/CHNN05ISS.html Accessed 30th Dec. 2007.
"Douglas Frank ("Dave" or "Springie") Springhall was born in Kensal Green, West London on 28th March 1901, the son of an insurance agent. He was educated at elementary school and in 1916 enrolled in the Royal Navy for a twelve-year stint. In 1920, while still a naval rating, he became involved in the revolutionary movement, writing an article for Sylvia Pankhurst's Workers' Dreadnought entitled "Discontent on the Lower Deck". In November 1920 Springhall was discharged from the Navy for "associating with extremists", although he managed to avoid a court-martial (he was dismissed "services no longer required").
He was soon an active member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and became the Thames Valley Organiser of the National Unemployed Workers' Committee Movement. He led delegations of the unemployed to the Richmond and neighbouring Boards of Guardians and was involved in the local trade union movement, sitting as a delegate on the Richmond Trades and Labour Council. On several occasions he was elected to the Richmond Board of Guardians as the candidate of the unemployed. He also stood for Richmond Town Council, first as a Labour candidate and then as a Communist. For a time he worked in the building industry but in 1924 he was victimised for his trade union activities.
In 1922 the CP directed Springhall into work in the Young Communist League. At the YCL's second National Congress in 1923 he was elected to its Executive Committee, which put him in charge of the Communist Children's Sections. In 1924 he visited Russia as a delegate to the Fifth Congress of the Communist International and the Fourth Congress of the Young Communist International. He returned to Russia in 1926 when he was among the British delegates to Plenum meetings of the Comintern and YCI. Later the same year he became Acting Secretary of the YCL and was twice gaoled for his activities in the General Strike and its aftermath.
During 1926-8 Springhall worked as an assistant in the central Organisation Department of the CPGB. Then in 1928 he was sent to Russia to study at the International Lenin School, the Comintern's "university" in Moscow. According to some sources, in 1929 Springhall was one of the "Young Turks" who overturned the CPGB leadership for their reluctance to follow the Comintern's ultra-left "New Line".
Springhall returned to Britain in 1931 and became the Secretary of the CP's North East District until 1932. He was then elected to the Party's Central Committee and became the full-time Secretary of the London District; he was also elected to the Political Bureau and put in charge of the CP's central Organisation Department. In 1935 he was on the British delegation to the Seventh Comintern Congress.
Springhall is said to have played a prominent role in removing Trotskyists from the Party during the 1930s. One Trotskyist, Steve Dowdall, recalled that Springhall told him "I'm surprised at you, Steve … I'd sooner be shot than expelled from the Party".
In December 1936 Springhall was one of the first British Communists sent out to organise the British Battalion of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. He served as Political Commissar of the British Battalion and then Assistant Commissar of the 15th Brigade. In February 1937 he was shot during the battle of Jarama but, miraculously, the bullet passed through his cheeks and caused only a flesh wound. It has been alleged that while in Spain he was working for Soviet Military Intelligence (the GRU). Back to the Text
19 This was a Memorial Meeting to the International Brigade volunteers from Manchester and district killed at Jarama, February 1937. It was held on May 2nd. Back to the Text
20 We know that among the Irish volunteers that at least Bob Hilliard, who'd actually gone to the 1924 Olympics representing Ireland, took part in some of these contests in Spain. Back to the Text
21 Leonard (Lal) Jordan was a YCL/CPGB member from Hulme in Manchester who is thought to have arrived in Spain in March 197, being killed at Brunete in July. Back to the Text
22 While GB is giving an eye witness report here, one expert on the SCW, Richard Baxwell has recorded that Ward died on June 14th in Colmenar Hospital of wounds sustained at Jarama on the night of 11-12.June,1937. Back to the Text
23 Fanning was wounded at Jarama, leg later amputated, leading to his repatriation during 1937. Back to the Text
24 Wikipedia gives the following note: Accessed 31/12/7
The Economic League was an organisation in the United Kingdom dedicated to opposing what they saw as subversion and action against free enterprise.
The organisation was founded in 1919 by a group of industrialists and then MP William Reginald Hall under the name of National Propaganda. Its chief function was to promote the point of view of industrialists and businessmen. It worked closely with the British Empire Union.
They later worked with MI5 to blacklist workers who they suspected of association with certain left wing groups, ranging from the Communist Party of Great Britain to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
The League became more visible in the 1980s, as the press investigated its activities, and questions were asked in Parliament in a campaign against the League, led by Maria Fyfe. It was wound up in 1993, with two of its former directors forming the similar organisation CAPRiM shortly afterwards.
The Guardian, 9th Sept. 2000 gave this detail: The Economic League was set up in 1919 to fight Bolshevism and intervened in industrial relations until wound up in 1994 after complaints of it holding inaccurate information on individuals; under data law it would have had to open its files. It had 40 current Labour MPs on its files, including the chancellor, Gordon Brown, and prominent trade unionists, as well as journalists and thousands of shopfloor workers. Back to the Text
25 The British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden. Back to the Text