Monday, November 14, 2011

Willesden - Spanish Civil War Heroes

Willesden welcomes back its heroes

March 1939

Charlie Pottins

Brent Trades Union Council in north-west London has invited Dave Chapple, from Bridgwater, to come and speak to us about Kilburn-born Howard Andrews, who died aged 101 in Taunton in May this year. A lifelong trade unionist and socialist, Howard - known to friends as 'Andy' - was one of the first to go from Willesden area (now part of Brent) to help the fight against fascism in Spain. He served in a frontline medical unit.

Hearing that Dave was interviewing and writing about Andy, someone anonymously sent him a photocopy of a little programme produced for the event which Willesden Borough Labour Party, Trades Council, and Spanish Aid Committee held in Pound Lane School on Saturday, March 18, 1939. to welcome home local members of the British Battalion in the International Brigade.

Howard is listed as Keith Andrews - he had used his brother's name - and there were also George Cornwallis, John Ducksbury, Morgan Havard, Harold Horne, Charlie Hunt, J.Russel, Alec Unthank, Danny Doyle and A.Moulton - who was to reply on the Brigaders' behalf to the welcome from deputy mayor Alderrman WH Ryde, in the chair.

The Hendon Left Singers were to perform, and also billed were MP Sydney Silverman, nurse Lillian Urmston, and Maurice Orbach, then a London County Councillor, later MP for Willesden East.

The event was to finish with the Spanish national anthem and the Internationale.

The programme also had a roll of honour, remembering Ben Murray, trade unionist, killed on the Aragon front; Sam Pearson, a Cambridge graduate, mentioned in despatches, who fell on the Ebro; John Unthank, killed in the battle of Jarama; John Stevens, a young trade unionist captured by Moorish troops at Jarama and shot; and Robert Blair, also mentioned in dispatches, whose fate was not known since he had been cut off behind enemy lines on the Aragon front.

Those were desperate times, and they were courageous men, and whatever we might think of the kind of political leadership to whose banner they were tied, we can only hope that a fraction of their spirit lives on, especially in these days of economic crisis and fascism again rearing its head.



Robert "Bob" Cooper Blair killed April 1938 Gandesa

James Jones communist party member from Harrow (and Aberaman) Killed Ebro July 1938

William Francis Durston Wembley killed September 1938 Sierra Caballs

Sam Pearson (probably Henry C H Pearson Communist Party member and Cambridge student killed July 1938 Ebro)

John Unthank Middlesborough communist party member killed Jarama February 1937

John Stevens, an engineer and communist party member killed Jarama February 1937 shot while prisoner

Ben Murray

W.H.McCullough, Workers’ Republic May 1938
By the death of Ben Murray, killed in Spain in defence of Democracy, the Communist Party of Ireland and the working class of Belfast, have lost one if its best fighters. 

Ben, a native of Armagh, came to our Movement in 1934. Prior to that he had been for a number of years in Canada and had soldiered in a crack Canadian Cavalry Regiment during the Great War. He was a gifted speaker and was always sure of an attentive audience when speaking at Custom House steps or elsewhere in Belfast on behalf of the Communist Party of the unemployed. 

As a salesman of Party literature, Ben had no rival. He readily recognised that this form of propaganda was easily the most effective and his enthusiasm for this type of work was simply terrific. He did not simply talk about it but spent hours and days going from door to door on the Shankill and Falls Roads, canvassing and selling the 'Irish Workers Voice', the 'Daily Worker'. and other Left papers. The results he obtained were a sure indication of the enthusiasm he put into his work as, where previously comrades on this class of work thought they were doing well when they sold a few dozen copes, Ben was selling in numbers of 20 dozen. 

Unfortunately the program of 1935 interfered with this class of work and Ben began to get restless at the restricted activity and he asked permission of the Party in Belfast, to go to England. He was a big loss to our Party but a very big gain to the British Party as his work there on behalf of the Daily Worker proved. 

I had not known that Ben had gone to Spain until one day I read in the Daily Worker of three members of the International brigade planting a flag in 'no man's' land to commemorate the anniversary of the Spanish Republic and one of them was Ben Murray.
Ben is dead and I believe that he would not have wished to die any other way. He once informed me in private conversation that his life did not really commence until he joined the Communist Party and that he had an interest now that was worth living and dying for.

James Jones communist party member from Harrow (and Aberaman) Killed Ebro July 1938

William Francis Durston - Wembley killed September 1938 Ebro