Friday, June 04, 2010

Secret History

I grew up imbibing some of the myths that surrounded the Jarrow March, so it came as a surprise to read Michael Burleigh's book review in the Speccie of The Last Dance by Denys Blakeway.

Blakeway is fair-minded and has a keen eye for telling detail, no more evident than in his chapter on the Jarrow marchers, where he repeatedly reminds us that these unemployed Tynesiders were supported by The Spectator, as well as quartered and provisioned by Conservative local councils, outraged by the mean-spiritedness of some like Sir Walter Runciman who had vetoed a modern steel works to supersede the defunct shipyard. A Labour party that feared being tainted with Communism ostentatiously ignored the marchers. That the poor fellows (half of them war veterans) needed support was evident when one removed the ham from a sandwich in order to post it home to a family that had not eaten meat in six weeks. In Sheffield, a Tory agent bade them farewell saying:

We are told you will not be received by the Powers-That-Be. To the devil with that. Your march is a good thing, in my opinion, and whether my head office likes it or not, I don’t care.

Another Tory who comes out well from Blakeway’s account — although he detested fellow clerics who jumped on the Jarrow bandwagon — was Hensley Henson, Bishop of Durham, who would become Churchill’s favourite wartime clergyman. At a time when plenty of fashionable upper-class folk were eager to trade anti-Semitic badinage with their Nazi friends, notably the bishop’s Durham neighbour Charley Londonderry and his ghastly wife Edie, Henson got the measure of the Nazis early on, aiding Jewish refugees and urging a boycott of Germany’s Aryanised universities.

Not ideas one is likely to come across through the usual conduits. Tories supporting hunger marchers while socialists stand by and clergymen opposing Nazis. Who'd a thunk it?

That's on my reading list for the summer.


Anonymous 1569 Rising said...

Ah., The myths of history.
The Labour Party, both nationally and locally were deeply opposed to the March. At the time, the Communist - organised Unemployed Workers Movement were leading "Hunger Marches" all over the country, and Labour were paranoid about being identified with the Communist Party.

Ellen Wilkinson, the MP for Jarrow had a difficult role to play. She made about 4 flying visits to the marchers on their way south, and was conveniently absent from the House of Commons when the Marchers' petition was handed in, by, incidentally, the Tory MP for Newcastle North.

My own Great Grandfather was for many years an official of the Durham Miners' Union, and a lifelong Tory!

7:33 PM  

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