Celebrating the life of Jack Jones

March 15, 2010

[From Manus O’Riordan, through the ALBA Listserv]

On March 13th the International Brigade Memorial Trust held a celebration in London’s Imperial War Museum of the life of its late President, Jack Jones [1913-2009]. The following address was made by Manus O’Riordan:

It is, indeed, a great honour for us children of brigadistas to share with International Brigade veterans Sam Lesser [95 next week, March 18th] and Jack Edwards [96] in this celebration of the life of Jack Jones. It is all the more so for myself, since the last overseas journey undertaken by Jack James Larkin Jones was to Dublin in January of last year, to celebrate the centenary of the foundation of my own Irish union – the ITGWU, now SIPTU – by Jack’s fellow Liverpudlian and namesake, Big Jim Larkin.

Those who have viewed “Memories of a Future”, the documentary on the IBMT’s commemorative re-crossing of the Pyrenees in 2006, will have seen Jack’s identification with Ireland’s struggle for independence further exemplified as he joined with my wife Annette in singing “Kevin Barry”, a song that he himself had especially requested from her. Indeed, his son Mick recalls from his childhood years how Jack used to sing “Kevin Barry” to both Jack Jnr. and himself – as a lullaby!

In “Union Man” Jack wrote of how the writings of James Connolly had been among the formative influences of his youth. I also recall, when I brought both Mick and himself to visit Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol in 2003, how moved Jack was on coming to the exact spot in that grim prison yard where the wounded Connolly, strapped to a chair, had been executed by British imperialism after the Easter Rising of 1916. [Seewww.atholbooks.org/connolly_america.pdf for “Connolly in America”, my 1971 thesis for the University of New Hampshire]

“We are proud of the British Battalion”, is that line from “The Valley of Jarama” which we sing out with such justifiable pride at the close of IBMT commemorative ceremonies. Here today, in this Imperial War Museum, it is important to recall that the British Battalion also stood in the best anti-imperialist traditions of the Labour movement. On the eve of the 1938 battle of the Ebro, British and Irish International Brigade volunteers – including  IBMT members’ relatives like Sam Wild [Battalion Commander], George Green [who would be killed in action], Frank West [who would be captured and imprisoned in San Pedro concentration camp], James Jump, John Langstaff, Edwin Greening, together with my own father Michael O’Riordan and Jack Jones [both of whom would be wounded on Hill 481] – were particularly honoured to be associated with India’s struggle for independence, as they  received a solidarity visit to that Ebro front from the Indian National Congress leader, Pandit Nehru, accompanied by his daughter, Indira – a future Prime Minister like her father.

The British Battalion’s anti-imperialism was even more strongly affirmed by its adoption, as one of its marching anthems throughout the course of the Spanish Anti-fascist War, of James Connolly’s own “Rebel Song”. At the IBMT Pyrenees commemoration ceremonies in the Figueras fortress of Castell de Sant Ferran, there were three International Brigade veterans present: the late Bob Doyle of Dublin and the late Jack Jones, a Liverpool Club supporter, accompanied by his lifelong comrade and friend from youth – notwithstanding the fact that he’s an Everton supporter! – this veteran whom, to the end of his days, Jack Jones both addressed and referred to as Young Jackie Edwards, although his senior by only one year! .  And in that Catalan fortress, on Easter Sunday 2006, there could be heard, loud and clear, the voices of both of those Liverpudlian brigadista Jacks, as they heartily joined with me in singing  this song by James Connolly:

Then we’ll sing a rebel song

As we proudly march along

to end the age-old tyranny

that makes for human tears.

And our march is nearer done

with each setting of the sun

and the tyrant’s might is passing

with the passing of the years!

[See www.atholbooks.org/jackjones_MI5.pdf for my dossier on the British intelligence smear campaign against Jack Jones]

Manus O’Riordan