Thursday, 23 September 2010


'A louse is a louse and a bomb is a bomb, even though what you are fighting for happens to be just.' from George Orwell's essay 'Looking Back on the Spanish War' written in the Autumn of 1942.

Last night, Charles Jepson of the National Clarion Cycling Club 1895 welcomed the recent decision of Tameside Council to award a blue plaque to James Keogh, an international brigade volunteer, who died in action in the Spanish Civil War in March 1938 in a confrontation in northern Spain with Italian troops. Mr Jepson was speaking to a group of local people at the Tameside Local Studies & Archives Centre on Old Street, Ashton-u-Lyne on 'Tameside People who served in the Spanish Civil War'. The event was organised by local archivist Alice Lock. Present at the talk were officers from Tameside Trade Union Council and Louise Atkinson, the Tameside Arts & Events Manager.

Charles Jepson spoke of the courage of young James Keogh, who lived on Wellington Street, Ashton, and the other young men from the Tameside area, who served in Spain fighting for what they saw as freedom and democracy. His younger sister, Claire Jackson, still lives in Stalybridge. Another man from Dukinfield, Albert Godwin, who served with James in Spain was captured by the enemy and is believed to have been forced, at one stage, to dig his own grave: in the end Albert and the others who went from Tameside survived the war. No grave nor James Keogh's remains, have ever been found, despite a visit by James's nephew, Mike Harrison, a couple of years ago.

Louise Atkinson of the Tameside Arts & Events Unit, has written that she 'anticipate(s) the plaque (to James Keogh) will be unveiled around Autumn/Winter 2011' and that the plaque will 'include reference to “all other volunteers” from the area that also fought in the Spanish Civil War'. At the last meeting of Tameside TUC, that nominated James for the blue plaque two years ago, the Council's decision was welcomed.

Mr Jepson's talk was a workmanlike and well balanced account of the Civil War. In the end, he echoed George Orwell assessment in his essay 'Looking Back on the Spanish War' that: 'The outcome of the Spanish war was settled in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin – at any rate not in Spain' and that General Franco's forces 'won because they were stronger; they had modern arms and the others hadn't.' Spain in 1936, was one of only three democracies remaining in western Europe – Britain and France being the other two, and it had a legitimate right to international support. James Keogh and the others who fought in Spain, including George Orwell, understood this. Most people in this country, including in the trade union and Labour movement, choose to ignore this preferring a policy of appeasement and non-intervention, and Tory critics of Germany, like Winston Churchill and Harold Nicholson, were still in the political wilderness. Only after Munich did public opinion change on this.

Buy Northern Voices12 price £1.50, out next month, from certain select Ashton and Tameside newsagents & in the Local Studies Archive at Ashton Library, for more on James Keogh and other local heroes of the Spanish Civil War.

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