LETTERS FROM JARROW (3) – Who Were the Marchers ?

‘We are fighting the Party of the Rich, the Party of the powerful, the Party of big business, the Party that controls the industries, the cartels and the Press. These are our enemies’….(Red Ellen Wilkinson, Jarrow MP 1935-47)

In 2016 I made a film to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Jarrow Crusade. (link below) The film highlights the importance of the Crusade within the town, and opened with a powerful speech by Jarrow MP, Ellen Wilkinson.

‘As I marched down that road with those men, all of whom I knew well, as I marched with them hour after hour, just talking, that I began to understand something of what it meant, day after day after day, to get up and not know what you were going to do, never having a copper in your pocket’.

Who Were the Marchers featured interviews with relatives of the marchers and those involved with an education project which included Historian Matt Perry, author of Jarrow Cusade: Protest & Legend, and Red Ellen Wilkinson MP…

We might think that everyone in the North East of England knows about the Jarrow Crusade. Two hundred unemployed men marched 300 miles to London in October 1936 against the plight their town found itself in. It is rightly a source of local pride and a symbol of the fight of ordinary people for justice. We cannot assume that everyone does know about it’.  

The schools project also featured Jarrow playwright, Tom Kelly ‘It’s really important that the children today know something about what it meant to Jarrow to walk to London, and why. Through creative writing the children write what it would be like if your Dad was leaving for the Crusade and how you’d feel’.

Also working with the school children was Communities Librarian Catrin Galt ‘We’re looking at the 1911 Census to find out where the Crusaders lived and their family backgrounds. How many people lived in the house and how many rooms there were, so you build up a picture of who the marchers were and what Jarrow was like’.

The marchers relatives also contributed to the film, Iris Walls had two members of her family on the march… ‘They were doing it for a cause and very brave for doing so. They weren’t asking for anything free they wanted paid employment to feed their families’.

Joan Lewis added…‘My grandfather was on the march. We were all very proud, cos they went on this march just for the right to have a decent job. Yes, very proud of him and the 200 men that went’.

What did the march achieve ? This report was in The Shields Gazette, November 1936…

Laughter, cheers, sobs and screams of fainting women when the town welcomed home the 200 marchers. Miss Wilkinson near being trampled, men seized her hands, women smothered her with kisses, children hugged her.

‘This march has put Jarrow on the map, do not think this is the end. It is only the beginning.

The beginning of the fight for our right to work. This is a great night for Jarrow’.

Next day the Unemployment Assistance Board reduced the marchers payments because they had not been available for work.

Link to ‘Who Were the Marchers ?’ (11mins, 2016): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIi3pAEECfs

Gary Alikivi  May 2020