Geordie Dickie (Jack Brent)
George (Geordie) Dickie was born in 1912 and grew up in Whithorn in the county of Dumfries and Galloway. His was an especially poor family and he was largely self-educated, having left school at 13 to work as a butcher’s assistant.
Under the name Jack Brent, fought in the International Brigades in Spain against the fascist forces of General Franco, and was wounded at the battle of Jarama in 1937.
Despite crippling pain, due to his wounds, he went on to become national secretary of the International Brigade Association in which capacity he was much engaged in assisting Brigaders incarcerated across Europe in the years following the end of the civil war. He was a prominent member of the Communist Party in Chalk Farm, London, where he was involved in campaigns to permit Londoners to gain access to the Underground as shelter during the blitz. Jack Jones, who met Brent a few times after his return, has recalled: The man I met was full of good spirit, a very friendly person, but he was suffering from the effect of wounds that were long-lasting. He returned to his home town after the war and died, aged only 39, in 1951. A memorial was unveiled to him in his home town in 2006, not without some local controversy.
See 29 May 2005 Sunday Herald; Morning Star 27th February 2006
Sunday Herald article follows:
Geordie Dickie, who grew up in Whithorn and later, under the name Jack Brent, fought in the International Brigades against the fascist forces of General Franco, and was wounded at the battle of Jarama in 1937. Despite crippling pain due to his wounds, he went on to become national secretary of the International Brigade Association and a prominent member of the Communist Party of Great Britain before returning to his home town to die, aged 39.
Many in Whithorn are uneasy about what they see as his dubious legacy, however, and have signed a petition in objection to plans to erect a plaque to Dickie. Despite their efforts, a planning application has just been approved for a simple, white metal plaque, yet the recriminations in the town show no signs of dying down.
“This has caused an awful row here. There’s a lot of ill feeling,” said William Lawrie, who resigned from the community council over the issue. He says several others did the same. Lawrie, who is retired, collected signatures for the petition . He is worried the building on which the plaque is to be hung is near to Whithorn Priory, while “the man was a communist” and so anti-religion.“Plus he was a deserter, plus he went to fight in Spain against the fascists. Feelings are very, very high.”
James Graham, another opponent, said local residents believed the fallen of both world wars should get a plaque ahead of Dickie. “If it was a question of somebody of worth and if he had been a hero, fair enough, but he did nothing for Whithorn and nothing for Great Britain. He went away to fight for the communists in Spain. He’s hardly a role model.”
That’s not the view of the Whithorn Business Association, which has proposed the plaque as the first of a series highlighting the numerous claims to fame of which the Machars town can boast. Association member Julia Muir Watt, who owns the building on which the plaque is to be erected – where Dickie worked for two years as a butcher’s assistant – is bemused by the opposition.“ He grew up in incredible poverty; he went to Spain, educated himself extraordinarily well even though he left school at 13; he seems to me a hero rather than someone to be ashamed of. It seems odd this is not someone they want to celebrate.”
Dickie’s nephew John, who is compiling a book on his uncle’s life, pointed out he was already commemorated on the Canadian memorial to the International Brigades in Ottawa.John Dickie, an alderman in Northampton, said: “History is always about what’s happening at a specific time . What Geordie did was in the context of the rise of fascism in the 1930s. I think his response was that of an independent, thoughtful, working-class man who did something outstandingly brave.”
Jack Jones, the former T&GWU general secretary who fought in the Spanish civil war and is now president of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, said he met Brent a few times after the war.“The man I met was full of good spirit, a very friendly person, but he was suffering from the effect of wounds that were long-lasting. I’m sorry to hear there seems to be such controversy over this.“There’re many such plaques all over the country, mainly to the International Brigade itself. There were volunteers from all walks of life and all parts of the UK and all parts of the world. They deserve tribute.”
Alistair Reid, poet and New Yorker staffer, said he had first come across Brent in a picture postcard which contained some details of his life. “As soon as I saw that postcard, I thought, ‘Boy, this is Whithorn’s most distinguished son.’ He went further than anybody in Whithorn ever dreamed of going.”
29 May 2005 Sunday Herald