Lou Kenton, the son of Jewish immigrants, was born in Stepney in 1908. He was the first of nine children to be born in Britain, who shared a three-room flat in Stepney, east London. His father, a tailor, died of TB. After leaving school at 14, Kenton got a job in a paper factory. "My mother wanted me to work in a shop but I hated it."
It was the rise of Oswald Mosley that led him to the Communist Party in 1929. "Jews were constantly being attacked. On my first day at the factory, I was involved in seven fights. I reacted very badly to being called a Jew bastard."
He was heavily involved in the campaign against Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists in the East End of London. One evening, Kenton and his first wife, an Austrian nurse who fled in 1933, attended an anti-fascist meeting. "We were so inspired that we walked all night talking about it and having a coffee in every place we stopped. We got to a coffee shop at about four in the morning and we looked at each other and said: 'We've got to go.".
His wife headed to Spain a few weeks later; Kenton followed as soon as he could, leaving Stepney in early 1937. A large crowd turned out to bid him farewell. His mother, he says, had guessed he would go. "Being of the left, she was proud but when she said 'Are you going?' she burst into tears and I did a wicked thing – I said: 'If you're going to cry every time, I won't come and say goodbye.' "
Kenton joined the International Brigades at Albacete. From early 1937 to the autumn of 1938, Kenton drove an ambulance between hospitals and the front lines, and distributed medical supplies around the country on his motorbike. Towards the end of 1938, he went back to London to raise money for a new ambulance, but by the time the cash had been found, the war was turning and the republicans were in retreat.
He was asked to take a lorry and supplies back to Spain, just as the bulk of the volunteers were heading home, making his way against the tide of refugees to Gerona, where the republican government was holding its last meeting before exile. Several thousand children had been evacuated to London from the Basque country where the fighting was fiercest. With Franco in power, Britain agreed to send back those children whose parents were still alive. Kenton drove the first group to the Spanish border to hand them over.
Kenton met his second wife, Rafa, through the anti-fascist movement after the civil war and remained in the Communist Party until the Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968. He was a Labour Party member thereafter.
Be the first to comment