Evelyn Jones (née Taylor)
Born in Northwich, Cheshire, Evelyn Mary Taylor went to the local school in Knutsford until she was l4. Among her earliest jobs was for the National Council of Labour Colleges, where she first met Jack Jones, who was to eventually become leader of the Transport and General Workers Union and would also be her second husband. (Evelyn and Jack are pictured left at the time of their marriage.)
She joined the Communist Party in possibly 1931 and was involved in the mass trespass at Kinder Scout in 1932, which would generated an eventually successful “right to roam”. Then she worked in a number of engineering factories in Manchester. After she was fired from Ferguson and Pailins for union activity, a strike by the National Society of Brass and Metal Mechanics won her reinstatement. Her commitment to anti-fascist activity was total. Oswald Mosley even took a private prosecution against Evelyn for leading a protest at his meeting in the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1933. Fined £25, she refused to pay and was jailed in Strangeways.
In early 1936, Evelyn went to Moscow to work for Abramoff (Jacob Miron), the deputy head of the Finance Department at the Comintern. She carried messages and material aid to the clandestine Communist Parties and anti-fascist organisations of Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Italy. Although this work gives a new ring to the oft-repeated jibe of “Moscow gold”, it sounds more banal than it actually was. The Comintern was prone to using women, and sometimes seafarers, especially if they had a British passport, since there was initially less suspicion directed at such persons. Increasingly, this came not to be the case and being a Comintern courier meant assuming great personal risk, especially after the war began in Spain.
Evelyn was assigned back to Britain when her husband and fellow Communist, George Browne (see separate entry), joined the International Brigades; he was susequently killed. In October 1938, Evelyn and Jack Jones, who had been Browne’s close friend, married. Jack had himself survived after being seriously wounded in Spain himself. Soon he was appointed a full-time officer of the TGWU in Coventry and the couple moved there.
During the Second World War, when their first son, Jack, was a baby, Evelyn worked on aero-engine production in Coventry and became a shop steward and secretary of a union branch with 2,000 members. In November 1940, she and her family lost their home in the bombing of the city. At some point during the very early stages of Jack’s career, possibly in the phoney war period, Evelyn allowed her formal Party membership to lapse but not the bulk of her core beliefs. She is known to have been at the centre of the alliance between left Labour people and Communists in Coventry munitions materiel factories in the war period.
She did not enter the Labour Party in a blaze of public hostility to the Communist Party but permitted a sort of evolution towards the local Labour Party, not difficult in the political conditions of early 1940s Coventry; Labour’s local right wing thought all too many of its councillors were virtually Communists anyway!
Like many in Coventry’s post-war Labour Party, Evelyn was not put off attending the 1948 Paris peace conference by the atmosphere of stern disapproval of both the British and American governments. From here on, she was often in contact with Paul Robeson, one of the most active campaigners for peace during the cold war. By the time of the Cold War, Evelyn was a Labour Party ward secretary and, in the late 1950s, a CND secretary taking part in the Aldermaston marches.
In 1963, having first been appointed to a Midlands role in his union, Jack became an Assistant General Secretary of the T&G, based in London. The couple exchanged their council house in Coventry for a council flat in Ruskin Park House, Camberwell, south-east London. Soon afterwards, Evelyn was heavily involved in the Dulwich Labour Party. She became a justice of the peace and a juvenile court magistrate, although she was later removed from the Bench by Lord Hailsham, when he was Lord Chancellor. She was a strong campaigner for left policies in her constituency, even trying to get the local MP, Sam Silkin, at one-time the Attorney General, deselected.
Despite the relatively brief (given her life span) period of Communist Party membership, of a decade or a decade and a half – it is not entirely clear, she never forgot the commitment of her heady days in the 1930s. When, in 1990, she went with Jack to the world congress of the International Transport Workers Federation in Florence, she could be heard casually commenting to one and all that she had not been there since the time of Mussolini, when she was taking messages from the Comintern to the underground!
Evelyn Jones died at the age of 85 early in 1999.
Source: Guardian 5 January 1999 and other sources.