Evelyn Taylor Jones 1913 - 1998
Although Evelyn and I were not to meet until 1988, I had known her husband Jack, since 1981. As a young trade union research officer I had greatly admired TGWU General Secretary, Jack Jones, as one of Britain’s most outstanding labour leaders.
But it was another connection, a Spanish one, which cemented our friendship and extended it to embrace Evelyn. For both Jack and my father, Michael O’Riordan, were anti-fascists who had fought side-by-side and been wounded in the same battle on the Ebro front — as the Spanish Republic launched its final offensive in 1938.
And so it was that, fifty years after that battle, in October 1988, I met Evelyn for the first time in Barcelona when veterans and their families gathered for the unveiling of the impressive ‘David and Goliath’ monument in honour of the International Brigades.
She was a very striking woman in both speech and bearing and I have many warm memories of getting to know her over that extended weekend.
There is however one particularly vivid image which constantly recurs. It is set in a bar across the street from Catatonia's Generalitat, as Evelyn joined with Dublin veteran, Maurice Levitas, in spontaneously declaiming the lyrics of Robert Byrne’s great anthem for democracy, A Man’s A Man For A’ That! followed by several verses of The West’s Awake.
Born in Cheshire on July 30, 1913 Evelyn Taylor was an outstanding antifascist fighter in her own right. At the age of twenty she had led a protest in the Manchester Free Trade Hall against a rally organised by Sir Oswald Mosely and his British Union of Fascists. She was subsequently prosecuted for that protest and jailed for a period in Strangeways Prison.
Over the following years Evelyn risked her life on the extremely dangerous work of travelling through the dictatorships of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Horthy’s Hungary so as to bring secret messages and material help to the anti-fascist underground movements in those countries.
It was through such political activity that she came to know and fall in love with George Brown, Manchester organiser of the Communist Party of Great Britain, for whom she acted as election agent in the 1934 local elections.
Through her own growing relationship with George, Evelyn Taylor began a life-long love of Ireland which she was to visit many times over the years.
In January 1937 George Brown volunteered for the International Brigades and went to fight fascism in Spain. On the day of his departure Evelyn and he were married. But she was never to see him again.
Among the volunteers to take Brown’s place and head for the Spanish inferno of 1938 was Jack Jones. In his 1986 autobiography, Union Man, he tells how his relationship with Evelyn began to develop: ‘In this period I met again Evelyn. She had been working abroad in the underground movement against fascism and had taken many risks in doing so. The death of George was a deep personal wound which only time could repair, yet her mood was not to grieve but to fight on. My admiration for her spirit was more than matched by my growing love for her. We both knew, without putting it into words, that if I returned from Spain we would marry.’
Jack and Evelyn married in 1938 after Jack returned home wounded from Spain. When Jack and Evelyn moved to Coventry Evelyn worked on aero engine production and fought for higher wages for her fellow women workers entering the wartime workforce in such great numbers. In later years, when Jack had risen to the post of General Secretary and she accompanied him on many foreign visits, she never forgot those decades of intense struggle that had shaped them both and brought them together.
My last meeting with Evelyn was in Killarney in July 1991 when both Jack and herself attended the ICTU Delegate Conference. During a break in proceedings I drove Jack and Evelyn out to Kilgarvan, birthplace both of Mike Quill, founding President of the Transport Workers’ Union of America, and International Brigader, Michael Lehane, who was later killed during World War II while serving with the Norwegian Merchant Navy. As we paid silent tribute at the Lehane Memorial unveiled by my father two years previously, it was a particularly poignant moment for Evelyn. Michael Lehane had fought side-by-side with both of her husbands – with George at the Battle of Brunete and with Jack at the Battle of the Ebro.
As we drove on to Kenmare and took the mountain road back to Killarney, I told Evelyn how some time previously my wife Annette’s uncle, Luke Hennessy of Glensensaw, Sough Kilkenny had brought me to see the birthplace of George Brown. We walked up a country boreen just outside the neighbouring village of Ballyneale to see the remains of the original Lackey home and Luke later introduced me to a family member still living in the area.. Evelyn was pleased to hear that George’s name was remembered in his birthplace. But talk on the car journey back to Killarney was as much about the future as the past. Evelyn asked about my children and spoke of her own and even more excitedly of her grandchildren and first great-grandchild. Our sympathies on her passing go to her husband Jack, her sons Jack and Michael, and all those grandchildren and great-grandchildren through whom Evelyn Taylor Jones lives on. Her legacy is indeed secure and her life an inspiration to us all.
Manus O'Riordan is Head of Research at SIPTU
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