Socialist Worker

Bernard McKenna 1915-2008

by Andy Coles
Issue No. 2114

Bernard McKenna (Pic: Andrew Yates/Manchester Evening News)

Bernard McKenna (Pic: Andrew Yates/Manchester Evening News)

Bernard McKenna, a lifelong socialist, anti-fascist and International Brigader, died on 31 August, aged 92.

Sixty six brave Manchester men and women volunteered to go to Spain to fight against General Franco and his fascists in the 1936-9 Civil War and Bernard was one of 48 who survived.

He was the last surviving Manchester veteran.

Bernard began life in Hulme, a working class district of Manchester. His family were in the Labour Party and he joined the Labour League of Youth in 1932 at the age of 17.

In 1934 he joined the Young Communist League, which was connected to the Communist Party, because unlike Labour, it discussed capitalism and how to bring about socialism.

Bernard was an anti-fascist fighter. He disrupted meetings of Britain’s fascists.

When fascist leader Oswald Mosley visited Hulme Town Hall, thousands of anti-fascists surrounded it and pushed a tram over.

Mosely had to sneak out through the back door. This opened Bernard’s eyes to the power of protest.

In July 1936, Franco organised a fascist uprising in Spain. Bernard helped organise medical aid and food for the Republicans.

Meetings were held to raise money and handcarts went out collecting “Aid for Spain” at weekends.

In February 1937 Bernard joined the International Brigade and went to Spain to fight. Being an amateur radio enthusiast, he laid communication cables at the front and was twice hospitalised, injured first by bullets and later shrapnel.

Eventually, Italian soldiers captured him and he was imprisoned in a grim concentration camp near Burgos. He was later exchanged for Italian prisoners of war and returned to Britain in October 1938.

When the Second World War broke out he joined the RAF and spent the next six years in signals.

Bernard stayed in the Communist Party until just after the war, when Joseph Stalin denounced Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito as a fascist for resisting Russia’s interference in his country.

Along with others, Bernard left the Communist Party and joined Labour. He later became a secondary school teacher, supporting children with special needs. In retirement he continued to talk to young people in schools and colleges.

He remained active in the International Brigade veteran’s movement and proudly received honorary Spanish citizenship for his role in the Civil War.

After a few years of Tony Blair’s New Labour he left the party in disgust. He joined the SWP in 1998, attended Chorlton branch meetings and participated in activity at the age of 83.

Bernard remained committed to socialism to the day he died and he will be sorely missed.

Article information

Tue 12 Aug 2008, 19:15 BST
Issue No. 2114
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