The news about the war in Spain spread from the Spanish workers in the dockyard. Jack, who had spent three days in jail in Manchester for fighting against fascists during a meeting held by fascist leader Oswald Mosley, felt that he had to take part in it.
The Aid Spain Committee believed that Jack would be more helpful staying in England, where he could make use of his contacts to raise funds and recruit men.
Jack said, “I was asked to enrol young men. Of course there was a big demand for soldiers, sailors and people with military experience, unmarried or without children. We took on many men but we also turned down some people who were very enthusiastic but wouldn’t have been of any use in Spain.”
Sometimes it was down to him to do the difficult task of informing the families of the casualties. “It wasn’t easy going to see the mothers or wives,” said Jack. “Visiting the families was always distressing, but when the details are unknown and the death occurs in a foreign country the mission is doubly difficult. I was convinced I also had to get to Spain.”
Another factor that increased his determination was the death of his good friend and anti-fascist George Brown at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
He was persistent and eventually it was agreed that he should go to Spain taking with him a group of brigaders and a letter of support from Ernest Bevin, the leader of the T&G union.
In the cold of winter, February 1937, the group crossed the Pyrenees in the dead of night. The Non Intervention Agreement signed by the British and French governments made aid for the Republican government illegal. Once in Barcelona, Jack Jones handed over the letter and joined a group of trade unionists on their way to the front.
He remembered the comradeship among the international brigaders: “The feeling was that we were there supporting the elected government, fighting for the principles with which all of us were more or less associated.”
As for internal frictions: “Of course we used to have arguments with members of the Communist Party discussing their views on the battle. But the Spanish government was a Popular Front represented by different parties, including the trade unions, so from that point of view we didn’t want to fall out with anyone.”
The lack of food sticks in his mind. He said, “We had to do a lot of training but we had very little food. We lived on beans and a lot of coffee. Technically we were supposed to get paid by the Republican government but the cash was scarce.
“Now and again we would receive a payment, as did the Spanish people, but there wasn’t anything that we could spend it on anyway.”
After six months fighting in Spain he was hit in his shoulder by an enemy bullet during one of the fierce battles by the river Ebro. “Franco’s troops had started to win the battle at Gandesa, next to the Ebro,” said Jones. “We didn’t have any artillery or planes. We were fighting with primitive weapons against a mechanised army supported by Hitler and Mussolini.”
Badly wounded, he spent the night on the battleground until he was sent to a hospital in Barcelona. Doctors told him that the fighting was over for him.
He was welcomed as a hero back in Liverpool. In his absence, his colleagues from the union had raised enough money to donate an ambulance to the Republicans.
Aware that there were more pressing needs than the lack of specialist vehicles, Jack took over.
He said, “The main issue we had to deal with was the shortage of food. The civil population were living on very little and soldiers were not given the support that was essential. I set up an office for a couple of days a week to organise the collection of provisions to go to Spain.”
His persuasive skills enabled him to fill a ship that would unload in the Spanish port of Bilbao to the astonishment of the locals. The same operation would be repeated twice more.
At the same time Jones was battling in the British political arena for the improvement of the conditions for transport workers.
This was a cause he continued to fight for throughout his life becoming the leader of the T&G in 1968.
Today, at the age of 93, he is the head of the International Brigade Memorial Trust.