Friday, 5 June 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an indefatiguable Anti-Fascist called Morris Beckman

Morris, who has died at the age of 94, was the last of that group of men, who seventy years ago would not stand idly by as the Far Right made speeches and sold pamphlets that denied the Holocaust and preached the hateful gospel of anti-Semitism.


What you possibly didn't know about Morris, that he :

* was born in the London Borough of Hackney in 1921, the youngest of six children of Rebecca and Josepherus, late nineteenth century Jewish emigrants from Poland 
and bought up in a household with a maid, sustained by his father's income as a textile merchant and joined the Hackney Downs School, a grammar school for boys founded by the Worshipful Company of Grocers in 1876, run with rigid discipline and a public school atmosphere for bright sons of the wealthy, with a new intake of bright Jewish boys and was remembered by Alfred Sherman, one of his contemporaries and later co-founder of the right-wing 'Centre for Policy Studies', as a 'flagship of opportunity for talented children, many of whom were very poor.'

* was bought by, but did not necessarily always follow his father, orthodox in religion : "The synagogue and the shawl was his life outside the business" and although a talented footballer at school "who was offered a trial for Spurs, a game in one of their junior teams, but in those days the thought of a Jewish boy playing football, with my father, was absolutely unheard of " and found religious duties made it difficult taking part in saturday games.

* encountered no anti-Semitism at school in the 1930's, but when he was 15/16 in 1936/37, returning home from his boys club, crossing Hackney Downs alone at 11.30 at night : "suddenly I realised, walking towards me were four young fascists in uniform. Two on the outside had come behind me and I heard "Effing Jewboy. We're gonna bloody .." Now I was very fit then, very athletic and I used to box for the house. So I didn't think, I just said "Wait". As I said this, I turned and hit the one on my left and jumped over the railings and ran across the field and they chased me" then outran all but one and used his cricket skills : "I came after him, I had this brick in my hand. I said "right you bastard"" and hit him on the shoulder which made him stumble and with the others coming up made his escape and hid from them in some gardens.

* passed his matriculation at school at the age of 16 and was studying for his 'highers' in the sixth form, with a view to a career as a civil engineer, but was unsettled by the prospect of war approaching and impatient for action and early in 1939, said to his friend, Max, "Come. Let's go and fly", but were told by a RAF recruitment officer "to go back to school and not waste the fellow's time", then saw an advert for a six month, crash course for radio officers in the Merchant Navy, involving dismantling and reassembling transmitters and using morse code and, while keeping up the pretence he was still at school and thinking "I thought I'd go and see some foreign places and have interest and excitement", without the family knowing, enrolled on a course at a college in Clapham.

* graduated from the course in three months and went to a café, celebration lunch with nine other students, which they shared with a "very exuberant lady, red henna hair, She'd been on the stage in her earlier career and we used to call her Fanny Bagwash. When we'd finished lunch she lines us all up and she hugged us and gave us each a kiss and said :"Send me a postcard" and we all said "Yes. We'll do that Fanny". She looked quite tearful."

* still without the knowledge of his family, signed on with the Marconi International Marine Company and was given £25 to get kitted out in the suppliers at Gardiners' Corner then went home and told his father and recalled : "That was a terrible night. He went mad", but reported for duty as the 'Sparks' on the rusty old tanker, S.S.Venetia, at Shell Haven, Gravesend and was taken out to the ship by an old boatman who said :  "You joining her?". I said "Yes". He said : "You poor sod. I wouldn't be in your shoes." I said : "Thanks very much" and sailed to the island of Aruba off the coast of Venezuela to pick up 8,000 tons of high octane fuel and now that war with Germany had broken out, experienced 'The Battle of the Atlantic' and joined a convoy in which his ship survived when six were sunk when attacked by German U-boats.

* was posted to Bombay at the age of 21 in 1942 and spent two years with the 'Mogul Line', crewing auxiliary vessels for the Royal Indian Navy across the Bay of Bengal, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf and started, what he hoped might be a literary career, writing articles and short stories, published in the 'Sind Gazette' and the 'Egyptian Mail' newspapers, then transferred to the Mediterranean, landed troops at Port Augusta during the Allied Invasion of Sicily in 1943 and three months later, at Taranto during the Allied invasion of Italy.

* in 1944 his ship was attacked by the Luftwaffe en route to Alexandria, lost a propeller and was towed to Port Sudan where he contacted paratyphoid and convalesced in hospital in Karachi, India, then worked his passage back home via Durban and New York in the year that his first and only novel, 'Open Skies and Lost Cargoes', was published by Thacker & Co in Bombay.

* finally, returning home at the end of the War at the age of 24 in 1945 found that he : "came back home to Amhurst Road, Hackney to hugs and kisses. My mother went out to make some tea and my Dad said, "The bastards are back – Mosley and his Blackshirts"" "They’d been marching down the streets, chanting : ‘We’re going to get rid of the yids’, they attacked synagogues. My mother and the neighbours were afraid to go out at night”.

* tried unsuccessfully to renew his studies in engineering, but instead, turned to writing short stories with a sister providing financial support, but was distracted, having returned from the War thinking fascism was buried and was sickened to find Oswald Mosley released from internment reviving the 'British Union of Fascists,' which he'd seen flourish in Jewish areas in the East End when he was a boy before the War and compounded by the cinema newsreels revealing the horrors of Auschwitz.

* recalled that in February 1946 : "We saw this fascist meeting. There were big union jacks flying in the wind; British League of Ex Servicemen and Women; a fellow who'd been interned for two years, Jeffrey Hamm, one of Moseley's top men on the platform preaching and there were four young fascist thugs, protecting the platform and Len walked up to these two fascists sitting on the end selling 'Britain Awake' and he said : "I can't stand the bleeding Jews myself, I'm going to buy one of those magazines" and as they leant forward his hands came up and he banged their heads together. They went down poleaxed. I saw the platform flying backwards and Jeffrey Hamm falling on the ground and Gerry was knocking hell out of them."

* later said : "I went up to mine. 'Play football', I thought, so I kneed him in a vital place and I did hurt him. He went down."

* continued : "We went back to the Maccabi House. We told the fellas what had happened. We were on a high. They listened to us. They said :"Right well, no one's going to stop them. We'll bloody well stop them." Half a dozen of us went to see Members of Parliament and the MP's were very sympathetic towards us and they did ask questions of Chuter Eve, the Home Secretary and there was a Labour Government in power at the time and yet the Government did nothing."

*  "I joined AJEX at the time, Associated Jewish Ex-Servicemen and they were putting up platforms. They had some very good speakers and these speakers went out, castigating the Government for permitting the fascist's outrageous obscenity to occur on London streets."

* "And I came to the conclusion that with all the best speakers in the world they would not convert one single fascist from being anti-Semitic. It wasn't working." "and we decided to form an organisation and launch an all-out, non-stop attack on the emergent fascist party. Our aim and object was to expose it and then to destroy it. We formed the '43 Group' and within two months it had enrolled 300 ex-servicemen and we never walked towards fascists. We ran at them"  'We decided as trained troops we would 'out fascist' the fascists.'

* "We found once we knocked over the platform the meeting was closed down. We started forming flying wedges of hard cases. If you had a wedge of ten very hard cases, they'd walk up, push through the crowd, they'd get close to the front and suddenly go at a very fast pace, in a wedge at the platform. They knocked the fascist stewards aside. They were unstoppable. Really hard men and of course the platforms would go flying." 

was an active member of the '43 Group' from the time it was formed in April 1946, working with a 'Battle of Britain' Ace, a Victoria Cross winner and Vidal Sassoon, but also took part in peaceful activities like addressing an anti-fascist meeting in Bethnal Green, East London, in 1947 (right).

* saw the Group's numbers swell to over 1,000 members, all war veterans, in London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Newcastle, the toughest, former Royal Marines, paratroops and Guards became the 'commandos', on call day and night to disrupt meetings and carry out raids with a network of London black-cab drivers provided eyes, ears and transport and supported by 100 women and a network of gentile spies who infiltrated fascist organisations.

* saw money flood in from prominent Jews such as the boxing promoter, Jack Solomons and the businessman, Sir Charles Clore and a monthly £30 cheque from Bud Flanagan, born Reuben Weintrop and a member of the 'Crazy Gang' Comedy Quartet, with a note saying 'Good work, boys' and also saw the Group's philosophy of the ‘3 D's’ - 'Discuss, Decide and Do it', bear fruit by closing down two-thirds of all fascist activity in Britain before its demise as a political force in Britain when he was 29 in 1950.

 tried his hand at several businesses and eventually went into partnership with John David Gold to manufacture men's clothes, opening their first factory in Crawley in 1952 and saw the firm steadily expand, at one time having several factories in the Britain and one in Malta, then in his mid fifties, in 1975, faced with increasingly cheap imports from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, saw the company go into liquidation and then started further small-scale businesses in the same trade before retiring to turn his hand, once again, to writing in the 1980s.

* focussed on his life in the Merchant Navy and the 43 Group and "dutifully ploughed through fascist newspapers and magazines in various libraries and archives and even read Mosley's book. What I read was an endless unbroken desert of malevolence and ethnic hatred. Sometimes in the Hendon Library I had to break off for a coffee and a smoke before continuing. After a session I would feel dirty, tainted. But, I learned to know the enemy well."
* published 'The 43 Group : Untold Story of Their Fight Against Fascism' at the age of 72 in 1993, 'The Hackney Crucible' and 'Atlantic Roulette : A Merchantman at War. June 1940 : Running the Gauntlet', three years later, followed by 'The Jewish Brigade : An Army With Two Masters' in 1999 and finally 'Flying the Red Duster :  A Merchant Seaman's First Voyage into the Battle of the Atlantic 1940' and in addition, lectured in Britain, Germany, Holland and Ireland to groups interested in the fight against fascism.

* in 2010 at the age of 89, publicly lent support to the 'Unite Against Fascism' Group's event, 'We are Bradford', in which their aim was to show 'our opposition to the racist EDL – which has links to the British National Party and other fascist groups – and calling instead for unity in the community. We want to celebrate our diversity and show that we are all united against the racists.'

* after his passing, had David Cesarani, Research Professor in History at Royal Holloway, University of London, say of him : “Morris was an extraordinary man who combined physical toughness with intellectual agility, a naturally gifted writer who was equally at home with a pair of boxing gloves as he was with a typewriter. Words poured out of him in the form of diaries, novels, historical narratives or impromptu speeches over a cup of tea. He taught generations that if you care about liberty, tolerance and democratic politics, sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and take on their enemies.”

* reflecting on the '43 Group' at the age of 69 in 1990 said :

"Looking back there can never be another organisation like it. We had loads of energy, loads of initiative, loads of ideas and looking back, the fascists didn't stand a chance."


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