Claude Robinson (b.1898) – Politics and Protest: the Jarrow Crusade Part 2

We were all soaking wet, whatever precautions we tried to take, and we may have looked bed-raggled but we were undaunted, not least because we were encouraged by those who lined the route’ (pg.107) Robinson, C. (1982) These We Have Loved

Similar to that of an army battalion, many of the group of 200 men marched in intervals of 50 minutes with a short 10 minute break allowing for respite, and there was even a mouth organ band to keep morale up for when the men were fatigued and disheartened. The Jarrow Crusade was a mission of great importance, not just on behalf of the people of Jarrow, but for all the inhabitants of other working towns who were hit the hardest by the great depression. This highly regimented, almost military, march for Jarrow was a desperate but proud plea in service to the working class. Claude Robinson conveys this yearning for acknowledgement in the quote:

‘All that seemingly could be done, had been done, and now they believed that surely, if men who knew the hardships of unemployment appeared before the Members of the mother of parliaments whom they had helped to elect, and presented their prayer for help, surely they would listen… and do something to help them.’ (pg.101) Robinson, C. These We Have Loved

The Chronicle newspaper in 1936 showing its support for the Jarrow ‘pilgrimage’

All these men could do was march in the hope that those in charge of the country would hear from the mouths of people who had experienced extreme poverty and would finally do something to pull them out of despair. However, 270 miles stood between them and their finish line. There was but one woman among the march, the MP Ellen Wilkinson, who used her political influence to defend the marchers at every opportunity, including at a Labour conference during the crusade in which she urged the National Executive to ‘put themselves “at the head of a great movement of moral indignation in (the) country”’ (pg.102). The responses to Wilkinson’s pleas pointed out the health and appearances of the men who were marching as an objection to the crusade taking place, calling them ‘hungry and ill clad men’ (p.102) in a detached display of pity. This angered Robinson at the time and even in his retrospective narration, the offence he took at these comments is still evident. According to Robinson, the men were fed and clothed better than they had been for years and ‘had a right to look for help’ and what was said about them ‘was deeply wounding and untrue’ (p.102). The health and fitness of the men who marched were checked beforehand, and Robinson makes a point in his memoir to clarify how meticulously organised the crusade was. While the emotions of the marchers were frantic, the march itself was as orderly as it possibly could be. The very few men who could stand the whole march were quickly driven home and replaced by other enthusiastic marchers; Claude himself took many of them by car to make sure the march’s numbers did not dwindle.

Jarrow marchers in 1936, somewhere among them was Claude Robinson

Naysayers and personal health were not the only obstacles to the crusade, as the weather itself seemed to work against Robinson and his fellow marchers. As London drew nearer, pouring rain bombarded the men but they were ‘undaunted’. It seems that nothing short of a natural disaster could stop the Jarrow crusade! However, once the marchers finally arrived in London, the petitions were simply handed into the House and that was all. ‘Bewildered’, soaking wet and ravenously hungry, the marchers’ arduous mission had ended in the most anti-climactic of ways.

‘When I was asked “did the march do any good”, my first answer was “yes, beyond all belief”, but the tragedy was the way the goodwill was dissipated after the marchers returned’ (pg.109) Robinson, C. These We Have Loved

Unfortunately, there was no happy ending to the Jarrow Crusade, and its impact was limited. The march is instead remembered for its inspiring display of human will and strength of character, rightly looked back upon with pride by any who recall or read into its history. The depression had a grip on Jarrow well into the second world war, but with the war, jobs arrived – the smallest of compensations. It is fitting that Claude Robinson would not try to embellish the effect of the Jarrow Crusade, because no action he describes in his memoir is elevated beyond whatever impact it had, little or large. The importance of this memoir is to remember failings as well as successes, to acknowledge last place as well as first. Robinson was clearly not a man to forget details and owned every inch of his life. He does not praise himself in this memoir – in fact he criticises himself far too often in my opinion – and so I’d like to end this post with appreciation to every struggle that the man persisted through, a true legend of Jarrow.

Claude Robinson in 1986, 50 years after he took part in the Jarrow Crusade

Bibliography

Robinson, C. These We Have Loved

Other Reading

Pickard, T. (1982) Jarrow March

Vernon, B.D. (1982) Ellen Wilkinson

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