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Tribute to Johnny Longstaff

Duncan Longstaff writes…

 

The Young’uns, winners of Radio 2 folk group of the year 2015, will be paying tribute to my father Johnny Longstaff in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church in Portbury, North Somerset. The planned time is at 2pm on 21April 2016.

 

The Young’uns are all from Stockton-on-Tees, where my father was born in October 1919 and subsequently raised by his grandmother. When he left school he got a job in a steel-rolling mill, but due to an industrial accident he was hospitalised for several weeks. On leaving hospital he found that his job had gone to someone else. Getting further employment in the depths of the slump was virtually impossible and so Johnny joined the 1934 Hunger March to London in the hope of finding work in the capital, and so as not to become a burden on his grandmother through the application of the detested means test.

 

On reaching London he slept rough on the Embankment for several weeks with other lads from the north of England. Eventually he found work in Tooting and through his work colleagues became involved in local politics, joining the Labour League Of Youth, the youth organisation of the Labour Party.

 

 

In July 1936 Franco launched his failed coup against the democratically elected Republican government of Spain. The Spanish Civil War ensued, and in September 1937 my father volunteered to join the International Brigades, one of 35,000 recruits from all over the world who went to fight fascism. Dad was in several battles and was wounded on four occasions, the last wound was very serious, temporarily blinding him. 

 

He was repatriated with the rest of the British Battalion on 8December 1938. The civil war continued until March 1939 and, as predicted by the Brigaders, the Second World War started six months later.

 

Johnny immediately volunteered to join the British Army, but was refused entry as he had fought in Spain. Eventually he received his call-up papers and was enlisted into the London Rifle Brigade; this time he kept quiet about being in Spain. After training and duties on the South Coast, he eventually sailed to Egypt where he fought as a front-line soldier in all the major desert battles in North Africa from July 1942 onwards, including El Alamein. 

 

Sometime later Dad then landed in Taranto in southern Italy and fought his way all the way to the Austrian border. His brigade was given the honour of leading the 8th Army into Austria. Dad was also wounded two or three times in Italy. He was awarded the American Bronze Star medal for gallantry.

 

The Youngun’s have found my father’s tale to be inspirational. If you wish to listen to him he can be found on the Imperial War Museum website. Do an internet search for Longstaff, John Edward (IWM interview).

 

I am currently working on my father’s memoirs, the title of which is “Any Bread Mister”, which recounts his time when he begged for food at factory gates in Stockton as a child.

 

I hope you can come along on 21April to commemorate this determined anti-fascist soldier, and committed socialist all of his adult life.

 

Hopefully there will be further tributes by the Young’uns in April 2017, if their exciting plans go ahead. If you go to YouTube you can see and listen to them performing “The Battle of Stockton” and “You Won’t Find Me on Benefits Street”, both about the people from Stockton-on-Tees.

 

Duncan Longstaff: duncanlongstaff@btinternet.com