Autobiography of Captain Jack White republished

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2 (Mar/Apr 2005), News, News, Volume 13

Captain Jack White c. 1930.

Captain Jack White c. 1930.

Captain Jack White, an unsung hero of the Irish Revolution, first published his autobiography Misfit in 1930. He was an extraordinarily complex man and difficult to fit into any convenient slot. He was born into a loyalist and middle-class family, the son of Field Marshal Sir George White, governor of Gibraltar. He was brought up mixing in the highest circles of the British establishment, hardly an obvious beginning for someone who was to become co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army. White had a colourful and diverse life. After being decorated for his part in the Boer War he resigned his commission, travelled extensively in Bohemia, worked as a lumberjack in Canada and lived in a Tolstoyan commune in England.
Misfit tells the story of White’s spiritual inner revolution as well as the story of his part in the Irish Revolution. Prior to being instrumental in the founding of the Irish Citizen Army, White had involved himself in the opposition to Sir Edward Carson’s anti-Home Rule agitation and travelled to London to speak alongside George Bernard Shaw on the subjection of Irish nationalism. He organised a 1913 protest meeting in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, addressed by Sir Roger Casement, which proved so effective that he was then invited to Dublin to speak on Home Rule.
White arrived in Dublin at the height of the 1913 lockout. He met with James Connolly and Jim Larkin, and under the influence of Connolly quickly identified himself with the Dublin workers’ cause. White was outraged at how the Catholic Church aided and abetted the Dublin employers, and in particular its opposition to the evacuation of the locked-out workers’ starving children to the ‘heathen’ homes of Liverpool. It was then that White and Jim Larkin called for volunteers to set up a workers’ defence force. The lockout did not actually come to a confrontation, however, until the infamous Butt Bridge baton charge. White was arrested as one of the leaders of the demonstration and fought all the way to the police station. After the 1916 Rising White was again arrested and imprisoned for trying to organise a strike of Welsh miners in support of James Connolly, who was in prison under sentence of execution.
Throughout the 1920s White was active in a host of organisations, including the Irish Workers League and the Workers’ Party of Ireland, moving between Dublin, London and Belfast, and now clearly identified himself with left republican politics. A regular public speaker, he also wrote for many publications, including An Phoblacht.
In 1936 White travelled to Spain to fight Fascism. Impressed by the social revolution that was unfolding there, he was attracted to the anarchist cause and wrote the short pamphlets The meaning of anarchy (1937) and Anarchism—a philosophy of action (1937). Returning to London in 1937, he worked with Spain and the World, a pro-anarchist propaganda group. With Matt Kavanagh, the Irish Liverpudlian anarchist, he worked on a survey of Irish Labour and Irish aspirations in relation to anarchism, and carried out a study of a little-known Cork soviet. He was also working on a second volume of Misfit, a kind of Misfit II. Those articles and pamphlets that survive are now preserved in the Kate Sharpley Library (www.katesharpleylibrary.net). The rest were destroyed after his death by his second wife, possibly in conjunction with the White family. It may have been through neglect or expediency, but it was more than likely driven by White’s criticism of the Catholic Church. Whatever the reason, it was a tragic loss.
White made a final and brief reappearance in public life during the 1945 UK general election campaign. Proposing himself as a Republican Socialist candidate for the North Antrim constituency, he convened a meeting at the local Orange Hall in Broughshane to outline his view. But he never actually got his name on the ballot paper. Six months later Jack White died from cancer in a Belfast nursing home. After a private ceremony, he was buried in the White family plot in the First Presbyterian Church in Broughshane. The only thing written on the tombstone is that he was the son of Field Marshal Sir George White; there is no commemorative record or plaque anywhere.

Misfit: a revolutionary life by Captain Jack White (Livewire Publications [PO box 9902, Dublin 6, livewirepublications@yahoo.ie], €14.99 pb, ISBN 1905225202).

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