Captain Jack White & Wales

Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2016), Letters, Volume 24

Sir,—Angus Mitchell’s review of Leo Keohane’s book on Jack White (HI 23.2, March/April 2015) coincided with the start of my interest in White while preparing research to be published on the centenary of his sensational trial at Aberdare in May 1916. This is part of my wider study into the transnational history of Irish and Welsh nationalisms. Keohane and Mitchell refer respectively to ‘little trace of his activities during this period’ and an ‘anti-climactic’ period at the end of his life. Welsh sources modify that picture. First, White provided valued ‘information and cuttings’ to Dr Noëlle Davies while she was writing her 1946 short biography Connolly of Ireland: patriot & socialist. Tantalisingly, one wonders how much of White’s material is in her papers? In Connolly, Dr Davies, née ffrench of County Roscommon, approvingly quotes from White’s 1944 letter to Peace News that ‘Connolly was shot by a British firing squad and socialism was murdered in Ireland with the connivance and negative assistance of British left-wing socialists’. A fuller version was reproduced in The Welsh Nationalist that December, denouncing the Independent Labour Party and the Merthyr Pioneer for failing Connolly.

White was in correspondence with Davies on other matters, seeking to engage further with the Welsh Nationalist Party, having been asked by its organising secretary, J.E. Jones, to submit an article for its political monthly, The Welsh Nationalist. One cause that agitated White just before his death in 1946 was Ireland’s post-war diplomatic isolation and, through its exclusion from the United Nations, his fear of the renewed dominance of the Great Powers. In September 1945, he suggested to Noëlle Davies that an article in the Northern Star (probably written by Desmond Ryan) ‘could be made the ideological basis of a peace campaign by the small nations, especially those struggling to recover their nationality from the British Colossus. Do you think you could get my article republished in a Welsh nationalist paper and draw inferences from it which apply to Wales?’ Davies recycled White’s analysis in the February 1946 edition, perhaps his final political testament? This activity raises the question of White’s relationship with the Socialist Republican Party of Belfast beyond his aborted 1945 candidature. 

Building on Leo Keohane’s wide-ranging biography and the renewed interest this has stimulated in White, there is more to be written. While he was in Glamorgan during 1916, there is strong circumstantial evidence that he met some of the authors of the syndicalist Miners’ Next Step. What else did he do in his ‘fortnight in Wales’ and the following three months in Swansea gaol? It also seems that his much later correspondence with Davies was not a one-off but part of more widespread mid-twentieth-century transactions between nationalists and socialists in Ireland (north and south) and Wales.—Yours etc.,

Tonypandy and Swansea University


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