THE controversial life of George Dickie aka Jack Brent from Whithorn has featured in The Galloway Gazette from time to time and always polarises opinions in his home town.
A new book on the undeniably fascinating life of this veteran of the Spanish Civil War and lifelong Communist has just been published, written by his nephew John Dickie, based on letters sent by George/Jack to his friends and family.
George was born in Canada but returned to Whithorn as a baby to be raised by his grandmother. As a young man, he was disillusioned by the lack of opportunities available in rural Wigtownshire and joined the British Army. But after getting into trouble he deserted and ran away to London changing his name to Jack Brent as his train had passed through Brent Junction on its way to Euston, as family legend had it.
He then became deeply involved in the working class struggles of the 1930s becoming a lifelong and devoted Communist. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936 he was one of the first to volunteers for the International Brigade to fight for democracy against rebel forces led by General Franco and backed by Nazi Germany. Jack Brent saw action at he Battle Of Jarama, but as John Dickie describes in his book, shortly after reaching the front line he was badly injured:
“Answering just such a call (for first aid) Jack went out to rescue a wounded comrade. As he bent down to pick him up a rapid burst of machine gun fire cut him down, immediately after he was shot, he was dazed, and his legs were paralysed. He crawled first towards the enemy lines, but realizing his mistake he got back to his own lines in spite of enemy fire. He had been in Spain only a few days.”
Jack suffered appalling injuries and was on medication for the rest of his life. He also underwent several operations but despite the constant pain and lack of mobility, continued to work in London for the International Brigade becoming a well known and much loved and respected figure in left wing circles throughout Europe until his death in 1951.
John Dickie has drawn much of this portrait of his maverick uncle from his prolific letter writing. In particular to his friend Christian Maxwell, the sister of the author Gavin Maxwell and the daughter of the aristocratic Lady Mary Maxwell. She was born at the House of Elrig, a few miles away from Whithorn and although they came from the opposite ends of the social spectrum in Wigtownshire, in London their combined Communist leanings brought them together. After Jack’s death, John Dickie’s family moved from Whithorn to London to share a flat with Christian Maxwell - at her invitation - a move that the author describes as life changing. It was rumoured that Jack Brent and Christian Maxwell would have married had he lived.
George Dickie/Jack Brent is commemorated for his lifelong dedication for the working classes with a plaque in Whithorn which was unveiled in 2006 by his aunt Jessie McLean and John Dickie.
Geordie’s Story - the Life of Jack Brent by John Dickie is available from Pend Books in Whithorn and The Bookshop in Wigtown.