Last Friday saw the centenary of the birth of Whithorn freedom fighter George (Geordie) Dickie, who was later known as Jack Brent.
Geordie travelled to Spain in the 1930s as an International Brigade volunteer to fight for democracy and the Spanish republic, against the fascists of Franco, supported by Hitler and Mussolini.
He was born in Coburg, Ontario, on February 24, 1912, his family returned to Whithorn a few months later.
After leaving school at 13, Geordie served his apprenticeship with a local butcher, before joining the Cameron Highlanders for a short spell. After leaving the Cameronians he made his way to London during the time of the Hunger Marches and Mosley’s fascists.
In 1936, with the insurrection in Spain, Jack Brent went, along with tens of thousands of volunteers from many countries, to defend the Spanish people’s elected government from the fascist generals under Franco. During the Battle of Jarama – Jack Brent was severely wounded by nationalist machine-gun fire while rescuing a fallen comrade.
The horrific injuries were to result in constant pain and endless operations for the rest of his short, but abundant life. Jack died in Whithorn in 1951 at the age of 39.
The commemoration to remember this heroic, self-educated local man, was organised by Dumfries and District TUC on behalf of the International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT). Dumfries Trades Council was represented by Stuart Hyslop (treasurer) and the event was attended by Gill Bailey, chair; Julia Watt Muir, vice-chair; and Janet Butterworth, secretary of Whithorn and District Business Association, whose determination to honour Jack Brent in 2006 succeeded with the unveiling of the plaque in March of that year, attended by many local people, trade unionists, MSPs of different parties, IBMT representatives and relatives of George Dickie. The plaque was kindly commissioned by the business association.
The memorial plaque is situated at 55 George Street, on the wall of the premises the butcher’s shop occupied when Geordie worked there as a young man. The plaque has proved popular and of interest to tourists and visitors, who often inquire at the Pend bookshop for further information.
February 2012 also saw the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Jarama, which raged for many weeks, and the IBMT wreath and flowers from George Dickie’s nephew, John, were laid to remember Jack Brent’s bravery and commitment to democracy and anti-fascism in Spain and the hundreds of International Brigaders who gave their lives at Jarama in the defence of the Spanish republic.
A book published in 1954 by Lawrence & Wishart, titled “Good to be Alive” –The Story of Jack Brent, written as a tribute by Stanley Harrison, should be available on request from local libraries or occasionally from specialist second hand bookshops.