Tom Kelly

Jarrow Crusade Poems

On October 5th 1936 two hundred men from Jarrow, on Tyneside, walked 300 miles to London to petition the government for work.

Joe Symonds, Paddy Scullion, Jock Hanlon were March leaders and Alderman Thompson Jarrow's Mayor. I interviewed them in the early 1970s.

Uncle Johnny’s

my screen saver,
walking down the Edgware Road,
chiselled cheeks, no smile:
he rarely told a joke.

I see him laughing,
gums exposed looking like salmon.
Auntie Winnie disappears,
free of having to care for her ‘Poor Johnny,’
vinegar clout clasped to his forehead,
cup of cold milky tea in a skeletal hand.

I see you every day,
the dutiful son you never had,
watching you walking into immortality.


Joe Symonds Eating Deprivation

You talked as if giving a speech,
clear as bell, loud.
I was young. Intimidated.
I didn’t feel your warmth,
lost in a life-time of meetings in church halls and
Parliament. I felt your organisation,
not love until you spoke of Jarrow in the 30’s,
deprivation you wished you could have eaten.

The Women Left

You have seen them,
blotched faces in sepia-print photographs,
children clinging to their pinnies,
hands rough as pumice stone.
Tears are held in the corner of their eyes
lie there, wishing they could use them in the pawn shop.
Looking at the marchers, they hold back speaking,
everyone lost in euphoria: they just want to survive.

Jock Hanlon

I hear your Jarrow-Scottish voice
in our street, you lived next door.
Dad said, 'That’s Jock Hanlon,'
as if he was untouchable,
a film star of hardship, a caring man,
I never spoke to.

Alderman Thompson

seemed as if he would float away,
hesitant as a clock running out of battery.
Uncertain, desperate not to offend,
to say the right thing.
The night was cutting in,
I left like the marchers,
not sure what to say or feel.
I see you in the Houses of Parliament,
presenting the petition.
Your mayoral chain battering the despatch box
bruising your heart then and now.

Paddy Scullion

in your daughter’s home,
sometime in the early 70’s,
warm, like you.
Your tale passionately told,
a toby jug propped-up,
beaming as you told your story
for the umpteenth time.
'Jarrow was a prison; all it needed was the walls.'
Your love of others outshining the fire.

Uncle Johnny’s Crusade Suit

'They gave us suits that we all tried to sell to the pawn.
There was so many in Jarrow we had to out of the town.'

You are on the ferry to Howdon.
With a friend. Maybe two.
The suit is wrapped in brown paper.
A cigarette stuck in your fingers.

Your eyes prowl the Tyne,
looking for something.

Tom Kelly © 2017