I came home from work to some sad news today on my email. Aubrey Morris a veteran of the Battle of Cable Street has passed away at he age of 89. In October 2006 - on the 70th anniversary of this famous demonstration to prevent the fascists marching through the East End Jewish heartland - I had the privilege of sharing a platform with him at a meeting organised by the Jewish Socialists' Group. During that week he also appeared on radio and television. He was typically diffident about his role in the Battle and about the attention he was drawing from the media. He reckoned it was less to do with any heroics on his part but more because many of the spokespersons on previous anniversaries had passed on to yene velt!
He shouldn't have been so diffident. The men and women who took to the streets in their many tens of thousands, against the advice of the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Chronicle, the rabbis, the Labour Party leadership, the government...were courageous and completely justified.
Aubrey, 17 years old at the time, was already a worker and politically minded. He had joined the Labour League of Youth, and the commitment he showed on October 4th 1936 turned into a lifelong commitment to fight against racism and fascism and for equal rights and equal opportunities for all. He remained active politically and gave generous financial support to several progressive causes, including the socialist magazine Red Pepper.
For Aubrey, the attempt by the police to clear a path for the fascists through Cable street was particularly painful because his grandmother ran the family bakery business at Number 86 Cable Street. A few days before I shared a platform with Aubrey at the Cable street meeting,I was at a booklaunch for his autobiography, "Unfinished Journey". Journeys were important in Aubrey's life. After working in the bakers he became a cabbie and later began a very successful career in the travel agency business.
In that book he gives a very vivid description of the Battle of Cable Street.
"This small section of the street from Back Church Lane to Cannon Street had to be traversed by the fascists...Many of the residents were elderly...most retained vivid memoriesof the pogroms they and their parents had endured. Some were for shutting down to avoid trouble but the majority were anxious to prevent this fresh provocative incursion and did come out on to the streets...We 'borrowed' a flatbed truck sufficiently long to close off the street just before Fleming Street...When the first wave of mounted police arrived to clear the way they were pelted from ground level with broken paving and cobble stones and from every window with missiles ranging from filled piss-pots to lumps of wood, rotten fruit and old bedding, All sorts of items rained sown on them. There were hand to hand skirmishes...The timely arrival of a large number of dockworkers from the surrounding areas reinforced and sustained the resistance."
Unfortunately I can't attend his levoye on Sunday, but I will be paying my respects in what I hope is a meaningful way. I will be honouring a commitment to take a group of teenagers on my Anti-Fascist Footprints walk to Cable Street and I will tell them about what people such as Aubrey Morris, did when he was their age, to ensure that the Fascists did not pass through the East End. We have lost a fighter and a mench but his memory and inspiration will live on amongst those he worked with and supported. I wish his family long life.