Charlie Hutchison was unique in more ways than one. A Black Communist who spent ten years physically fighting fascism and racism from Cable Street, Franco’s fascists in Spain to Hitler’s nazis in France, North Africa, Italy and Germany. Born in Oxfordshire on 10th May 1918, his father was from the Gold Coast (Ghana) and his mother a local woman. The couple had five children and Charlie’s father often traveled back to Africa and eventually did not return, leaving his wife in financial hardship as well as mental anguish . Concerned for her children, she asked for Charlie and one of his sisters to be taken temporarily into care and so they went to the National Children’s Home and Orphanage in Harpenden He and his sister spent several years there until he was allowed to leave and joined his mother who now lived in Fulham.
By 1935, working as a lorry driver and aware of his race and class, he joined the local Y.C.L. and was quickly elected chair of the branch. Alongside many other Communists, he went to Cable Street when Mosley’s blackshirted fascists attempted their provocative march through the Jewish East End of London and played his part in forcing them to turn away in defeat.
Two months after this in December 1936 , the 18 year old Charlie Hutchison was among the early British volunteers to go to Spain to help defend the Spanish republic from Franco’s fascists supported by Mussolini’s and Hitler’s huge military aid. He gave his reason for going in these words ” I am half Black, I grew up in the National Children’s Home and Orphanage. Fascism meant hunger and war” He has the distinction of being the only Black British volunteer in the International Brigades in that momentous struggle for freedom and against the twin evils of fascism and racism.
Despite his young age, he served for two years until the end of the war in 1938. He fought at the Battle of Lopera soon after his arrival and was wounded during the fighting where the great British Communist and poet John Cornford lost his life. After recovering from his wounds, he refused to be repatriated and because of his youth, was reassigned as an ambulance driver in the Republican Army. His superior officers described him as ” a hard and capable worker” and said his political views were ” Good for his age, quite developed”.
As time passed, and his mother wrote pleading for him to come home, he did ask to go back on temporary leave of absence to deal with family affairs but due to bureaucracy this did not happen so he bravely continued to serve until December 1938. In the 1980s, Charlie Hutchison gave his reason why so many men and women came to Spain to aid the Republic in the International Brigade. He said ” The Brigades came out of the working class, they came out of the Battle of Cable Street, they came out of the struggles on the side turnings…. they weren’t Communist they weren’t Socialist but they were anti-fascist”
Charlie Hutchison hardly had time to resume his duties with the Communist Party in Fulham when the Second World War broke out . He joined the British army, went to France and was among those at Dunkirk in 1940 who were rescued by hundreds of small vessels and the Navy from the advancing nazi forces. He then served in North Africa and through the long bloody campaign in Italy. In the last years of the war, he fought in France and into Germany. In April 1945, he was among British troops who liberated Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp. What he witnessed there, was the ultimate of racist fascist ideology, the extreme barbarism he had been fighting for ten years.
He resumed life in Fulham and in 1947, married Patricia Holloway, a fellow Communist . A life long Communist, Charlie Hutchison died in 1993 and was rightly honoured at at an event in 2019 attended by many proud family members . His son John, speaking of his father, remembered growing up in a house full of books “by Marx, Salinger, Steinbeck and Hugo” He also said, ” unusually for the ’50s and ’60s he had friends from all over the world through the Communist movement” Charlie Hutchison, this unique Black Communist, anti racist and anti fascist is well summed up by his son John’s words ” My father believed in the family of man”