Farewell to Joan Brown and Margaret McLean

Post date: 12/09/2017

IBMT President Marlene Sidaway pays tribute to two strong and inspirational women who were founding members of the IBMT and widows of International Brigaders…

Joan Brown, who died in July at the age of 89, was one of the IBMT’s earliest and most active members.

Born in Bermondsey, south London, Joan moved to Rotherham in 1949 when she married Bill Brown, whom she had met on a walking holiday in the Lake District. Both were political activists and members of the Communist Party. Bill was a steel worker, and Joan became an art teacher. Bill died in 1982, but Joan continued to work for the causes she believed in. Her home and generous hospitality were the focus for political discussions, organising commemorations and planning and fundraising events.

It was during this time that Joan and International Brigade veteran Chris Smith became partners and her work with the IBMT was invaluable. The projects she worked on included the ‘Walk of Art’, containing the names of the Yorkshire volunteers at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the memorial olive tree planting at Wortley Hall (by Jack Jones) and hosting the National Clarion Cycling Club 1895 fundraising tour in Clifton Park.

Margaret McLean, who died in June, aged 93, was another early member of the IBMT.


Margaret was born in Liverpool, but during the 1930s the family moved to Middlesbrough and later she went to Kings College London to study history, before joining the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). It was there that she met her future husband Tony McLean, who taught history to her and the other young ATS recruits. They married in their army uniforms and celebrated the end of the war as a victory against fascism rather than a victory for Britain. 


Both (pictured) were united in their opposition to fascism and Margaret was very proud of the fact that Tony had gone to Spain, where he worked as an interpreter and researcher. 



They first lived in Hastings, but by the time their three children were born, they had settled in a little cottage in Sandway, a small hamlet in Kent and their home for the rest of their married life. They had a wide circle of friends, including many socialists, historians, writers and artists, as well as refugees from Germany and Spain. 


Margaret’s life was shattered when Tony died in 1982. The loss brought on a deep depression.  After recovery, she became a strong advocate for the rights of mental health patients and the need for more NHS resources for them. 


When she moved to Kensal Rise in west London she became more active politically, joining the Labour Party, becoming a strong supporter of the IBMT, local campaigns against cuts in services, supporting Cuba, CND and the anti-war movement. When the Iraq war began she was outraged by Tony Blair: ‘It’s because he’s too young to understand what war means,’ she declared. 


Originally posted on 23 August 2017 (reposted on 12 September).

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