From the Orwell Society weekend

Post date: 29/06/2023

Historian Christopher Hall writes…

The weekend of 23-25 June saw the Orwell Society celebrate the 120th anniversary of to the birth of George Orwell (real name Eric Blair). I was invited as a guest speaker to talk about ‘Homage to Catalonia’. The location for the weekend centred around the two sleepy and beautiful Oxfordshire villages of Sutton Courtenay and Shiplake.

On the Friday night there were readings from Society members from Orwell’s works at the George pub, which included some interesting Orwell memorabilia. I read a passage from ‘Homage to Catalonia' about the importance of keeping warm when involved in trench warfare.

On the Saturday was a full day conference in the next-door church hall. This involved talks on ‘Burmese Days’, ‘Road to Wigan Pier’, ‘Homage to Catalonia’, Orwell and the BBC, women and Orwell and personal reflections by Orwell’s son, Richard Blair. 

My talk on ‘Homage to Catalonia’ praised Orwell’s honesty but was also a critique showing he could be condescending and rude on occasions. I pointed out that, although little happened on Orwell’s sector of the front, six of the British volunteers were wounded out of 30 or 40 and in their one offensive action 20 per cent were wounded.  

In the churchyard are Orwell’s quite simple grave and that of the former Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith.

Interestingly two of the Orwell Society had links to the International Brigades. Quentin Kopp’s wife Liz’s father fought with the Czech volunteers. His name was Jan Geza Posner, born in 1906. Liz knew little about him and has found few records, if any. 

Jan Geza Posner (right) with other Czech volunteers.

However, she had three pictures of her father taken at the Gurs concentration camp in southern France, where she states the Czechs had to build their own huts. Her father moved to Britain, where he enlisted in the British Army in World War II. After the war he returned to Czechoslovakia, where he became a dissident and was eventually sent to a gulag, mining uranium for two years, which broke his health. There was a prisoner exchange in 1956 and he returned to Britain, but died a few years later in 1958. 

Another Society member said his uncle served in the British Battalion, which could be William or Andrew Clarke. He disappeared in Spain and his whereabouts were unknown in 1940. His nephew claims he turned up to a reunion, possibly in the 1980s.

Christopher Hall is a former IBMT Trustee and the author of ‘Not Just Orwell (2009), with was republished in 2012 under the title ‘In Spain with Orwell: George Orwell and the Independent Labour Party Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939’. His latest book is ‘The Nurse Who Became a Spy: Madge Addy’s War Against Fascism’ (2021).

From left: Richard Blair, Orwell’s son, Christopher Hall and Quentin Kopp.

IBMT logo

Support our work

You can support the IBMT by joining us or affiliating your union branch – see details and membership forms here:
menuchevron-up linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram