The name of Gareth Jones, the journalist who exposed the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, also known as the Holodomor, during which millions of people died, is well known in Ukraine. Not only does he have a street named after him in Kyiv, but he was also posthumously named a Hero of Ukraine by the Ukrainian government.
However, the Welshman from the coastal town of Barry hasn’t received the wider recognition he deserves in his own country. So far.
Martin Shipton, political editor of the Western Mail, a newspaper where Gareth Jones worked as a journalist, has just published a biography about him.
Called Mr Jones, the man who knew too muchShipton said: “The family had written material themselves, but what was needed was a fresh, more contemporary look at Gareth Jones.”
After a busy book launch at the Little Man Coffee Shop in Bridge Street on Monday September 5, the name of Gareth Jones was heard again in Cardiff, its author highlighting the tremendous achievements of this investigative journalist, who has not never reached its 30th birthday. birthday.
Diaspora members sat and listened in awe, joined by newcomers from war-torn Ukraine. Mick Antoniw, MS (Member of the Senedd – Welsh Parliament) is Legal Counsel for Wales and Cabinet Member of the Welsh Government, who wrote the foreword to the book, spoke passionately about his family at home and said Ukraine would never give in to Vladimir Putin, whom he calls a fascist.
Ahead of the book launch, author Martin Shipton spoke to Kyiv Post.
Publication of the book was delayed by COVID and Martin being gravely ill – but the downside of this worked in favor of making the book more timely and relevant.
“With Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there were so many resonances to how Ukraine was treated in the 1930s in the context of the Holodomor,” he said. .
“In a way, the delays allowed me to make much more revealing observations and comparisons between what was happening in the 1930s and what is happening today.
“It gave the book an extra dimension, and the other factor that led to the writing of the book was that there had been a film produced about Gareth Jones. [released in 2019].”
I asked Shipton if his office at the Western Mail was somewhere near where Gareth Jones would have sat. He had been portrayed in the film starring James Norton. Unfortunately, Shipton said, the office had been simulated.
The original newsroom where Gareth would have knocked out his stories on a typewriter was long gone. A new building had been constructed in 1961, decades after his death, and the last office was built in 2008.
The only crumb of comfort Shipton could give me was that the original building where he allegedly deposited his stories was a few hundred yards away in the center of Cardiff.
And as if it mattered, he said, “He lived in Barry, about 10 miles away, which meant he had to take the bus to work.”
The 348-page book is easy to read, peppered with extensive archives that Shipton pored over on weekends and evenings while pursuing his day job. There were overnight stays in Aberystwyth, where the National Library of Wales is located. There he faced a mountain of letters and other materials.
“When he was traveling, he would write at least a weekly letter to his parents,” Shipton said. “There were also notebooks he had.”
It took Shipton about three years to write, but what stands out most about the book for him is seeing the development of Gareth Jones into someone who could stand up to a very powerful group of journalists who essentially monopolized what was happening in the Soviet Union.
“I wanted to understand what it was about his background that gave Gareth Jones the tools and the strength of character to be able to take on these very powerful interests,” Shipton said.
“It was his whole story of someone who came from a family in Wales, where both of his parents were very principled individuals. His father was the principal of a local school, his mother had worked in Ukraine as a nanny for the children of the John Hughes family, who came from Merthyr Tydfil, and had established an iron factory in what is now Donetsk. [formerly called Hughesovka].
“His parents were liberal and with Gareth working for the great statesman David Lloyd George, he gave him a lot of self-confidence,” Shipton said.
In the book, people from the West, like playwright, literary critic and prominent British socialist George Bernard Shaw, were taken in by the Soviet regime. Despite being a big voice for the underdog, Shaw believed he had found “worker’s heaven.”
Gareth Jones was also confronted by Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow bureau chief, nicknamed Stalin’s apologist, who said Jones based his Holodomor views on a large-scale famine while visiting a small region of Ukraine.
In response, Jones said his evidence came from three trips to Russia, visiting 20 villages in Ukraine and what was called the “black earth (chornozem) district” and speaking to 20-30 consuls and diplomatic representatives. of various nations who supported his opinion, but were not allowed to speak to the press, but were quite open in private conversation.
By March 1933, Jones was determined to bring the Ukrainian famine to as wide an audience as possible. Instead of publishing an article, he held a press conference in Berlin, Germany.
Shipton said: “He wasn’t selfish. Many journalists would have said ‘this is my story, I want to keep it to myself’. Instead, he wanted to get maximum exposure, pointing out the horrific treatment inflicted by the Stalinist regime.
Shipton believes he made the decision based on what he learned while working in former Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s private practice, but also from Ivy Lee, one of the founders of public relations.
“He was well placed to take advantage, with his own character traits and his own experience of principle, to get his point across in a way that others would not.”
Shipton makes it clear that in the book he didn’t just want to glorify Gareth Jones, but also point out some of his flaws. In terms of interpretation, Jones did not believe that Hitler would come to power. He wrote this a few days before coming to power.
Gareth Jones never forgot his Welsh roots and spoke the language. He was also fluent in English, Russian, French and German. He traveled widely, visiting the United States during the Great Depression, and was the first foreign journalist to travel on a plane with Hitler after the Nazis took power in Germany. There is also a chapter on Wales and Ireland, subtitled ‘Celtic Culture and Nationalism’.
Jones was killed on the eve of his 30th birthday by bandits in Manchukuo – Japanese-occupied Inner Mongolia – while on a fact-finding tour around the world.
In the book, Jones’ niece, Margaret Siriol Colley, is convinced that her uncle was murdered at the behest of the Japanese for political reasons.
In his book, A Manchukuo Incident, she wrote: “The secrets he knew died with him. The countries involved have a lot to answer for and no one can be credited with trying to save it. He was just a pawn in an international chess game.
Colley’s son Nigel, who died in 2018, had another theory. In an MI5 file released in 2002, he identified those with Jones as Mueller, a German and Soviet agent, driver Anatoli, a white Russian, and Adam Purpis, a Chinese Communist banker and supplied them with weapons. He believed that “together they led Gareth to his murder or were indirectly responsible for it in some way”.
Shipton’s own view is to accept Nigel’s version that Gareth Jones’ death was engineered by the Soviets, even though there is no definitive proof. There are powerful comparisons to be made between what happened in Ukraine in the 1930s, he points out, and what is happening now.
As before, the Ukrainian nation finds itself in a struggle for its very survival.