Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Lou Kenton (1908 –2012) was an English potter, who served as an ambulance driver with the International Brigade and was its oldest surviving member at the time of his death.
Lou Kenton during the SCW (seated, with beret)
Kenton was born in Stepney, east London to a Jewish Ukrainian family who had escaped the Tsarist pogroms. His father died from Tuberculosis when he was young, and as he left school aged 14 he worked in a paper factory where he first encountered anti-Semitism. This led him to join the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1929.
In early 1937, Kenton left Stepney to join the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. His wife, an exiled Austrian nurse from Nazi Germany, shortly followed him. When he arrived at the International Brigades headquarters in Albacete, he applied to join the International Brigade's Medical Unit. It was from there that he spent nearly two years in action as an Ambulance driver on the front lines, as well as distributing medical supplies to hospitals across the country. He left for Britain in late 1938 on an 'Aid for Spain' fund-raising mission to raise money for a new Ambulance but by the time his tour was over, the International Brigades were withdrawn.
After the International Brigades were withdrawn, Kenton was hugely depressed. One of his missions was to hand the Basque refugees given asylum in the United Kingdom back to the Spanish authorities. It was "the first time I saw the fascist police in their three-cornered hats. All the children were in tears and all of them were hanging on to me as we checked each one and handed them over."
After the Lidice massacre in Czechoslovakia in 1942, Kenton joined the British "Lidice Shall Live" organisation. He was an active member for many years and in the 1990s served as its chairman.
Kenton remained a devout communist, working tirelessly on trade union organisation, unemployed marches and party activities until 1968 when the Prague Spring was suppressed by the Soviet Union. He then joined the Labour Party and remained a member for the rest of his life.