1930s JOURNALIST GARETH JONES TO HAVE STORY RETOLD
Correspondent who exposed Soviet Ukraine's manmade famine focus of new documentary
Trinity College, Cambridge Special Exhibition The Diaries of Gareth Jones
London, United Kingdom, Friday 13 November 2009
LONDON - In death he has become known as "the man who knew too much" – a fearless young British reporter who walked from one desperate, godforsaken village to another exposing the true horror of a famine that was killing millions.
Gareth Jones's accounts of what was happening in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-33 were different from other western accounts. Not only did he reveal the true extent of starvation, he reported on the Stalin regime's failure to deliver aid while exporting grain to the west. The tragedy is now known as the Holodomar
and regarded by Ukrainians as genocide.
Two years after the articles Jones was killed by Chinese bandits in Inner Mongolia – murdered, according to his family, in a Moscow plot as punishment.
The remarkable story of Jones is being told afresh by his old university, Cambridge, which is putting on public display for the first time Jones's handwritten diaries from his time in Ukraine.
They will go on display at the Wren Library alongside items relating to rather better known Trinity old boys such as Newton, Wittgenstein and AA Milne, coinciding with a new documentary about Jones and the famine – "The Living" – which gets its British premiere this evening.
The story of Jones, a devout, non-comformist teetotaller from Barry, often has elements of Indiana Jones and Zelig.
Rory Finnan, a lecturer in Ukrainian studies at Cambridge, called him "a true hero"."He is a remarkable historical figure and it is also remarkable that he is not well known. Jones was the only journalist who risked his name and reputation to expose the Holodomor to the world."
Jones became interested in Ukraine and learned Russian because of his mother who worked as a governess for the family of John Hughes, a Merthyr Tydfil engineer who founded a town in southern Ukraine called Hughesovka – now called Donetsk.
After graduating, Jones was introduced to David Lloyd George and quickly became his foreign adviser, visiting the USSR for the first time as the former prime minister's eyes and ears.
It was in 1932-33 though that Jones would make his name, walking alone along a railway line visiting villages during a terrible famine that killed millions.
He sent moving stories of survivors to British, American and German newspapers but they were rubbished by the Stalin regime – and derided by Moscow-based western journalists, men like the New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty, who wrote: "There is no famine or actual starvation, nor is there likely to be," and dismissed Jones' eyewitness accounts as a "big scare story".
The only other reporter writing about the extent of the famine was Malcolm Muggeridge in the Manchester Guardian, although his three articles were heavily cut and not bylined.
In the Ukraine, Jones is something of a national hero and last year both he and Muggeridge were awarded the highest honour Ukraine gives to non-citizens, the order of freedom, for their reporting during 1932-33.
But there is more to Jones's story and a Zelig-like quality to his life. For example, he was once on a 16-seat aircraft with the new German chancellor, Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Goebbels, on their way to a rally in Frankfurt. Jones wrote for the Western Mail that if the plane had crashed the history of western Europe history would have changed forever.
Another time, outside the gates of the White House, he saw the one-time American president Herbert Hoover preparing to have his photograph taken with schoolchildren. Soon enough, somehow, Jones is in the photograph.
After his Ukraine articles Jones was banned from the USSR and, in many eyes, discredited. The only work he could get was in Cardiff on the Western Mail covering "arts, crafts and coracles", according to his great-nephew Nigel Linsan Colley. But again his life changed.
He managed to get an interview with a local castle owner: William Randolph Hearst who owned St Donat's Castle near Cardiff. The newspaper magnate was obviously taken by Jones's accounts of what had happened in Ukraine and invited the reporter to the US.
Jones dutifully arrived at Hearst's private station – as Chico Marx was leaving the estate – and wrote three articles for Hearst and used, for the first time, the phrase "manmade famine".
Again the articles were damned and wrongly discredited. Banned from the USSR, Jones decided he wanted to explore what was going on in the far east and, in particular, what Japan's intentions were. The day before his 30th birthday Jones was kidnapped and killed by Chinese bandits. Jones's descendants believe it happened with the complicity of Moscow. "There is no direct proof," said Colley, "but plenty of indirect proof."
Colley is pleased that his great-uncle is getting the recognition he believes is deserved and the family is clearly proud. "I don't know whether he was brave or stupid. He knew the risks he was taking, I think, but because he was a British citizen he thought he was indestructible."