Remembering Gareth Jones in Wales

by Lubomyr Luciuk

He was born in Barry and murdered in Mongolia. It was a short life - he was killed on the eve of his 30th birthday - but the span graced to Gareth Richard Vaughan Jones was used well.

Between 1925 and 1929 he secured a first class degree in French from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, then another in medieval and modern languages from Trinity College, Cambridge. Fluent in French, Welsh, English, German and Russian, he found employment by 1930 as a private secretary for foreign affairs to Lloyd George, the World War I leader and only Liberal ever to be a prime minister of the United Kingdom, "the Welsh Wizard."

More interested in journalism than academic life, Jones moved to the Wall Street offices of Dr. Ivy Lee's public relations firm in 1931. That same year he made his second trip to the USSR, escorting Jack Heinz II, son of the founder of the famous "Heinz 57" fortune. They met many Soviet boosters, from Maurice Hindus to Louis Fischer to Walter Duranty. They even secured an interview with Lenin's widow, Madame Krupskaya, first being "thrilled" to view Lenin's mummy in its Red Square mausoleum, "the body of a man dead seven years."

The Depression forced Jones home but employment awaited with George and later with The Western Mail. As his diary entries and regular Sunday letters reveal, Jones possessed a near-irrepressible curiousity, coupled with determination to interview the great men of his time. And he did - chatting with Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Frank Lloyd Wright, Sir Bernard Pares, Upton Sinclar, Walter Lippman and William Randolph Hearst, to list but a few. And, on February 23, 1933, he was the first non-Nazi journalist invited to fly with the fuhrer to Frankfurt, in Chancellor Adolph Hitler's private plane, the Richtoffen, observing, "If this aeroplane should crash, the whole history of Europe would be changed."

From Germany Jones went to "the home of Bolshevism," arriving in Moscow on March 6, 1933, that very evening meeting Malcolm Muggeridge. Then, surreptitiously, he set out for Kharkiv, intent on learning the truth of rumors about a great famine. Detraining, he tramped through the Ukrainian countryside, finding widespread hunger. His pocket diary recorded a village elder saying: "In the old times we had horses and cows and pigs and chickens. Now we are dying of hunger. In the old days we fed the world. Now they have taken all we had away from us ... I should have bade you welcome, and given you, as my guest, chickens and eggs and milk and fine white bread. Now we have no bread in the house. They are killing us."

Jones returned to Berlin, on March 29, filing numerous articles about the famine, provoking a near-immediate riposte from none other than Duranty, in The New York Times on March 31, "Russians Hungry, but Not Starving." Belittling Jones, Duranty would justify the forced collectivization of agriculture with the infamous prescription, "to put it brutally, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs." Dissimulating further, he wrote: "there is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition."

Duranty never admitted how, on September 29, 1933, he had called in at the British Embassy, stating that "as many as 10 million people may have died directly or indirectly from lack of food in the Soviet Union during the past year." Nevertheless, he got the 1933 Pulitzer Prize for his "objective reporting" about the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, Jones was targeted. Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov declared him persona non grata, forever banned from the USSR. Ominously, he was placed on the secret police's watch list. Like Muggeridge, he was censured and scorned, repeatedly. Writing to Jones on April 17, Muggeridge left an impression of what that was like. Agreeing that Duranty was, "of course, a plain crook," he complained of how his own famine articles were censored by the Manchester Guardian's editor, William Crozier.

Breaking his ties with that newspaper, Muggeridge had offered a rejoinder: "You don't want to know what is going on in Russia, and you don't want your readers to know either; if the Metrovick [Metropolitan-Vickers Trial] people had been Jews or Negroes, your righteous indignation would have been unbounded. You'd have published photographs of their lacerated backsides. They being just Englishmen, you refuse to publish the truth about their treatment or the general facts which make that truth significant - and this when the MG is packed with stories of what the Nazis are doing to the Jews and the Poles to the Ukrainian and Silesian minorities."

Banned from the USSR, Jones turned his attentions to Asia, in late 1934 embarking on his "Round-the-World Fact-Finding Tour." Particularly intrigued by a growing conflict between Imperial Japan and China, Jones ended up in Manchukuo where, near Kalgan, he met his end on August 12, 1935, having been kidnapped by Chinese bandits 16 days earlier. How Jones died is not in dispute. The investigating officer, Lt. K.E.F. Millar, reported he was dispatched with one bullet to the head, two to the chest.

Why Jones was murdered, however, remains controversial. Was it because he was an eyewitness to the genocidal Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine, the Holodomor? Certainly, but unbeknownst to him, as he made his way from Japan to Inner Mongolia, he was surrounded by characters now known to have been Soviet agents of influence, perhaps worse. He shared an apartment in Tokyo with Gunther Stein, not knowing it was used for secret wireless broadcasts to Moscow by the Soviet spy Richard Sorge.

When Jones set out on his last expedition he traveled in a car provided by a Mr. Purpis, who ran the Wostwag fur trading company, a cover for Communist espionage activities in the Far East. Their "White Russian" driver, Anatoli, disappeared after the ambush, never interviewed, while Dr. Herbert Muller, his traveling companion, was released unharmed, no ransom paid. The bandits themselves were then tracked down, some killed, the others scattered, the immediate perpetrators thus lost to history.

Perhaps Jones was just an ill-fated fellow. Or he fell victim to assassination, being a man who, as Lloyd George wrote, "knew too much of what was going on." We may never find out.

What is indisputable, however, is that Jones wrote truthfully about the Holodomor even as Duranty did not. And for that reason a trilingual Welsh-Ukrainian-English plaque, the first ever, is to be unveiled at the University of Wales on May 2. It hallows the memory of a decent young man who wanted nothing more than to be an honest reporter and probably paid for his commitment to his calling with his life. Much better, I say, to honor the truth-teller than the Prize-winning liar.

Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 30, 2006, No. 18, Vol. LXXIV

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