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December 2005

The Ukrainian Reviews

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More than a Grain of Truth:

The Biography of Gareth Richard Vaughan Jones By Dr. Margaret Siriol Colley ISBN 095637001 1 9


Gareth Jones (1905- 1935) will be familiar to many Ukrainian readers as the journalist who gave an honest account of conditions in the Great Famine of 1932- 1933. This book, written by his niece, on the basis of his extensive correspondence, diaries and journalism, and her own research, provides both an account of a full life tragically cut short, and the remote world of the 1930s. Dr. Colley, with editorial assistance from her son Nigel, has produced a book that will be of interest to the general reader and students of Ukrainian and world history.


Dr Colley shares with her uncle a gift for recalling events just as they were. As we read the book it becomes apparent that Gareth was a confident, honest and brave man, eager to explore and understand the world but with a great deal of compassion for those who suffered during the “Low, dishonest decade” (Auden) of the 1930’s. These qualities, which made him such an engaging journalist, would lead him into an ill fated visit to Mongolia during which he was captured and murdered by bandits.


Gareth Jones was born on August 13th 1935 to Edgar Jones, headmaster of Barry County School and Annie Gwen Jones, who had spent time in Ukraine as the tutor to the children of John Hughes, the industrialist who founded the town of “Hughesovka” (modem day Donetsk). He inher­ited a number of attributes from his parents - the strong moral code of Welsh Methodism, an interest in politics (his mother had been a Suffragette) and a gift for languages from his father who knew the classic tongues in addition to Welsh and English. He had a contented childhood, doted on by his sisters, his mother and his Aunt Winnie. His fasci­nation for the wider world was fired both by his mothers experience in Ukraine and the cosmopolitan environment of the docks in Barry. He had a glittering academic career, during the course of which he acquired first class honours in Medieval and Modern Languages. During his time at uni­versity he was able to familiarise himself with Europe and worked his passage to Oslo and traveled to Riga, in addi­tion to rambling round Germany and studying in France. When he graduated from Cambridge he was fluent in five languages, English, Welsh, German, French and Russian, well travelled and determined to resist his father’s attempt to steer him into the sheltered life of a standard academic:


I was very interested in the Dada’s (fathers) suggestions about a fellowship and perhaps a lectureship. But I’m sorry, it does not tempt me very much. I am much more interested in people and countries and in modern Europe especially. I would a thousand times prefer to use my knowledge of lan­guages with an aim to obtaining a position where I could meet interesting people of all nationalities and where I could really find out the characteristics of the nations of today.


During a short but fascinating career Gareth Jones worked as Lloyd George’s policy adviser (former Prime Minister), a journalist for the Western Mail, and had a post with Ivy Lee, Vice President of the American League of Nations. He flew on a plane with Hitler, interviewed William Randolph Hearst the newspaper tycoon who inspired “Citizen Kane,” and Maxim Litivinov - Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs. The main point of interest for a Ukrainian reader is, however, his account of conditions in the Soviet Union - in particular the articles that emerged from his unauthorized walk in the Ukrainian countryside in 1933.These articles which appeared in the Daily Express during 1933 are quoted extensively in the book and offer an eye witness account of the famine. The detachment and precision of the writing is remarkable given the terrible nature of the scenes that he describes:


A woman with a bowed head walking along the railway track turned and said “There is no bread. We have not had bread for over two months and many are dying here” Many also said “It is terrible here many are dying,, but further South it is much worse. Go down to the Poltava region and you will see hundreds of empty cottages. In a village of three hundred huts, only about a hundred will have people living in them, for the others will have died or fled, but mainly died”


Gareth’s articles would subsequently draw the fire of Walter Duranty, Moscow Correspondent of the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize Winner and, most notably, a cynical liar. Duranty was one of many, as Eugene Lyon’s - an American correspondent in Moscow (quoted by Dr Colley) shows:


Throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a choreas fell to any of us in years of `juggling facts to please dicta-tonal regimes- but throw him down we did-..] We admitted just enough to soothe our consciences but in roundabout phrases that damned Jones as a liar (“Assignment in Utopia”J


Gareth Jones survived this attempt to destroy his career and insisted on the accuracy of his work. His subsequent death in Mongolia may have been connected to the famine - there is an intriguing mystery in the circumstances around his kidnapping and a number of theories are put forward in this book and another by Dr. Colley covering Jones’s period in Mongolia “Gareth Jones: a Manchukuo Incident’ (2001).


This brilliant man, whose career was undeservedly neglected for so long would, in an ideal world, be recognized posthumously by the Ukrainian government and awarded the Pulitzer prize that was erroneously given to the liar Duranty. It is of course unlikely that either of these eventual­ities will happen. The Pulitzer Prize Committee continues to refuse to strip Duranty of their award and remains in denial of their error. Communist Representatives still crow about the Glorious October Revolution in Ukraine’s Parliament while physically assaulting other deputies and inadvertently revealing the innate brutality of their ideology. Gareth Jones was, if not a casualty of the famine, someone who certainly suffered at the hands of Stalin’s amoral flunkies in the Western press, and he should be remembered when we light a candle for the famine victims on November 26th.