Politics & Policy

A Hero of Our Time

Gareth Jones, 20th-century truth-teller.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the September 27, 2004, issue of National Review.

The notebooks–worn, creased, and drab, but haunting nonetheless–lay carefully set out on a table in the lobby of a New York hotel. Their pages were filled with notes, comments, and calculations, jotted and scribbled in the cursive, spiky script once a hallmark of pre-war Britain’s educated classes.

#ad#Their author had, it seems, wandered through a dying village deep within Stalin’s gargoyle empire. “Woman came out and started crying. ‘They’re killing us. In my village there used to be 300 cows and now we only have 30. The horses have died. How can I feed us all?’” It was the Ukraine, March 1933, a land in the throes of a man-made famine, the latest murderous chapter in Soviet social engineering. Five, six, seven million had died, maybe more. As Khrushchev later explained, “No one was counting.”

But how had these notebooks found their way to a Hilton in Manhattan? Some years ago, in a town in Wales, an old, old lady, older than the century in which she lived, was burgled. As a result, she moved out of her home. When her niece, Siriol, came to clear up whatever was left, she found a brown leather suitcase monogrammed “G.V.R.J.” and, lying under a thick layer of dust, a black tin box. Inside them were papers, letters, and, yes, those notebooks (“nothing had been thrown away”), the last records of Gareth Jones–”G.V.R.J.”–Siriol’s “jolly,” brilliant Uncle Gareth, a polyglot traveler and journalist. In 1935 he had been killed by bandits in Manchuria, or so it was said. All that was left was grief, his writings, and the memory of a talented man cut down far, far too soon.

Seven decades later, as I sat talking to Siriol Colley in that midtown hotel, looking through Jones’s papers, his press clippings, even his passport, it was not difficult to get a sense of the uncle she still mourned. Welsh to his core, he was typical of those clever, energetic Celts who did so well in the British Empire, restless (all those visa stamps, Warsaw, Berlin, Riga . . .), ambitious, and enterprising. Despite his youth, Jones seemed to get everywhere, Zelig with a typewriter. On New Year’s Day 1935, for instance, he was in San Simeon, Kane’s Xanadu itself, side by side with William Randolph Hearst. Earlier, we find him on a plane with Hitler (“looks like a middle-class grocer”), and, why, there he is, smiling on the White House lawn in April 1931, standing just behind a hopeless, hapless Herbert Hoover.

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