AN ICONIC chapter in North-East history has closed, following the death of the last survivor of the Jarrow March.
Con Shiels was 20 and on a government work scheme in London when he joined his father, Con Shiels Senior, and around 200 others for the final stretch of the 300-mile protest trek to the capital in 1936.
The March, or Crusade, saw unemployed men walk from Jarrow to London in protest at the town’s unemployment and extreme poverty following the closure of its shipyard.
Marchers carried an 11,000-name petition but, though they passed into folklore, their efforts achieved little.
Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin refused to receive a deputation and the shipyard remained closed, with the men simply given £1 each towards their train fare home.
Mr Shiels, who lived much of his life in Jarrow, died on Boxing Day aged 96 following a short illness.
He had joined the March for the final day and, though involvement was strictly limited, he was allowed in after the men discovered his origins.
His father, an unemployed riveter, had become the March’s cook.
Mr Shiels Snr had written to his son six times en route to the capital and his letters are the only which survive from the March.
Speaking to The Northern Echo in 2006, Mr Shiels Junior said he felt privileged to have been part of the March.
He later spent 12 years in the Royal Navy, before working as a fitter.
A widower, he leaves a son and two daughters, along with several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
His daughter, Moya Green, said: “Dad loved talking about the Jarrow March and remained proud of his role in the event throughout his life.
“His memories of those times remained very sharp.”
A Reqiuem Mass for Mr Shiels was held in Jarrow yesterday (Wednesday, January 2).