You know the moment. You find a book you really like very cheap in an Oxfam bookshop, and for no very good reason, you buy it. You already have a copy - but it's too good to pass by.
That's how this morning, at the Oxfam bookshop in Crouch End, I forked out £2.50 for Clive Branson's British Soldier in India. Branson, a veteran of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War (some of his poems are in the anthologies of civil war verse), served in India and Burma during the Second World War - and died there.
His letters are about India, communism, poverty, nationalism, war, famine - and the vivid colours and assault on all the senses that India brings with it to those from outside.
What tempted me above all, though, to make the purchase was a clipping loose inside the book - a review in the 'Daily Worker' of 21st October 1944 by, of all people, Sean O'Casey. Here it is:
In an introduction to the book - published in 1944, the year of Branson's death in Burma - the CP leader, Harry Pollitt, gives some details of his life history. Born in 1907 in India, where his father was an army officer (it seems his full name was Clive Ali Chimmo Branson though he was usually known as Frank - there must be a story behind that but I haven't yet found it), Branson moved to England as a baby. He attended the Slade School of Art, but once he joined the CP in his mid-twenties he forsook painting for a while: 'He used to say that to be able to paint you must first learn about life.'
British Soldier in india includes a few sketches that Branson made while in Maharashtra - this being a study for a much larger intended work:
I noticed in Pollitt's introduction an account of Branson's art work in the years just before he enlisted in the armed forces:
After the outbreak of the present war, while continuing his political work, he nevertheless spent a number of months painting very intensively, because, as he said, "it may be my last chance". He painted mainly the life in Battersea, where he lived, the workers in the streets, the events of the blitz.
And if you look on the web, you can see some of these very striking paintings. The one below dates from 1937 and is entitled 'Selling the Daily Worker outside the Projectile and Engineering Works' - it's held by the Tate, and I hope they will forgive me for posting the work here:
And here's another even more striking Branson painting which I found on the web - entitled 'Bombed Women and Searchlights', from the Blitz period. It's also at the Tate - one of five Branson paintings they hold (among the other is surely the only still life to feature books by Marx and Stalin):
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