Frank Leech 1900–1953
Frank Leech was born in 1900, in Wigan to Irish parents, in 1916 he joined the Navy where he became the service heavyweight boxing champion. After his demobilisation from the Navy, he settled in Glasgow in 1920. When he came to Glasgow he wrote, “The last world holocaust had finished, and most of those who had survived were back home ‘demobilised’. It was International Labour day. Many were marching in the processions to the Flesher’s Haugh in Glasgow. The meetings were in progress. Speakers holding forth from their various platforms, John Maclean amongst them. Around the meetings, literature sellers were busy. One of them, a middle-aged man of somewhat smaller stature than most. He was holding up two publications, Freedom and George Barret’s The Anarchist Revolution. The earnestness of his quiet appeal, ‘Comrade, you should read these’, drew my attention- I purchased. I saw him many times at following meetings, often in the company of Willie McGill.(1) I learnt his name-Alex Howie. These two comrades were responsible for sowing the seeds of anarchy in my thoughts.” Before setting up his newsagents shop in Netherton Road, with the help of his “gratuity” from the Navy, he work for a while in the coal mines. Around this time he was active in the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, (APCF), though there was a difference of opinion between him and Guy Aldred, in 1934 when Guy asked him to publish a pamphlet which Frank thought supported Trotsky's views, Frank refused. The seeds of disagreement were sown.
A Safe House
The rise of the Nazi regime in Germany saw many German anarchist being persecuted and some fleeing to other countries, including Scotland. Frank opened his house to some of them, where he helped them set up a printing press and produce an underground paper from his newsagents shop. He was responsible for sheltering numerous individuals fleeing both the German Nazi regime and the repression of Franco's Spain. The start of the Spanish Revolution created an amazing amount of interest in Glasgow, apart from large numbers of Glaswegians volunteering to go to Spain to fight against Franco, there was a massive increase in anarchist activity and propaganda. Frank and the APCF were in the thick of that activity, with frequent street corner meetings and leafleting. Frank, in 1936, also became part of the editorial group of the new paper, Spain and the World, helping to see that it was widely distributed on the streets of Glasgow.
Call for unity
At this period there was now considerable co-operation between the London Freedom Group the APCF, but still little between Guy Aldred's United Socialist Movement, (USM) and the APCF. The then secretary of the London Freedom Group wrote to Guy Aldred calling on him and his group, the USM to join forces with them and the APCF to increase the propaganda, agitation and activity. In his letter he wrote, “Get unity with the APCF surely it is not impossible. I am in cooperation with them and there is no earthly reason why the USM should not be.” Through the co-operation between the London Freedom Group and the APCF, it was decided to merge their two papers, Freedom and the APCF paper Advance, giving birth to a new wider read paper, “Fighting Call” which was edited by Frank Leech. In a further attempt at unity, in October 1936, the APCF issued a statement, “It is time that in this country all personal and party pettiness was abandoned and a real united front shown to the common enemy, international capitalism and fascism. The “Fighting Call” is a concrete example of the efficiency of such an alliance. It is the joint production of the Freedom Group, London and the APCF, Glasgow” However, unity was not on the horizon, things began to sink deeper into disunity when a member of the USM, Jenny Patrick, stated that Leech was a capitalist as he ran a newsagent shop. To Frank Leech that solidified the divide and he then argued against unity with the USM. In one such comment he stated, “ You express the desire for unity between the USM and the APCF. You might as well desire unity between the Roman Catholic Church and the Freethought movement….The APCF believes in and practices members democracy….The USM on the contrary, is in practice a congregation with Guy Aldred as high priest, the members follow like sheep, accepting his authority without question.” In spite of this divide, there was still a desire for unity between the two groups, and on March 18th 1937 a unity meeting took place, but Leech stated that before any unity proceedings could take place there would have to be a public apology from the USM for the insults about the way he earned his living. A few months later Frank resigned from the APCF, whilst relations between the two groups, USM and APCF, improved immensely. Glasgow Anarchist Communist Federation. Though there was now co-operation between the APCF and USM, there were members who left. Some of these ex APCF members and Frank got together in August 1937 and formed the Glasgow Anarchist Communist Federation ACF. It was under the auspices of the ACF that Emma Goldman made her tour of Scotland. There was a good deal of ill feeling between Guy Aldred's USM and Emma Goldman, which was never really resolved. With Leech involved, the ACF produced a number of publications, among them, an English version of CNT-FAI Boletin de Informacion, Goldman's, Trotsky Protests Too Much, and Harry Derritt's Under The Fifth Rib.
The War Years
1940 saw a merger between the ACF and James Kennedy's Marxian Study Group and from this formed the Glasgow Group of the Anarchist Federation of Britain. After a few issues of The Anarchist, the emphasis was on War Commentary, WW2 having become the focus after Spain. The Glasgow Anarchist Federation was deeply involved in industrial action such as the bus drivers and conductors strike 1941, Barr and Strouds 1943. an others in the area. August 1940 saw leech arrested with other anarchist, Eddie Shaw,, Frank Dorans and James Kennedy, charged with “inciting people to evade their responsibilities and duties related to conscription”. It was stated that they offered advice to conscientious objectors and held mock tribunals to prepare them for their hearings. They were all found not guilty. Frank Leech was again in court in 1943, this time it was for failing to register for fire watching duties. He was fined £25 but refused to pay and was sent to Barlinnie Prison. He went on hunger strike which lasted 17 days. He stated, " ... I am determined that our dictators will only conscript my dead body. Not whilst there is breath in it will I submit to them." His fine was paid by friends, against his wishes. The women workers of Barr and Strouds raised a collection in gratitude to the support he gave them during their strike. It is said that when he left Barlinnie, the tram conductress, out of respect, refused to take his fare.
Frank Leech was a tireless member of the Glasgow anarchist community, and well respected among the ordinary people of Glasgow. “Big Frank” as he was known, spoke regularly to hundreds at open air meetings on a Sunday in Glasgow Green, he addressed regular meeting outside factory gates and street corner meetings in the city, he could always draw a crowd. He wrote for Freedom, Spain and the World, and other papers, and produced numerous pamphlets. His contribution to anarchism in Glasgow and further afield was considerable. Frank died at home, from a heart attack on January 2nd 1953.