Charlie Hutchison: Oxfordshire’s Forgotten Black Anti-Fascist

Updated: May 2

Born in Oxfordshire, Charlie Hutchison (1918-1993) led an extraordinary life as both a champion of working-class interests and a dedicated opponent of fascism, most notably as the only Black-British person to join the International Brigades. He spent ten years of his life endlessly fighting Nazis and their allies, in a series of events that would see him present at the Battle of Cable Street, the Spanish Civil War, the Dunkirk Evacuation, the North African campaigns, Italy, Iran, Germany, and finally the liberation of Belsen Concentration Camp. However, despite his incredible deeds, the full story of his life remained almost completely unknown to professional historians, only to be rediscovered in 2019 during a research project led by London school children.

Image source: Communist Party of Britain

Charlie’s life

Born in 1918 as one of five children, Charlie Hutchison’s early life was a seemingly endless struggle for survival. After his father’s mysterious disappearance during a trip to Ghana, his mother could not financially afford to care for him. Because of this Charlie and one of his sisters spent much of their childhood in an orphanage where he was often the victim of racial discrimination due to his African heritage. These experiences of poverty and racism under capitalism inspired Charlie to join the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), making him a life-long socialist and anti-fascist. [1]

Now an eighteen-year-old teenager, Charlie’s new love for both communism and bashing Nazis began with his participation at the Battle of Cable Street where socialist and Jewish activists successfully repelled a march led by the British Union of Fascists. [2] Two months after Cable Street, Charlie joined the International Brigades to fight against Spanish fascists backed by Hitler and Mussolini during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Soon after his arrival in Spain he survived being badly wounded at the Battle of Lopera, but refused to return to Britain and quickly became friendly with the British Battalion’s future commander Bill Alexander. He was not only among the youngest of the volunteers but also became one of the longest-serving, fighting for almost the entire duration of the war. In addition, he was the only known Black-British person to have joined the 2,500 volunteers of the British Battalion. [3] Despite only being a teenager when he arrived in Spain, he was noted for his distinguished service by his commanders, who commented on his intelligence and bravery.

Almost immediately after his return to Britain, fascists would again make headlines following the UK’s declaration of war against Nazi Germany. Charlie joined the British military and fought against the Nazis in France as early as 1939. He was also present at the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation. Trampling over any and all fascist resistance, Charlie and his fellow soldiers stormed through Northern Africa, cut upwards straight through Italy, served a brief time in Iran, before again meeting the Nazis in combat in both France and Germany. In April 1945 Charlie was present at the liberation of Belsen Concentration Camp, where he witnessed the logical conclusion of fascism manifest in the form of corpse pits and starving children. [4]