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Leslie's Story

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Leslie was born in 1917 to Isidore and Bella Starr. Isidore was originally from Poland. He worked as a cigar and cigarette maker based in the Corn Exchange in Manchester city centre. Leslie lost both his parents when he was a teenager. Unlike his father, Leslie worked as a cloth cutter in the raincoat industry and was an active member of the Garment Workers Union. He married Mary Flanagan, who also worked in the clothing industry, as a machinist, in 1939.

In the 1930s Leslie was a member of the Young Communist League, who met in the Challenge Club in Cheetham. His inspiration for joining the league was a strong desire to fight fascism. On 19th July 1936, when Leslie was 19, he was arrested for his anti-fascists activities along with seven other men. Leslie had attended a rally where Oswald Mosley (the leader of the British Union of Fascists) was speaking at an open-air event held at Albert Croft, Collyhurst. The rally was attended by about 5000 to 8000 people, of which around 600 were fascists. Five days later, Leslie appeared before Manchester City Magistrates. He was fined 40 shillings for ‘inciting others to commit an offense under the Public Meetings Act’, ‘acting at a lawful meeting in a manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business for which the meeting was called’ and ‘disorderly behaviour’.

In 1937 Leslie’s anti-fascist activism took him to Spain. Like between 200 and 400 other young Jewish people in Britain, Leslie joined the International Brigade and travelled to Spain to fight against General Franco’s forces.

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Leslie explains why he joined the Young Communist League in 1935.

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“Because there was no other organisation … The Labour Party wasn’t interested in fighting fascism or doing anything about it. We was all young lads … and we all decided to join the Young Communist League at the time because they at least were looking after us, and not only that, they provided us with a hall where we could box and do things and dancing. So, they kind of looked after us. In other words, when I look back all the years, they kind of lured us into it … The Young Communist League was like a youth club … Because we knew as much about communism as the man in the moon. I only joined because I wanted to fight fascism … I wasn’t no big shot or nothing like that. I was just like everybody else. I was shouting and throwing stones around. I don’t push no politics because I weren’t interested in politics …”

Leslie explains how his attitudes differed from those of the majority of Jewish Mancunians in the 1930s.

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“The Jewish community weren’t interested. They just wanted to keep their nose clean. They thought if we keep quiet and keep out of it, it’ll either die away or we won’t get brought into anything. And that’s how they were. I remember the people used to say … a lot of the mothers used to say to the lads, ‘mind your own business, don’t interfere’… So, it was only these young fellows like myself … that wanted to fight fascism … And that was the only weapons we had. The government was against us, the police were against us, at that time. So, all we could do was demonstrate or pick a few half bricks up off the Croft and throw them at the fascists. But we fought them hand in hand many a time, especially on Strangeways … I remember quite a few shop windows getting smashed in as we pushed the fascists back towards them … It was our way of demonstrating against them.”

Leslie describes attending a fascist rally on 19th July 1936 at which Oswald Mosley was speaking.

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“I remember that day … We’d gone to the club. They let us know that Mosley was having a demonstration and we went to this club, the Challenge Club, which was in Cheetham and we get more and more young people kept coming in to join us. And we decided that we’d march to Albert Croft and demonstrate against him … We knew we were going to get in a fight because we’d been in half a dozen fights before with the fascists … and when we got there, right away we were getting hustled by the police at that time ‘cos they probably wanted to stop us from fighting or demonstrating. Anyway, we got there and all we was doing for the first hour was shouting slogans ‘cos that all we knew. There was nothing else we could shout. Then a few scuffles broke out ‘cos the fascists used to come at us. Rush at us with sticks or truncheons, whatever they had in their hand, so naturally we used to fight back. But really, we didn’t go to start a fight, only to demonstrate against it.”

Leslie’s Parents, Isidore And Bella, C.1920s.
Leslie’s Parents, Isidore And Bella, C.1920s.

Leslie’s parents, Isidore and Bella, c.1920s.

Leslie With His Wife, Mary, C.1939.

Leslie with his wife, Mary, c.1939.

Isidore Starr (second From The Left) As A Teenager With His Family In Poland.

Isidore Starr (second from the left) as a teenager with his family in Poland.

Leslie Starr Highlighted In A Still From A Film Of A British Union Of Fascists March In July 1936. Leslie Was There To Protest Against The Event.

Leslie Starr highlighted in a still from a film of a British Union of Fascists march in July 1936. Leslie was there to protest against the event.

Film showing the British Union of Fascists march to Albert Croft on 19th July 1936. The footage shows Oswald Mosley addressing the crowd. Leslie (who can be seen in the film) was arrested at the event.

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