Death of John Humphrey

The death of our old comrade J. J. Humphrey, at the age of 73, removes another of the “little known anarchists” – little known, at least, to the present generation of our movement. To those of us who were of his time, and shared with him the struggle to keep Freedom alive nearly a score of years ago, it comes as a personal loss.

When the Freedom group of that day decided to let the paper lapse, as they found the financial loss too much for them, John Humphrey volunteered to print the paper without any pay, only asking the comrades, as far as they were able, to help him with the work of setting up the type by hand. He was a Londoner by birth, an electrician by trade. Early in life he became interested in social and scientific questions, and decided in his quiet, thorough way to devote his energy to the movement. To this end he spent his spare time in learning printing, for which he bought a printing press, and soon mastered the craft. His aim was to give the bottom dog a chance to air his views – in the words of William Morris, “to voice his unlearny discontent”. He wrote numerous pamphlets on Anarchy, but after the inception of Spain and the World he saw that there was not room for two Anarchist papers, so he started a paper, Community Life, devoted to building up communities.

All his work was done without pay. He worked all day in the Underground at his trade, and gave his spare time to printing and lecturing. He was always eager to teach any comrade how to print, for he believed that the printed word would travel further than the spoken word. Whenever a suppressed paper (Indian or Irish) reappeared, the police would visit his printery, but fortunately these visits were always fruitless. During the stormy days of the Irish struggle his work was invaluable, and very few knew of his efforts.

The older generation will miss him, and feel that a gap is left in the ranks of the pioneers. To the younger generation, his life should be an inspiration to urge them to greater efforts. Humphrey never waited for others to make the initiative; he knew that causes are won by those who feel that they must act now, and not wait until a movement is popular. He was of those who toil in the night, when every thing seems dark and hopeless, so that others should see the light.

Freedom, 5 April 1947