Who was Charlie Hutchison?
Charles William Duncan Hutchison (1918–1993), known to the world as Charlie Hutchison, was born in the village of Eynsham near Oxford, to a British mother and a Ghanaian father. Unable to afford care for their children due to overwhelming poverty, Charlie was sent to an orphanage where he spent his developing years. Outraged by the poverty that his family had suffered and threatened by the rise of fascist street movements across Britain during the 1930s, Charlie became involved in anti-fascist and working class political activism.
Spanish Civil War
Following a fascist uprising in Spain backed by Hitler and Mussolini, Charlie was one of the 2,500 British volunteers who travelled to Spain to fight against fascism. Using his training as a soldier of Britain's Territorial Army, Charlie made history as the only known Black-British volunteer to fight in the Spanish Civil War. He was also among the youngest volunteers, one of the earliest to arrive from Britain, one of the longest serving and among the last to return to Britain. In Spain he survived the disasterous Battle of Lopera and saved countless lives as an ambulance driver, receiving overwhelming praise from his commanders and fellow soldiers. After the war he returned to England to work as a lorry driver.
Second World War
Following Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland and the beginning of WWII, Charlie joined the British Army Service Corps, spending over 6 years in the British military. He assisted anti-aircraft specialists in the British channel during the Dunkirk Evacuation, took part in the Italian Campaign, spent time in Egypt, Iraq, Belgium, and possibly Persia. In 1945 Charlie witnessed the newly liberated Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp, the same camp infamous for murdering Anne Frank.
Having experienced a decade of endless bloodshed resisting the attempted fascist takeovers of Europe, Charlie left the military in 1946. He went onto live a long and happy life in South England, becoming a trade union activist, and caring for foster children. He passed away in 1993, leaving behind many children and grandchildren who lovingly remembered him.
Charlie never spoke about the details of the wars he fought in, with the exception of telling his children about what he witnessed at Belsen. As a result his existence was almost completely forgotten until he was rediscovered following a project by London school children of NewVic College. The details of his life were then painstakingly pieced together by historians using letters, photographs, military and government records, and the memories of his relatives. The exact details of his life are still being researched, with new discoveries being made frequently.
Want to learn more?
To read a more complete account of Charlie Hutchison's life, follow this link to a research article published by the Museum of Oxford: