Henry Noel Brailsford (1873-1958) was the son of a Methodist minister. Although born in Yorkshire, he was raised and educated in Scotland, where his father had congregations in Edinburgh and Glasgow. At Glasgow University, he studied classics and philosophy under the distinguished scholar Gilbert Murray, who was to remain a friend and mentor throughout his life. Abandoning an early academic career, he started his long life as a writer and journalist. However, like Ernest Hemingway, he wished to experience history at first hand and joined Philhellennic Legion in their struggle against the Turks and saw combat in the disastrous Thessaly campaign of 1897, where he was wounded.
This interest in Greece and the Balkans was to remain with him for the rest of his life. He was to report for the Manchester Guardian on the military situations in Macedonia and Crete in 1899 and at the front in the Balkan war of 1912. He was a prominent member of the Balkan Committee and led a relief mission to Macedonia in 1903. In 1913 he was appointed to the Carnegie Commission of Enquiry on the origin of the Balkan Wars. At the end of his life he took an active interest in Tito's Yugoslavia.
His interest in the Balkans led him into contact with the exiled Russians, which included Lenin, Trotsky, Kropotkin, Miuluikov and Theodore Rothstein. He fully supported the Russian Revolution and was an early admirer of the Soviet Union, although his later views on it became somewhat equivocal. He particularly did not agree with their curtailment of freedom of expression. He was never a member of the Communist Party.
Brailsford's politics were never revolutionary and more of the persuasive Socialist kind. He joined Glasgow Fabian Society as a student and was to remain a member all his life, writing pamphlets and lecturing at summer schools, although never becoming involved in its inner circle. He was more prominent in the ILP and edited the Party's journal, the New Leader from 1922 to 1925. He managed to raise its circulation by covering a wide range of subjects written by a number of distinguished authors. However he failed to eliminate a continuing deficit and was dismissed. When the ILP disaffiliated from the Labour Party, Brailsford did not go with them.
Brailsford maintained a lifetime concern for international peace and disarmament and was a long-time opponent of imperialism. At the end of both the First and the Second World War he advocated more considerate terms for Germany than was appreciated by the victorious powers. He was a member of the Union of Democratic Control. He was a very active supporter of the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil war. His opposition to the anarchist POUM led him into conflict with George Orwell. The Labour Party's Advisory Committee on Imperial Questions also sought his advice. He maintained an interest in India and corresponded with Indian nationalists and visited India in 1946.
His classical education meant he had a wide interest in the arts and history. He had a long relationship with the artist Clare Leighton and wrote books on Shelley and Godwin. At the end of his life he was working on a history of the Levellers and he was corresponding with young left wing historians, like EP Thompson and Christopher Hill.