Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Posts Tagged ‘Spanish Civil War’

Homage to Sartaguda – moving tales from the Spanish Civil War, told at our most recent volunteers’ lunch

Posted by wcmlibrary on February 10, 2014

The Library’s monthly volunteers’ lunch on 30 January was the occasion for a talk by myself, Stuart Walsh, a long time volunteer at the Library, and Pippa Sherriff, who came up for the day from Church Aston in Shropshire. Both of us are members of National Clarion Cycle Club, and the talk concerned our cycle ride from Bilbao to Barcelona between 17 and 25 October 2013, which commemorated the 75th anniversary of the withdrawal of the International Brigades.

Pippa and Stuart at the talk

Pippa & Stuart. On the table is a simplified flag of Lower Navarre, with soil from Parque de la Memoria in centre

The title of the talk was Cycling for the Memories: to honour those who fought against fascism, and to remember those who died. Eight members of the club started the ride, myself, Pippa, Terry Lynch, Charles Jepson, Manuel Moreno, Ruth Coates, Martin Perfect, and Lyn Hurst, and we were joined near Caspe in Aragon by our Catalan member Anna Marti, who lives just north of Barcelona.  Maite de Paul Otoxtorena, who hails from San Sebastian in the Basque country, but now lives in Ammanford near Swansea, was our liaison with all of the people we met in Spain, and she joined us at Calafell in Catalonia. And we shouldn’t forget Margaret Jepson, who was the driver of our support bus.

Chalking names onto the monument

Chalking the names

National Clarion has a long standing involvement with the Spanish Civil War, and three of our members, Ray Cox, Roy Watts, and Tom Oldershaw, died fighting in the International Brigades. One of the purposes of the ride was to honour their memory, and one of the most moving moments of the whole trip was when we leaned three bikes against a memorial plaque at Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda, in Navarre,  and chalked their names onto the monument.  As well as this involvement with the International Brigades, two of our members, Ted Ward and Geoff Jackson, cycled from Glasgow to Barcelona in 1938, raising money for Aid to Spain, and we recreated that ride in 2008, during which we met many of the cyclists and other contacts whose acquaintance we would renew in 2013, not least our friends in Gernika Cycle Club, who as in 2008 joined us for the first four days of our ride.  [For anyone interested in that earlier ride, the blog is at http://1938glasgow2barcelona2008.wordpress.com]

Although this was a cycle ride the main purpose of the trip was an educational and publicity one, but something should be said about the actual ride however brief. We had some very hard days in the saddle, not least because we had a timetable where we had to be present for civic receptions, and other meetings with memorial groups and other associations. In nine days we cycled a total of 500 miles, and thanks to Terry, who has a state of the art Garmin computer on his bike, can break that down a little by saying that we spent a total of 36 hours in the saddle, with the longest day being 80 miles, our average speed over the 500 miles was 13mph, and top speed was 46mph on a mountainous descent on the second day. During the ride, as in 2008, we had daily exposure in the print, TV, and radio media, and one of the tasks at the end of the day was reviewing press and other reports from the previous day. I would like to concentrate on two of the events of the trip, the exhibition on the 1936 Barcelona Workers Olympiad, and our reception at the Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda.

After the cycling was over on 25 October we were invited to the opening of an exhibition on the 1936 Barcelona Workers Olympiad, in Sant Feliu de Llobregat which is about 15 miles or so east of Barcelona. The organiser of the exhibition, Carles Vellejo, is the son of one of the organisers of the 1936 Olympiad, and Carles particularly wanted Clarion to officially open the exhibition because of our club’s history, in that many of our members went to participate. The event of course never took place because of the launch of the military coup, and some of the Clarion members, including Roy Watts, stayed on to fight against the fascists in the International Brigade. At the exhibition, I presented to Carles a framed letter of support from the Library, signed by Lynette, Jane, Sam, and 16 volunteers, as well as a framed illustration from the library archives of ribbons of the 1937 Workers’ Olympiad in Antwerp, from the Bolton Clarion scrapbook. These were well received by Carles, as his father had participated at Antwerp, and everyone present, but unfortunately, all the pictures from the night, except this one were wiped from our camera!

At Sant Feliu

All of the riders, with Mayor of Sant Feliu, members of Sant Feliu Cycling Club, and members of the Garibaldi Association, with original 1937 flag of Italian Brigaders

The exhibition itself was most interesting, and Carles said that in future venues he would be sure to include the letter and the Bolton Clarion prints from the library. As a poignant postscript to this episode, we learned after we were back home that Carles, a lifelong republican and trade unionist, had been tortured over ten days in a large police station in Barcelona, said police station is now the home of the CCOO socialist trade union, and a visit there, with Carles, was our first civic reception in Barcelona. A fitting coda I feel of the unfinished business still left over from Spain’s years of civil war and the subsequent dictatorship.

Without doubt the visit on Sunday 20 October to the Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda was the most moving of the whole trip. Setting out early from Logrono, we reached the town of Lodossa where we were met by cyclists from all over Navarre and the Basque country, and we set out together about 50 strong for a ride of about 5 kilometres to Sartaguda. Carrying various flags and banners, including the one that adorned the table during the talk at the Library (see photo above), we arrived at the park at about noon where we were met by the mayor and members of the Association of the Widows of Sartaguda. It is known as the town of widows because when the fascists took over the town in 1936, they murdered almost 100 of the male inhabitants, which was 8% of the total population. As one of the speakers said at the inauguration of the park in 2008, this was ” Truly a massacre. Those murdered were the elected officials of the town, as well as other civic leaders such as teachers, lawyers, indeed anyone who was suspected of being supporters of the democratically elected Second Republic”.

Handing over the soil

Presenting the Parque soil to the Library

The park itself was opened in May 2008, after years of fundraising, with the support of other associations of historical memory, that had mushroomed since a famous case in 2000 in which a Madrid journalist had discovered and opened the grave of his grandfather and 12 others who were murdered in the wake of the fascist victory. While there I spoke with a lady named Maria del Carmea Moreno Galetxl, who told us her story of the long years of humiliation that her mother, and the other widows, had to endure in the years of the dictatorship, including having to parade around the town with insulting signs tied around their necks, and others who had their hair shaved, like the collaborators in France in 1944. In their case though, no crime was committed, these, and other petty humiliations were inflicted not because of what they had done, but for who they were.

While there we were presented with red bandanas with the Parque’s logo, by relatives of those who were murdered, the flag we brought to adorn the table as we gave the talk, and with soil of the Parque, wrapped in one of the red bandanas, which was given to us by Julio Sesma, President of the Village Association of Widows. This soil has now been formally presented to the Library, and accepted by Maggie Cohen on behalf of the trustees, and will stay in the Library wrapped in its red park bandana as a symbol of friendship between the Library and the Parque. In the inaugural speech for the Parque in 2008, the President of the Association of Widows, Julio Martinez, said, ” from today on we wish our village to be known as the village of memory and hope”.  In this lovely park in Navarre this hope is given solid form, and I urge anyone who visits this part of Spain to visit it and ponder on its message.

Since coming back from the ride we have kept in touch with our friends, and were especially thrilled with notice we received on 14 November that the Parliament at Pamplona had passed a new law for the Reparation of Victims of 1936.  Many of those who we met at Sartaguda were also at the Parliament that day, and afterwards sent us photographs of their celebration of “our great victory” in the Parliament. Thus the struggle for justice in Spain for the Widows of Sartaguda, and the countless others who were murdered and mistreated during the long and bitter years of Franco’s dictatorship goes on.

And work goes on in the Library as well concerning the struggle in Spain. My own project at the moment is cataloguing two folders of Spanish Civil War photographs, one of which is this one.

Aileen Palmer with Thora Silverthorne

Aileen Palmer (right) with Thora Silverthorne

It is a hitherto unknown picture of Australian interpreter Aileen Palmer, and the English nurse Thora Silverthorne, while on the Aragon front. Aileen Palmer had been in Spain at the time of the coup, and in fact had been working as translator for the Workers’ Olympiad when the coup broke out. When I found this out it seemed an apt illustration of the ongoing links that this great Library has with Spain, past and present, and I hope in the future that these links, both with the Parque and the wider progressive elements in Spain, can be strengthened and extended.

I will end this blog contribution as Pippa and I ended our talk: Viva la República!!!!!

Stuart Walsh

PS More information about the event at the Parque de la Memoria is at http://www.parquedelamemoria.org/noticias/la-biblioteca-working-class-de-manchester-lucir%C3%A1-un-pa%C3%B1uelo-y-tierra-del-parque-de-la-memor

Posted in Collections, News | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Additions to @archiveshub, by our man on the Benny Rothman express…

Posted by wcmlibrary on July 30, 2013

The Archives Hub provides a gateway to many of the UK’s richest historical archives. The team is based at Mimas, in The University of Manchester.  It has nearly 200 contributors from all across the UK, including higher education, research centres and specialist repositories.

The Library had already posted descriptions of 23 of our collections of rich and varied material to this invaluable research web site, including our holdings about the Spanish Civil War and International Brigades, various unions including the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights, Blacksmiths and Structural Workers, and the Greater Manchester and District Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.  Now descriptions of the Benny Rothman collection, the Lancashire Women against Pit Closures and Manchester and Salford Film Society archives and our Unity Theatre material have also been added, alongside five other collections, to flag up to researchers more about what we can offer. You can find them at http://archiveshub.ac.uk.

Ken Whittaker, volunteer (who, splendid to relate, travelled to the Library, on the day he wrote this piece, on a train called ‘The Benny Rothman’!)

Posted in Collections, News | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Re-Making Guernica part four – the power of collective creativity. And of libraries…

Posted by wcmlibrary on July 2, 2013

On 26 April, the anniversary of the aerial bombing of the town of Gernika in 1937 which led Picasso to paint his sombrely magnificent Guernica, we published a blog posting introducing the Re-Making Guernica project, the inspiration of a group of academics, artists and makers at the University of Brighton who invited activists to join them in creating an art of protest against fascism.  The Library played its part in their initial research about the painting coming to England. Now read on…

We held two public sewings in the Jubilee Library, Brighton on Sundays 16th and 23rd June 2013. We were glad to launch the Re-Making Guernica banner into the public domain in this venue. Rachel Whitbread, Community Engagement Manager, was most helpful and supportive during the weeks of preparation, enabling us to occupy a space in the very centre of the library’s ground floor area. The site staff were also brilliant; Les organised the  moving of tables from elsewhere in the building and he arranged them so that we could lay out the banner in its full length, arranging chairs around it so that any members of the public who wanted to join in with the sewing would have the space to do so.

Photo by Emilia Poisson

We were absolutely inspired and thrilled by the response to our public sewing of Guernica. At several points on both days, we had queues developing behind each chair, as people were drawn to join in. It was vividly obvious what a diverse range of people use our local library, and what a crucial part the library plays in the lives of so many people, as a space to engage with others, and to seek access to books, films and information. People of all ages, from 13 to 94, older and younger; women and men; from a range of cultural backgrounds: all were curious, all decided to sit down, to stitch, and to share stories of their lives with one another.

We heard stories of people who were children evacuated from London to Sussex during the Blitz, and who never saw any of their families again for forty years. We heard from Spanish people for whom Guernica was woven into their family histories during the long years of fascist rule in Spain, and for whom Picasso’s painting became a focus of celebration when it ended its years of exile, returning to Madrid upon the death of Franco. We heard of a family in Palestine who sewed together, as we were doing, but on the floor, so that they could move around the textile to sew its centre as well as its edges. We heard from young men who had always wanted to sew, and who sat with us to learn blanket stitch so that they could join in, and women who hated sewing but were moved to contribute some stitches to this collective project. People explained to one another how to make particular stitches; people who became knotted up in tangled threads were soothed and shown how it is usually gentleness that wins the day in these situations; people experienced the realisation that skill or perfection are less relevant than eagerness and willingness.  Everyone who joined in did so with awesome passion, expressing ownership and engagement.

Photo by Emilia Poisson

At the end of the second day, people expressed sadness that that was that: the final session. They said things like: When will they be doing it again? It’s so enjoyable, sitting down together and doing something like this. The comments on our feedback forms said things like: Such an enjoyable way to be enlightened; Wonderful way to get together and hear people’s stories. These responses vividly illustrate many things: how precious our public libraries are, as venues for gathering, coming together, working together; how passionately people crave collective activities; how people gravitate towards public spaces which offer different choices to those of buying and consuming.

Perhaps most of all, these experiences reveal how people gradually realise that ‘they’ can become ‘we’, and that we can all decide to organise things together, so as to oppose the ‘they’ who have alienated us from the power of our collective creativity, imagination and passion. It was very powerful for us to experience these aspects of collaborative creativity, and to realise once again that, at a time when they are most cruelly under threat, they are the very force that could undermine and subvert this threat.

We look forward to our future public sewing events; we have dates lined up around the country soon to be confirmed.

Maude Casey, Re-Making Guernica , remakingpicassosguernica.files.wordpress.com

Posted in News | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Book Review: ‘Physical Resistance: Or, A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism’ by Dave Hann

Posted by wcmlibrary on June 18, 2013

Last night 40 people came to the Library to the launch of  Physical Resistance: Or, A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism by Dave Hann, with an introduction by Louise Purbrick.  Thanks to Louise for coming up from Brighton especially for the event, and to her and all those who contributed to making it an informed and impassioned evening. Physical Resistance is published by Zero Books – http://www.zero-books.net/books/physical-resistance

David Hargreaves, Library volunteer, reviews the book below.

————

The difficulty in reviewing such a work lies in the fact that for many people their principal focus will be upon the degree to which the author has ‘correctly’ recognised the contributions of the various actors in the anti fascist struggles detailed. In writing the ‘collective history of anti-fascism’ the author inevitably highlights the sectarianism of such resistance; the changing alliances, the splits and the re–alignments, the never ending procession of acronyms.

But, this should not be the main focus of analysis. The emphasis should be upon the fact that this is an extremely able historical work containing some chapters of real quality. The use of oral history is very skilful in that the author allows people to speak and then provides well written contextual material. The skill of listening to people comes through in that it is clear that although the author knows enough of his subject to be able to have a discussion, an argument or even a row – he does not. He listens, records and respects the views of those who he interviews.

The strength of this approach is demonstrated by one of the best chapters in the book – ‘Hold Madrid for we are coming’, detailing the experience of comrades in the Spanish Civil War. Towards the end of that chapter an interviewee says of her grandfather,

‘He said what a waste it was because they were mostly people with great ideals and hopes for humanity and they were lying there dead. He never did come to terms with that part of it but he thought it was something he had to do.’

PhysicalResistanceThose words link with a significant section of the Introduction written by Louise Purbrick who notes that physical force has been largely written out of working class history. Hann, she writes, ‘presents an alternative interpretation of political action that includes physical resistance as part of an everyday pattern of opposition.’

Such resistance is unambiguously male and in many respects the book chronicles male on male violence with the refrain that the Fascists were often surprised by the ‘hardness’ of the opposing forces. The role of women, on both sides, is subordinate. This is not a criticism of the work of the author but a reflection on the fact that physical resistance is a game for the ‘boys’. There is a clear line of argument that any non violent response to Fascism would play into the hands of the enemy. The fact that some manifestations of Fascism might have failed for other reasons is not explored in any detail. In the words of the Introduction, political opposition is ‘defined by acts of participation rather than any adherence to very precisely defined ideological standpoints.’ Broad, predominantly non violent participation in, for example, the Anti Nazi League played a major role in the decline of the electoral ambitions of the National Front.

The chapter on the Spanish Civil War is critical in that it serves to ensure that the struggle against Fascism both home and abroad is given equivalence. That challenges those on the Left who can appreciate and applaud those who fought Fascism in Spain but recoil at physical confrontation at home. The author does present a consistently well presented and well argued narrative and invites the reader to consider the defining question of the work: What would you do if Fascists were intimidating your neighbourhood, beating up ‘targets’ and (throughout most of the narrative) being actively protected by the forces of law?

The strength of the work lies in the quality of the scholarship; the first hand narratives and the relentless pursuing of the core question of physical resistance. The reward of reading it lies in the fact that once finished, it must be followed by further discussion about tactics on the Left. In this work there are so many Fascists and so many false Patriots vilifying so many different scapegoats over the years that it is clear that the struggle against them must continue. The work highlights the fact that many, especially in the Labour Party, are content to ignore this unpleasant fact. Physical Resistance is a chronicle of those who did not.

Note: The author of this work died in 2009 and Louise Purbrick has done an excellent job of preparing the book for publication.

DWH

Posted in News | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Book review – ‘A world between us’

Posted by wcmlibrary on November 27, 2012

A World Between Us by Lydia Syson

Hot Key Books ISBN 978-1-4714-0009-4

Taking part in the march on the 75th anniversary of  Cable Street in October 2011 made me  feel very proud of the history of working people’s opposition to fascism, whether on their streets in 1936 or in the protests against fascist groups such as the English Defence League.  As the economic system nationally and globally goes into decline there are some similarities with the 1930s in Britain. Unemployment is rising, we have a Conservative government that is cutting the benefits of the poor in its strategy to pay off a decifit caused by the monied class. Unlike the 30s we do not have a vibrant political organisation such as the Communist Party which provided working class people with not just a political way forward but, in its actions in areas such as the East End of London, took the class struggle to the street. It is in this context that Lydia Syson has set her new novel.

Book coverLydia Syson’s A World Between Us  explores some of the most important issues about  how and why people (and young people in particular) get involved in political activity. Her book is set in London in the 1930s, at a time of a worldwide economic crisis and the mirroring rise of fascism.  Her grandparents were involved in the Communist Party and were part of a movement that organised against the growing rise of fascism in this country and abroad, particularly in Spain.

I wanted to write about the Spanish Civil War and its effects in this country because my children didn’t know about it. It was important on many levels, not just in terms of people going to fight in Spain but in the whole political culture of that time.

Like many people in the 30s, and particularly in the East End of London, her grandparents took part in the large political demonstrations such as Cable Street:

I wanted to show in the book how people got swept up into the street politics and how different life was for them. Being a communist now is seen in a negative way and that is how my children see it. I wanted to show why people did become communists and that it was a response, a gut feeling, about the political and social situation they were in.

The novel begins with the Cable Street demonstration when the British Union of Fascists attempted to march through a largely Jewish and workingclass area of East London:

Missiles kept flying overhead – saucepans,bottles, rotten vegetables, god knows what. It was like a tide on the turn, with banners and placards dipping and rearing. There were all sorts here, not just East Enders. Even the side streets were packed with protestors.

It is at this march that the two main characters meet, trainee nurse Felix (Felicity) and young communist Nat. He is about to go to Spain,  and explains to her why he thinks being a communist is important:

It’s changed my life really. I can see everything clearly now. It gives you hope, doesn’t it? When you realise how things could be much better, so much fairer? And that you can do something about it.

One of the reasons Lydia chose to write about this era was to show young people now how the Spanish Civil War did motivate young people of that generation to not just become politically active, but to go and fight in Spain.

When I was writing the scene about Cable Street  I wondered if my audience, young teenagers, would understand what it meant to be on a demonstration and being threatened by police on horses. But at the same time I saw on the news the student demonstrations and it struck me that this will make sense to a different generation of young people.

One of the startling aspects of British people going to take part in the Spanish Civil War was their age. Like Nat and Felix in this book, many of them were teenagers when they made that decision. Lydia captures the horror of war,  and for me reading  Felix’s story as a nurse on the frontline gave it a potency that is quite different from reading about a battle:

Leaning on the doorjamb, Felix began to tremble. She couldn’t go any further anyway: a body lay at her feet,blocking the way. She had nearly stumbled onto it.  She bent to apologise, but as she put a hand on the man’s arm, she could feel that already beginning to stiffen….There were bodies everywhere.

In AWBU Lydia is writing fiction,  but her motivation in writing the novel was to remind her readers of the importance of the Spanish Civil War in the history of Europe in the 20th century.

I used the history of the war as a framework but I was committed to making the novel mainstream. I wanted it to work on different levels in terms of its romance and its politics. I hope the politics will seep into readers’ consciousness so that later on the significance of the SCW will be understood.

AWBU is published by Hot Key Books for young adults but I think it is a book that can be read and appreciated by people of all ages.  The love story between Felix and Nat is beautifully written and shows  how political activity can bring people together in loving relationships. The novel finishes in 1939 and one of the reasons why it is important to understand the politics of the War is that the defeat of republican Spain led onto the Second World War.  Lydia’s book is well researched and is a good beginning for further reading and studies in what is a crucial history of Britain and Spain in the 30s.

To buy it see News from Nowhere

See Lydia’s blog for links tothe Spanish Civil War – http://www.lydiasyson.com/read-more-about-the-background-to-a-world-between-us/

It is also published as a Multi-touch iBook2 from Apple iBook store with lots more info on the War.

Also see www.wcml.org.uk for more info on Spain

Bernadette Hyland

 

 

Posted in Collections | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

What’s the link between the Spanish Civil War and Chorley?

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 16, 2012

Answer:  Over 220 Spanish anti-fascists and Republicans were interned in Hall o’The Hill camp at Adlington, Chorley during WWII.  Many of them had escaped from Spain to France after the Spanish Civil War, and found themselves detained in France in the autumn of 1944 and transported to Britain as prisoners of war.

The Library has a lot of photos of the camp, and the individuals who lived there.   Now we can put some names to faces thanks to Lisa Croft, who has brought us a wonderful folder of information about her grandparents and their involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Archibald Williams was an International Brigade volunteer who was imprisoned while in Spain fighting Franco’s forces;  his wife Jane Orme Williams had encouraged him to volunteer, and met him at Waterloo station when he was released in May 1937.  She had given birth to their daughter while he was away and, thinking he was dead, had called her Rosemary for remembrance and Nina, the Spanish for girl.

Archie and Jane visited the Republicans who were interned in Adlington, and the folder contains copies of sketches, photographs and pen pictures of some of the men.

These, plus things like prison notes from Archie and articles by Jane (who had a regular column in the Lancashire Evening Post during the post-war years, writing as ‘Mrs Argus’), make the folder a new treasure to add to the many already in our collection relating to the North West’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War.  Thanks Lisa.

Posted in Collections | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Miners against fascism – book review

Posted by wcmlibrary on August 22, 2012

Miners against fascism – Wales and the Spanish civil war by Hwyel Francis. Lawrence & Wishart, 2012. ISBN 978-1-907103-51-3

Lawrence and Wishart have reprinted this book, first published in 1984 with a second edition in 2004. It is a work that gives great insight into the effects of the General Strike of 1926 on the mining community in South Wales and it combines this with accounts of experiences of the Welsh Volunteers, and others, in Spain during the conflict there in 1936 when the election of a popular front government was the signal for an invasion by right-wing army units based in North Africa. Once General Franco and his force had been transported across the Mediterranean, with the help of the Italian navy, a “fifth column” of his supporters took to the streets in support.

The first section of the book is based on Francis’s Ph.D. thesis of 1977. It contains a mass of well-documented information on the multifarious organisations that operated in South Wales in the 1920s and 1930s.

There can be no question that the prolonged lockout of miners, following the General Strike of nine days, was a turning point in industrial relations as well as a turning point in British politics. Consequences of the defeat of the miners included victimisation of workers, widescale unemployment, and a deliberate policy of immiseration of the working class in those areas which had shown Leftist tendencies in the years following the revolution in Russia. Any upward trend in living conditions was halted, even reversed, with some suffering more than others.

Francis has dealt with the crisis objectively. There is no attempt to dramatise the extent of misery at that time as a result of which the mining communities in South Wales became politically radicalised. As Francis himself puts it “A political ‘community’ consciousness (was) forged in 1926 during the General Strike and miners’ lock-out ”.  He credits the South Wales Miners Federation and the Communist Party with being the driving forces in this direction. Defending the lawfully elected government in Spain was just one way of expressing abhorrence of the growing trend towards Fascism in Europe.

Francis points out that the line taken by the British and French governments at the time was reprehensible. Their declaration of non-involvement was hypocritical. They did not stand idly by. Instead they went to extremes in their efforts to prevent voluntary aid of any sort reaching the Republican side. No effort was spared to hinder the Republican government as much as possible while giving a free hand to the other side. An Act of 1871 was resurrected to threaten the Volunteers with prison if they tried to leave the country. “Better dead than red” became a slogan of the Right and that says much more about contemporary official philosophy than does a policy of appeasement. Only when driven to the wall, following the “Phoney War” of 1940, were the Fascist aggressors opposed and even then others remained aloof.  Yet the Soviet Union was prepared to incur the ire of Hitler and Mussolini by offering official support.

The second part of the book relates some of the experiences of the men who went off to Spain and ends with an examination of their legacy. To date Francis has been able to trace 206 Volunteers. He is still searching for anyone whose name was omitted from the original number of 174 identified for his thesis. Fatalities amounted to 33, a casualty rate of about 20% indicating the heavy losses suffered by the International Brigade. That was a consequence of non-intervention. The Fascists were well provided for in terms of arms from outside while the “neutral” states imposed an arms embargo on the Republicans.

The conflict in Spain was just one source of discontent in the country. After 1926 increasing unemployment meant a consequent increase in welfare expenditure. Naturally this was unacceptable to government and there was a constant effort to restrict benefits. Matters reached a climax in the mid-1930s with the passing of the Unemployment Insurance Act. This, combined with the continuation of the Means Test, “unified the whole South Wales mining community, and was fully expressed in the greatest volcano of socio-political protest ever experienced in the region”.

The legacy of the struggle had more than one aspect partly because the Volunteers were on the losing side. Some who returned lapsed back to inactivity; some returned to pacifism only to be victimised again; perhaps surprisingly one became a Catholic. Others looked on the World War as a continuation of the struggle. The vast majority continued with their efforts to present the arguments of the neglected side in ways such as lecturing and creating memorials to those who had given their lives.

It is a sobering experience to read this work today when a similar depression has again gripped the country along with all the familiar trappings of wage freezes, reduction in real wages this time caused by high inflation, increasing unemployment, attempts to reduce welfare payments etc.

Those who have read previous editions will undoubtedly seek this one out with its additional material. New readers will find plenty of food for thought.

by Kevin McPhillips, WCML volunteer

Posted in Collections | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Well done, Clarion cyclists

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 4, 2011

Cheers to WCML volunteer Stuart and all the other cyclists who have just completed a tour of Britain and Ireland to remember the volunteers from the British Isles who joined the International Brigades to fight Franco’s fascist-backed revolt against the Spanish Republic 75 years ago.  The tour, organised by the National Clarion Cycling Club and supported by the International Brigade Memorial Trust, covered 645 miles, calling at International Brigade memorials along the way to pay homage to the 527 men and women from Britain and Ireland who were killed in Spain.  The cyclists arrived in London in time for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street – see previous blog entry.

And an anecdote we couldn’t resist.  Stuart has brought us in – alongside some very welcome money for WCML badges and books he sold along the route! – a book compiled by Lynda Walker recollecting Madge Davison, policital activist and campaigner.   Having gone to work in a tobacco factoy in her native Belfast after leaving school she became active in the civil rights movement and later returned to study, eventually becoming a barrister.  The book describes Madge being respected in the profession for her ability to combine hard work and a down to earth approach. Her colleagues say that she could be heard in court saying ‘Well the craic is this M’lord’…

Lynette

Posted in News | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »