The Welsh heroes who fought against fascism
Eighty years ago, Welsh volunteers returned from their heroics in the Spanish Civil War. Welshmen had signed up to fight for democracy and were seen as an essential part of the ‘wider struggle for democracy and peace and against fascism and war’. Here aut
EIGHTY years ago this month the Welsh volunteers who survived their time in the International Brigades fighting in Spain against Franco returned to Wales.
Most writers would accept a figure of at least 35,000 men and women serving in the International Brigades, of whom some 2,500 were British. However, MI5 records show that the Security Service tracked the movements of about 4,000 people trying to travel to Spain from Britain.
In my research I have identified almost 200 Welsh volunteers with a footprint in Spain of whom 35 died and I have used the Moscow Archives of the International Brigades, as well as other primary sources, to draw a picture of their activities.
At the farewell parade in Barcelona in 1938 the Welshmen were there with the British Battalion and marching behind the Presidential Guard.
Jim Brewer, of Rhymney, was chosen to hold the Battalion banner. Fighter planes circled overhead to protect the occasion, and women broke cordons to kiss the flag, and sometimes the men.
Harry Stratton, of Swansea, was not feeling so comfortable since, no doubt like many others, he was transporting quite a few lice on his body. He was also aware of the grim life of the people of Barcelona with long queues at the shops and the continuing air raids.
Lined up on the city’s most important avenue, the Avinguda Diagonal, which was strewn with roses, the volunteers were addressed by President Azana and Prime Minister Negrin.
When they finally re-turned home, thousands of people welcomed the Brigaders on December 7, 1938, at Victoria Station in London with the same enthusiasm.
Edward Heath, then a proRepublican student at Oxford University and who later became Conservative Prime Minister, was there, as was Clement Attlee with other Labour dignitaries, family members, trade union organisations and other supporters.
The atmosphere was electric with loud cheering and the singing of “There’s a Valley in Spain called Jarama” as the volunteers, many unshaven, tired and wounded, marched to a meal at the Whitechapel Co-operative Hall.
Edwin Greening, of Aberdare, describes the chaos after the meal as relatives found their way into the dining hall, some in tears wanting to know about their missing loved ones.
Most of the Brigaders were well received when they returned to
Evans Jones and Brazell Thomas from Llanelli
The hill – Hill 481 – at Gandesa
News reporters mingling with members of the International Brigade. Among them is American novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway, far right