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

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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

PIC­TURE: PETER QUALTERS

Evans Jones and Brazell Thomas from Llanelli

PIC­TURE: PETER QUALTERS

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

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