Book tells of Welsh heroes who
EIGHTY years ago this month, hundreds of Welsh volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War returned home.
Between 1936-39, at least 35,000 volunteers from all over Europe fought alongside Spanish Republicans against Franco’s fascist army in the International Brigades.
Of these, approximately 2,500 were British and researchers have identified almost 200 Welsh people who volunteered themselves during the conflict. On December 7, 1938, British volunteers returned home to Victoria Station in London to great fanfare. But at least 35 Welsh volunteers who lost their lives during the brutal war would not return home to their families.
The Spanish Civil War was sparked after a military coup led by conservative elements in the country failed to win control of the country.
A bloody civil war ensued, fought with great ferocity on both sides, with the Nationalists receiving support from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. The Republicans received aid from the Soviet Union, as well as from the International Brigades, which were composed of volunteers from Europe and the United States.
Governmental crises culminated in elections in February 16, 1936, which brought to power a popular front government supported by most of the parties on the left and opposed by the parties on the right.
A well-planned military uprising began on July 17, 1936, and by July 21, the Nationalist rebels had achieved control in Spanish Morocco, the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands and parts of northern Spain.
Seeing themselves as too weak to win a decisive early victory, both the Nationalist and Republican sides turned to neighbouring countries for help.
Germany and Italy sent soldiers and weaponry to aid the Nationalists, while the Soviet Union contributed equipment and supplies to the Republicans.
In August 1936, France joined Britain and a host of other countries in signing a non-intervention agreement that would later be ignored by the Germans, Italians and Soviets. But about 40,000 foreigners did volunteer to fight on the Republican side in what became known as the International Brigades.
Graham Davies, from Cardiff, is the author of You Are Legend, a recently published book detailing the story of some of the volunteers from Wales who joined the International Brigades.
According to Graham, the Welsh volunteers played a distinctive role in Spain, with many acting as company commanders and political commissars.
Their largely militant coalfield background, digging experience and singing also left their mark. By the end of 1936, the Nationalists had advanced to the border of Madrid but a subsequent siege was unable to get beyond the University City area. The Basque northern provinces were captured by the Nationalists in 1937 and then Asturias, meaning the rebels controlled the whole northern coast. A war of attrition followed.
The Nationalists eventually drove eastward through Teruel, reaching the Mediterranean and splitting the republic in two in April 1938. By February the following year, 250,000 Republican soldiers had fled across the border into France, soon followed by the Republican government in March. Nationalist forces entered Madrid on March 28, signalling a decisive victory for the rebels.
For Britain and France, the conflict represented a new threat to the international equilibrium. After struggling to contain the situation, it eventually collapsed into the Second World War in 1939.
A farewell parade was held in Barcelona in 1938, with Welshmen present alongside the British Battalion who were marching behind the Presidential Guard.
Jim Brewer, from Rhymney, was chosen to hold the Battalion banner while fighter planes circled overhead to protect the occasion.
The men lined up on the city’s most important avenue, the Avinguda Diagonal, which was strewn with roses. Volunteers were addressed by President Azana and Prime Minister Negrin. Please post me free & without obligation full details of the Alta2 Pro hearing aid. Tick if pensioner.
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Burgos Penitentiary, which was used as a Francoist concentration camp during the Spanish Civil War