OXFORD EVENTS ON WEEKEND 5-6 SEPTEMBER
7:30pm-9:30pm: Public meeting on Oxfordshire and the Spanish Civil War in the Long Room,Town Hall, St Aldates, Oxford OX1 1DX; speakers include Richard Baxell, Tom Buchanan, Colin Carritt, Hugh Purcell and Liz Woolley
Saturday 6 September
12:30pm:Unveiling of a memorial in Bonn Square to the International Brigade volunteers; subject to confirmation; check ‘Events’ on IBMT website: www.international-brigades.org.uk
6:30pm-11pm: Benefit concert for the Oxfordshire Memorial Appeal at the Gladiator Club, 263 Iffley Road, Oxford OX4 1SJ, with Sonia Boué, the Sea Green Singers, John Christie, the cast of “¡No Pasarán!” and Ran Kan Kan; plus free buffet from 6:30-7:30pm
£10 in advance or £13 on the door; tickets from: John Haywood, 1 Queens Road, Banbury OX16 0EB (cheques payable to IBMT); email: email@example.com or tel: 01295 257 587
International Brigade Memorial Trust
Chris Farman, journalist and author, gave a fascinating talk about the British Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War to members of the North Oxfordshire Villages Labour Party at their July (2014) meeting. Chris is helping to organise a memorial in Oxford to the British Volunteers from the County who gave their lives fighting for democracy in the Spanish Civil War.
Background to the Conflict
Following years of civil unrest, the King of Spain abdicated in 1931 and the Second Republic was declared. An election in February 1936 returned a moderately left-wing Popular Front government, but in July there was an attempt to overthrow it by right-wing army officers. The coup was resisted by the left-wing parties and trades unions, prompting a bloody three-year civil war in which more than half a million would die, mainly civilians.
Involvement of other nations
France and Britain, in line with their policy of non-intervention, refused to supply the Spanish Republic with arms, while Hitler and Mussolini aided the rebels. Stalin gave limited help to the Republicans, but encouraged recruitment of the International Brigades, a volunteer force of mainly communists to fight for the Republic.
The International Brigades Volunteers
Most of the volunteers were working class people and the vast majority were communists, although Labour Party supporters and trades union members were well represented (including Jack Jones who later became leader of the Transport and General Workers Union).
Many of the volunteers from Europe were Italians and Germans who had been forced to flee their countries and who wanted to hit back at Hitler and Mussolini. Despite the focus on international solidarity, there was resentment by Irish members of the British Battalion, most of whom had been in the IRA and who suspected two of their officers of being ex-Black and Tans. After a near-riot, the Irish members were allowed to transfer to the American Lincoln Battalion.
The British Battalion in Action
British volunteers helped to resist the rebel advance on Madrid in December 1936, but the British Battalion’s first battle was at Jarama the following February, where they were led by Oxford University graduate Tom Wintringham. This was just the first of the Battalion’s ordeals and of the 2,500 volunteers who served in it, over 500 were killed.
Many of the volunteers, including the British, felt that the Spanish had left the difficult and dangerous work to the International Brigades. In Moscow, Republican reverses were put down to deliberate sabotage by Trotskist fifth columnists.
The International Brigades were disbanded in October 1938 and the British volunteers arrived back at Victoria station in December, where they were greeted by a crowd of 20,000, including two future prime ministers, Clem Attlee and a young Ted Heath.
Members made comparisons with modern conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. Chris emphasised the difference between jihadists going to Syria and Iraq to fight for a reactionary Islamic state and the International Brigaders going to Spain to fight for democracy and freedom.
Help raise funds for a memorial to the 28 men and women from Oxfordshire who fought to defend the Spanish Republic.
See Community Corner for more details