New York Times - Sunday April 4th 1937

Tells of Exploits as Rebel Deserter

H A McDaniel was sentenced to be shot
but finally was pardoned after jail term.

Saw many dig own graves
Says he wandered 40 miles in Spain,
Guided only by Stars, in an Effort to Escape
Denies Religious Issue
Here as Sailor, He says he found civilians in insurgent area hostile to soldiery

By Colin MacLaren

Sentenced to be shot as a deserter from the Irish Brigade of the Spanish Foreign Legion, but finally pardoned after weeks in jail at Caceres and Burgos, H A McDaniel, 26 years old, unfolded a colourful tale of his experiences in Rebel Spain here last week.

Rosy-cheeked, blond moustached, and sturdily built, the young man speaks with a mixture of Irish brogue and English accent. And it is to that unusual blending that he probably owes his life.

Still wearing the black shirt of the Spanish Phalanx under his other clothes, McDaniel appeared in New York via the ferry from Hoboken.

He flourished a pass, dated Feb. 22, 1937, stamped with the seal of the captain of the Port of Gibraltar, requesting the dock police there to pass him aboard the steamship Coalby, the freighter on which he arrived here.

Among the glimpses of Rebel Spain in his vivid account of the six months he spent there were stories of Spanish officers helping quell a mutiny in the Irish Brigade; of how he and a companion wandered forty miles through Spain, guided by the stars and begging their food from shepherds; of how he say Loyalist prisoners die shouting 'Viva Rojo' (Long Live the Reds!), and of German ammunition smuggled ashore in fish crates at a point where one of Columbus's ships, now a sightseer's show boat, lies fast to shore.

Eloquent about the Food

He told of a deserting British bluejacket, turned machine-gunner for the Rebels, turning his gun on Insurgents when they ran before Madrid, and of dum-dum and poison bullets said by the Rebels to have been used against them.

But it was about the food in General Francisco Franco's army that he waxed most eloquent. It was the food, he made quite clear, that had upset the Irish - 'Mule soup and burro stew,' he said.

'You wouldn't eat it the first day, nor the second, not the third, nor the fourth - buy by cracky you'd eat it on the fifth.'

There was little food, and that was mostly burro steak and 'sunburned potatoes' - a kind no Irishman can eat without 'getting such a funny feeling in his mouth after that he has to take some salt to get rid of it; the sort that cooks green.'

What a day it was when they had just a tiny slice of black pig and some cabbage - and of course an onion or two - 'there were plenty of those in Spain.'

But to begin at the beginning.

Born in County Monaghan, Ireland, McDaniel was brought up in England, and became a racing driver's mechanic in London. But he had studied aircraft mechanics and the yearning for adventure was in him.

Sailed with a Companion.

When he learned, last September, that General Franco's army needed recruits, he got in touch with the Rebel agent and joined up on the understanding that he was to start as an air mechanic and might become a pilot.

With a friend, Jack Colley, 22 years old, of Liverpool, he set sail from that town on the steamer Ardeola for Lisbon. They arrived at the Portuguese capital late in September and crossed Portugal by motorbus, arriving first in Rebel territory at Badajoz, and going thence to Caceres. There he and Colley were kept two weeks 'to see whether we would fit into Italian, Spanish or German aviation.'

Then, suddenly, he said, they found it was 'all a trick'. They received private's uniforms of the Irish Brigade - they were not to be aviators at all but just infantrymen, at 3 pesetas a day.

The uniform consisted of a black shirt, with red Fascist emblem on the pocket, a Sam Browne belt, a black overseas cap with red piping and tassel and gold star, and any trousers and boots you happen to have. McDaniel still had on the entire outfit, underneath his ordinary clothes, when he got here on the Coalby. In his pocket was a copy of the Gibraltar Chronicle of Jan. 29th, 1937, which told of his arrival from Caceres after having been pardoned as a deserter.

His most vivid impressions of Caceres seems to have been those of the interminable daily shooting of Loyalist prisoners.

'We used to watch them being taken out to dig their won graves,' he said. 'If you got at 5, or 6, in the morning you could see 50 shot every day.'

'One morning when we were on duty as cookhouse orderlies we saw 13 prisoners brought from the calaboose and get into trucks. We followed. They were taken to the wall.'

'Behind the wall is a sandbank. The prisoners were placed before this two paces apart. Their eyes were not covered. A priest approached and all but five, who refused, received his services. Twenty four police of the Civil Guard - 12 kneeling and 12 standing, placed their rifles to their shoulders.'

'As they so the Red prisoners walked towards the firing squad. "Viva, Rojo", they shouted, their right arms, fists clenched, held in the air. After they were shot down, five wriggled. One sat up. Again he held his fist aloft, "Viva, Rojo", he shouted. An officer walked over, kicked him between the eyes, and dispatched him with his pistol.'

'You could see the same thing every day. The prisoners were not chained. If they didn't march straight to their death, a soldier would shoot them as they gibed, first in the ankle, then the stomach, then the brain. Every day they'd cover the bloodstained sand and wait until the corpses stretched.'

'Then men in long white coats went out, one picked up the head and the other the e feet. One - two- three, they'd swing the body onto the truck.'

McDaniel said it was not only the trick that had been played on him, but the terrible food that caused him and Coley to desert in December. They knew that they were taking a chance, for 'they shot 25 deserters the day we left.'

About 8 o'clock one night shortly before Christmas, while billets were being changed, they slipped off into the night. Their intention was to reach the Portuguese border, about 45 miles away. Avoiding roads, they tramped over mountains, through swamps and across streams for three nights, taking their direction from the North Star. It was very cold at night but hot by day, when they hid out and slept in shepherd's huts.

The shepherds were friendly, and the two men [eat] on the sausage, spiced with onions and garlic which they gave them refusing payment.

'On the fourth night,' said McDaniels, 'a cloud came over the North Star, and we wandered blindly until we struck a road. A sign said Venice Alceatre, 29 kilos'. This was the place we were looking for, it was only about three miles from the border. We went on down the road towards it. Presently we reached a village, darkened because of possible bombardment.

Caught by Civil Guards

'We went in and before we knew it, it was too late to draw back. The Civil Guards halted us, took us to the calaboose and send for officers. We told the interpreters that we were British sailors and had been travelling around Portugal waiting for a ship and had got into Spain by mistake. They seemed to believe us but said we would have to go before the authorities of Extremadura Province at Caceres.

'Of course, when we got back there they knew who we were. We were tried by two English speaking Spanish officers. They said: "The punishment for desertion during wartime is death."

"We said: 'We deserted from something we did not belong to.' "

"But they condemned us to be shot. We were taken from the calaboose at Caceres to the calaboose at Burgos. I saw one young Irishman, son of a wealthy family, who was in jail under similar charges. In a few days one half of his jet black hair turned white.

"They refused to allow us to communicate with the British consul. When we got to Burgos one consolation was that we did not have to dig the graves of the condemned."

The authorities were apparently in a quandary about McDaniel and Colley. Although Catholics, and to all intent Irish, they were actually British and not Free State citizens.

Repudiated Irish Brigade

They had repudiated the Irish Brigade, and during their incarceration in Burgos refused offers of their life if they would return to it. They had joined up for the Air Force and it was that or nothing. McDaniel said that General Owen O'Duffy, commander of the Irish Brigade, had only 641 men originally, and that there was no religious question in the war.

They were about 14 days in the Burgos jail, McDaniel said. He was not sure but he thought it was more to do with the intercession of an English Catholic priest than anything else that they were let out. Possibly, he surmised, the authorities were afraid because of their British citizenship.

McDaniel said that the attitude of shopkeepers and civilians towards the Rebel soldiery was hostile at all the towns he had been in except Burgos, 'where the Rebel morale was at its best'. At the other towns he said the population was 'pink'. This was partly due to conscription, he said.

'I saw men taken, trained for five days and given guns. They didn't even know which end of the rifle was which,' he said. He condemned as 'no good' practically all the firearms used by the Rebels. Their Hotchkike machine guns, he said, jam continually, and their German Mauser rifles, dating from 1897 to 1933, got too hot to hold after firing 20 shots.

Loyalist equipment bad

But the equipment on the other side is just as bad, the rebels from the front line had told him. The Russian tanks were perforated easily by machine-gun bullets. Stories were rife that the Loyalists were using dum-dum and even poisoned bullets.

McDaniel said that off the other prisoners in the Burgos jail, about 100, "70% were Rebel officers, lieutenants and captains, in on minor charges, who were under suspicion."

After being released, the two received passes and train tickets and were sent to Gibraltar. There Colley took sick and McDaniel obtained the berth as fireman on the Coalby when one of the crew took sick.

The ship, built in 1911, is being sold in Japan for scrap. She called at Huelva, Spain, after leaving Gibraltar. He went ashore and going down to see Columbus's vessel, noticed innumerable fish crates on freight trains. Then, he said, he saw an Italian or Spanish word printed on the crates, which was similar enough to the English for him to know that it meant "explosive".

He saw German steamers putting into the dock. He learned they were supposed to be loading Spanish copper ore. "It's pretty obvious that's where the munitions are getting into Rebel Spain," he said.

The Coalby sailed from Huelva on Feb. 22, and arrived off the Jersey coast on March 21. She was tied up at the General Chemical Company's dock and then sent to Hoboken, "until Lloyds decides whether she can make the voyage across the Pacific," as McDaniel put it.

Irish are 'Fed Up'

"Yes, the Irish are pretty well fed up," he concluded.

"It's a cool-house mutiny with them. There's a lot of fighting. If a German gets stabbed, an Irishman is blamed. You can say I'm pretty much on the side of the Loyalists."

Waving his hand, McDaniel started in the direction of Hoboken and Japan. "I've only for about 10 cents and if I come ashore again," (he had a pass from the chemical company) "the master will think I'm going to jump ship. So long"

December 5th 2004

Ciaran Crossey's notes on this man:

This is one of those cases where lies are heaped upon lies. The impression is as follows:

McDaniels, from Monaghan but brought up in England where he lived at 392 Great Howard Street, Liverpool, from where he was listed among those who sailed with other members of the Irish Bandera on the trip from Liverpool on 11/12/36.

Despite travelling with the Bandera members he claims that he was not a member of it, trying instead, with another man, Colley, to enlist in Franco's air force as McConnell had trained as a mechanic and had some experience of planes. The two men were rejected as the authorities wanted to keep people away from the German and Italian volunteers. They did join the Legion at Caceres but both deserted, caught and deserted again and safely reached Gibraltar. Repatriated to Tilbury, 20th Feb. 1937 from Gibraltar along with Jack Colley of 25 Melling Road, Aintree, Liverpool.

On his return the man tried to explain his actions in an interview in the New York Times, creating an impression that he'd arrived in late September 1936. Complained of the Spanish food. His story then says that after two weeks at Caceres they were put into privates uniforms for the Irish Brigade, which was not then in existence!

The NYT reports were widely carried in the Irish Press, Irish Democrat, etc. The Irish Press report lists Colley as Irish as well.


Public Record Office file DO 35/F 598/7 and Colonial Office 88610/3/37; Irish Independent, 12/12/36; New York Times, 4/4/37; Irish Press, 29/1/37

More information about the Bandera membership can be got here