The Spanish Civil War deaths of Maurice Ryan,
Lewis Clive and Max Nash.
The following discussion took place in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives Forum, 17th July 2008 concerning the deaths of 3 named volunteers in Spain.
I thought I would it add it to the site as Ryan was an Irish volunteer in the SCW and Manus O’Riordan is a well qualified researcher on the subject with specific knowledge of these developments.
I've added an extract from an interview I did with Eugene Downing in which he talks about Ryan, see below. CC, July 18th 2008.
Email 1. Subject: David Guest and Lewis Clive
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2008
I believe that there is a barrack room rumour that either David Guest and/or Lewis Clive might have been shot by Maurice Ryan's machine gun during the assault on Hill 481? John Dunlop mentions the tragedy in his Imperial War Museum sound archives (IWMSA 11355/13/10) and it is referenced in Richard Baxell's "British Volunteers in the SCW" (2007), p 145.
Does anyone else have any further information about this incident of friendly fire?
Email 2. Subject: Lewis Clive's death
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2008 15:07:36 +0100
On Lewis Clive´s death I quote below an excerpt of the Spanish translation of George Wheeler´s "To make the people smile again". George was right by Lewis when the latter was shot. No reference to friendly fire is made. I have learnt from quite reliable sources that George´s remark about Lewis being a descendent of Clive of India is inaccurate. George gives no description of David Guest´s death.
I am sorry I do not have the English original at hand. The Spanish version is mine. I translated the book into Spanish in 2005.
José Ignacio García Muniozguren
Email 3. The quote from George Wheeler's Spanish and English versions
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2008 17:01:39 +0100
Lewis Clive reapareció preguntando por la actividad en las líneas fascistas. Era un día caluroso y soleado y, como de costumbre, yo estaba remangado. De repente sentí que algo me salpicaba el antebrazo y, al mirar, me sorprendió ver que eran manchas de sangre. Me volví para ver a Lewis tambalearse y caer. Alguien desde atrás gritó: "¡Qué horror!".
Me deslicé hacia atrás desde mi posición y vi que tenía abierta la parte superior de la cabeza y el cerebro se le derramaba fuera del cráneo. Era de verdad algo horrible.
La muerte de Lewis Clive fue instantánea. Remero destacado en Oxford y concejal laborista en Kensington, se decía que descendía de Clive de la India. Este hombretón alegre y sincero cumplió con distinción su deber como jefe de compañía. El Batallón lo quería y respetaba. Su muerte fue una gran pérdida para todos nosotros.
"Lewis Clive re-appeared and asked about the activity in the fascist lines. It was a hot, sunny day and, as usual, my shirtsleeves were rolled up. At that moment I felt splashes on my left forearm, and glancing down, was astonished to see they were splashes of blood. Turning, I saw Lewis reel and fall. Someone below said "What a ghastly sight."
I slid down from my firing position and saw that the top of his head was severed completely and, as he lay there, the brain was spilling from its case. It was indeed a ghastly sight.
The death of Lewis Clive was instantaneous. A former Oxford rowing blue and Labour Councillor for Kensington, he was said to be a descendant of Clive of India. This big, cheerful, and sincere man had performed his duties as Company Commander with distinction. Well liked and respected in the battalion, this was a great loss to us all."
Email 4. Subject: Lewis Clive
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2008 17:43:25 [slight editing by CC to make this clearer.]
My father John Longstaff being Lewis Clive's runner for many months leading up to the Ebro offensive, he also states in his memoirs that Lewis Clive was a descendant of Clive of India.
It is also noteworthy that my father served under Major John Morgan Francis in the London Rifle Brigade, when it was discovered that my father had fought in Spain (from My fathers written and oral records):
Major Francis asked me if I had known a Lewis Clive in Spain. "Yes", I replied, "I was his scout and runner until he was killed fighting in Spain. I asked the Major if he knew Lewis Clive. He said that he and Lewis Clive had been friends at Eton College, they had also been at Oxford together and were in the Olympics rowing together, and had been firm friends.
My father corresponded with Major Morgan Francis until their deaths, I am sure that Lewis Clives descendants would have been discussed and his links to Clive of India would have been verified or otherwise during this long relationship.
Email 5. The deaths of Maurice Ryan, Lewis Clive and Max Nash.
I fail to appreciate that there is any need to have recourse to anonymous barrack room rumour and gossip when outspoken witness statements have long since been published. To suggest that Lewis Clive might have been shot by Maurice Ryan may inject a sensationalist frisson into the narrative of the battle of the Ebro, but it is demonstrably untrue.
Ian MacDougall's 1986 book, Voices from the Spanish Civil War: Personal Recollections of Scottish Volunteers, contains interviews with Tommy Murray, John Dunlop and Steve Fullarton, in which all three related the "drunken fire by Ryan" episode and his subsequent execution. These International Brigaders, while engaged in a frontal assault on the enemy, became aware of also coming under fire from behind. Nobody was hit by that fire. But in a conversation I myself had with John Dunlop in Glasgow in 2003, he further related to me that, when he and others subsequently came back to investigate what on earth lay behind that occurrence, they found a drunken Maurice Ryan fast asleep beside his machine gun, together with the spent belt of his erratic, but mercifully off-target, fire.
The military discipline required in battle more than justified Ryan's execution by Battalion Commander Sam Wild. And yet Ryan's fellow-Brigaders, Sam Wild among them, always included Ryan's name in the roll of honour of the Battalion's casualties. Why? Because Ryan had previously given good military service before he went of the rails. "Vino was his downfall", was the observation of his friend and fellow Irish Brigader Eugene Downing. Had Ryan been responsible for even a single Republican casualty, there is no way his name would have been tolerated on a roll of honour. Still less would he have been remembered with such fondness by some friends, most notably in the poem "To M.R." which English International Brigader Jim Jump wrote in his memory.
The quote from George Wheeler's memoirs, "To make the people smile again", is indeed sufficient to dispose of any suggestion of "friendly fire" being involved in the death of Lewis Clive. As he recalled, "Lewis Clive re-appeared and asked about the activity on the fascist lines". George lay crouched in a firing position just ahead of Clive when he felt splashes of blood. "Turning, I saw Lewis reel and fall." In other words, Clive had been standing. Having had to turn around to look behind him, George was a witness to the immediate aftermath of Clive's death, but not of the instant itself.
But there was a direct witness. A certain squeamishness has hitherto made me reluctant to put pen to paper on this matter. But rather than let legendary red herrings multiply, historical facts should now be recorded. Although my Irish International Brigade father Michael O'Riordan had published "Connolly Column" in 1979 and had written numerous historical articles before and after, he never wrote a personal account of his own experiences in battle. Still less did he ever speak to me during the first 39 years of my own life about the horrors of war, and more gruesome incidents that he himself had lived through, until he finally did so on November 1, 1988. As we journeyed by car through the mountainous battlefields of the Ebro front, on the occasion of his first return visit to Catalunya in fifty years, my father unexpectedly opened up and spoke of his memories. He recalled being right beside Lewis Clive as they were under fire from the fascist lines. When a lull came in the firing, Clive stood up to get a better view. My father said he immediately thought "a bad commander". This was no reflexion on Clive's courageous character and bravery, but rather a comment on the recklessness of such bravery in presenting himself in the open as such a soft target for the fascists. The thought had barely formed in my father's head when Clive was shot in the forehead and my father hit by his brains.
Having gone down this necessarily gruesome road, and now that there are no longer any surviving immediate relatives who might be too distressed by reading such an account, I should for the record also refer to another death described by my father is that searing mountainside narrative of the battle of the Ebro, fifty years after it had occurred. The official record concerning his friend and comrade-in-arms Max Nash following the fighting on Hill 481 was that Max was missing in action, presumed dead. Nobody had ever been officially recorded as having actually seen Max Nash's dead body. But now my father related to me how, as his party was retreating downhill from yet another unsuccessful attack against superior fascist weaponry, he saw Max Nash standing, but clearly dead. Max's lifeless body was leaning against a boulder and his guts were hanging out.
Sometime after our return home from the 1988 Barcelona commemorations, the Secretary of the International Brigade Association, Bill Alexander, wrote to my father stating that Max Nash's sister Sadie had been enquiring if any of the Hill 481 veterans knew of his death. Sadie had in fact accompanied her International Brigade husband Fred Thomas to those same Barcelona ceremonies and my father had briefly met both Fred and herself on that occasion, without realising she was Max's sister. So my father wrote to her confirming Max's death in battle, although kind enough to spare her the full details.
My father and Sadie finally met face to face at the 1994 Jarama battlefield commemorations. Their first meeting [on now knowing that Sadie was Max's sister] was particularly tearful and emotionally highly-charged, which I drew back back from in order to allow the one-to-one privacy required as they both recalled Max Nash with such love and painful sorrow. Happily, during the 1996 homenaje in Spain, our whole family had a more joyful reunion with both Sadie and Fred. May they all rest in peace.
Email 6. Subject: Lewis Clive
Date: Thu, 17 Jul 2008 18:12:52 +0100
Thank you Manus for your reply. I wanted to stimulate discussion on the circumstances of the death of Lewis Clive and David Guest and to try and verify the rumour which I cannot remember from whom I heard but wished to verify its truth or otherwise.
I am grateful to see Maurice Ryan's name on the Irish memorial outside Liberty Hall in Dublin and that his memory is kept alive despite the tragedy of the events on Hill 481 almost seventy years ago to the day.
Thanks again for the reply. I hope that such discussion is one of the prime reasons for members of the list to take part.
Eugene Downing interview:- extract on Maurice Ryan
He was a bit of a problem in the battalion. He was a larger than life character. He was from Limerick and according to himself had been to university in England. He was a tall, burly person, a complete extrovert and fearless. He was also an excellent machine gunner. On the occasion of Pandit Nehru’s visit to the battalion at Marsa he demonstrated his skill with that weapon knocking chunks out of a tree across the valley. He could be very amiable and amusing character. Unfortunately, he was always kicking against the pricks, in a manner of speaking.
On one occasion when I was on sentry duty at battalion headquarters he was placed in my care until the following morning on a charge of being drunk and abusive. He just lay on the ground and went asleep. The following morning he used his charm and powers of persuasion to induce me, when I was going off duty, to fetch his mess tin when I returned to the camp and bring it back to him. To me this was above and beyond the call of duty, but he succeeded in getting me to do it.
Vino was his downfall. During the Ebro battle he turned his gun on his own comrades while roaring drunk. Eventually he was executed. All this was well known to those of us in Mataro Hospital as new causalities arrived during the battle. I heard additional details from Prendergast in London during WW2. Sam Wild had given him the details. Sam and George Fletcher had taken Ryan for a walk and informed him of the decision that had been taken. He responded calmly; ‘You wouldn’t do that Sam would you?’ But he was wrong. He was shot in the back of the head.
I was always sceptical about the rumours that he was a spy. It is not the custom of spies to go around waving banners, shouting the odds and generally drawing attention to themselves. Since he was aware that we were preparing to cross the Ebro it seems remarkable that Franco was taken by surprise. Some Spy!
If anyone has additional information or would like to comment on the above correspondence, please get in touch with me, Ciaran Crossey, Belfast, 18th July 2008, firstname.lastname@example.org