Letter from Mick O’Riordan to Cyril Sexton, 1942.

The original is in the International Brigade Association Archive, contained in the Marx Memorial Library, London.

Thanks to Manus O'Riortdan for editing my transcription, and the necessary corrections! He was able to send 2 more minor corrections today, so as of now, this is the final edit! CC 14/1/8

Tintown Internment Camp

Curragh Camp

Co. Kildare


14th June 1942

Dear Cyril [Sexton]

I was more than delighted when I received your letter on last week, it came as a very pleasant surprise to me as I often wondered where you were or were you still alive. I see that you are in contact with Bill Gandall, I have never lost contact notwithstanding everything and I certainly don’t intend to, because I thought a lot of Bill and think [it] so good of him to have not lost touch with me even when I was not able to write to him. I get a few lines written on Cards from him off and on and some magazines from him often but I did not have a letter from him for over 2 years now but I know by his Cards that he is doing good and well, from his addresses he seems to covering a lot.

Well I was interned in Feb. 1940 and did a few months in the “Glass house” before being shifted here (where I still am) and in August of that year I was joined by Johnny Power, who you remember well of course, and in Feb. ’41 another “IBer’” came in, Paddy Smith of Dublin, who was in Jarama and came back [in] 1937, I don’t think you knew him. Well we were not long settling down here and we had plenty of chats about the old days, you know for the 12 months I was home and free, Johnny was the first “IBer” I met. The only ones I kept up contact with were Bill in the States, Jimmy McCormack in Glasgow, and Harry Shepard of New Orleans (more about him later), after being put in here.

Bill’s was the only one I wrote to as his address was the only one in my memory. In June ’41 the 3 of us received a communication from the IB in London with £2 enclosed, I need not tell you we appreciated that because it put us in direct contact with our comrades again and their money gift was a token of their comradeship and solidarity. Since then we have received 3 more money order letters for which we were grateful and some good books for which were more than grateful as of all the things we lacked here, the right kind of books was the most outstanding and at present there are books which we are dying to read and they are the V[olunteer] for Liberty and I would be very appreciative if you could manage to send all or as many copies as you can. So do your best and we will not forget you for your comradeship. I am allowed all kinds of books in here, that is all the types which are not banned in this country and those types are mostly all “immoral and indecent” so you know the ban does not affect me much. There are a few other books which I badly need and maybe you might have a chance of getting your hands on them for me, I will include the names of them in some other parts of the letter.

Well, now, I will be very interested in how are you getting on since we parted. Were you with the BEF? [The British Expeditionary Force defeated in France by the Germans and evacuated from Dunkirk in May-June 1940 – ed.] And what are you doing now, and of course what do you intend to do? Don’t be afraid to tell me all about yourself (of course not your private life) as it will make up for our lack of contact over such a long period. Do you keep in touch with the lads of the IB? Let me know all you know about the others, that includes all you know because if I do not know them, Johnny will probably. He sends his greetings to you and wants to know do you know anything about Tommy McGuire from Greenock who was taken prisoner in the late days of the Ebro Battles and released again. He is anxious to get in touch with him. I would like myself to hear anything about Jimmy McCormack of Gorbals who was in Company 1 or 2, another lad is David Morrissey of Cardiff whom I would like to write to sometime, if I get hold of his address.

Life is monotonous enough here but one gets used to it and by now we are mostly all well settled down and making the best of our time by serious study. I myself am taking advantage of this enforced leisure to catch up on some of the education I missed, so this place will I hope have its profit as well as its debit side.

Sometime ago I tackled Russian and I need not tell you I find it hard but I am struggling like hell with it and I am dammed if I am giving into it now, although I often think the letters alone not to mind anything else will fail me, but the old saying holds good, “no going back now”. Of course the most important part of my self-education here is political as that is what I am weakest in, but I am improving and intend to do as good a job as possible here before the gates open again. This is a bad place to be in in days like these when there is so much being done and so much to be done, but I suppose we have got to stick it and live it and don’t waste any of it. I follow the war pretty closely through the papers which give a neutral account of things, and I see that the SU [Soviet Union] is making a good hand of things, well there is not much we here can do for them but wish them like and that we do from the bottom of our hearts. I hear that there is good work being done for the Daily Worker and the Second Front which I hope to see opening any day now.

Well, Cyril, I hope to get a long newsy letter from you as soon as you find it possible to write, as you are the first I corresponded here with the exception of Bill and officially with Bill Rust and the IB. Your letter was the next best thing to meeting yourself again. I will not be able to answer your reply until about a month after, but I surely will as soon as I can.

Looking forward to your reply,

Salud y Suerte [Good health and good luck],

Mike O’Riordan

Followings are the books which I would be glad to receive:

How Steel was Tempered, by Osstrovosky

USSR in Construction

10 Days that shook the World – John Reed

Soviet Land

Serving my Time – Harry Pollitt

The Volunteer for Liberty

Soviet War News Weekly

Storm over the Ruhr

Gathering Storm

PS Probably a lot of these are not in print but still you might be able to get a few of them, all political books welcome.

Notes by C Crossey, with additions by Manus O'Rirodan.

Curragh Internment Camp – this was a prison camp which was used to hold political internees and foreign soldiers during World War 2.

Mick was interned without trial by order of the Minister for Finance, Seán T. O’Kelly, on 22 February 1940, and did not regain his freedom until released by order of the Minister for Justice, Gerald Boland, on 9 August 1943. While in the Curragh Internment Camp he was Officer Commanding of the Cork Hut.

He ‘published’ Splannc [Irish for Spark, named after Lenin's newspaper Iskra], maybe that’s a bit grand but there was at least one issue of this handwritten prison paper!

He attended the following language classes taught by fellow-internees: Russian by Neil Goold-Verschoyle, and Irish bt Máirtín Ó Cadhain – author and translator of the Internationale into Irish.

Cyril Sexton. The IBMT Newsletter carried this short obit.:

“Cyril Sexton died at his home in Los Gigantes, Tenerife on 9 April 2005, aged 91.

Cyril was in Spain for two years, from January 1937 to December 1938. He was wounded at Jarama in February 1937.

Following his recovery, he was with the British Battalion at Brunete and went on to fight at Aragon, Belchite, Gandesa and the Ebro, where he was wounded again. After treatment at the cave hospital he made his own way back to England by train, arriving slightly later than the main party of Brigaders.”

Emmet O’Connor has written this about Power in his history of the Waterford volunteers:

“Johnny Power might have served as a model hero of the International Brigades. A former adjutant of the Waterford Battalion, IRA, he nonetheless began the war in the ranks. After transferring to the Lincoln Battalion on 20 January 1937 and fighting at Jarama, he was promoted to corporal on 4 April and company political commissar in May. Harry Fisher illustrates something of what made Power a good commissar in an incident on 9 July, just before they went into action at Mosquito Hill in the battle of Brunete:

At about 9.40am, we lined up near the top of the hill. I was to be Paul Burns’s runner for this action, along with John Power, a tough and wiry but small guy from Ireland…

I watched John take a sip of water from his canteen, mine was empty.

‘Can I have a sip’, I asked rather plaintively.

‘Sure, go ahead’, he said and handed me the almost full canteen.

I meant only to wet my lips and throat, but somehow gulp after gulp went down. I found it impossible to stop. I emptied half the canteen.

‘Gee, I’m sorry’, I apologized.

‘No need to apologise! I know how thirsty you are’. Another comrade saw me drinking; he asked John for just enough to wet his throat. In a minute or two, the canteen was empty. John just shrugged, and that was that. It’s probably hard for people who have never known the torture of thirst to understand what it meant to give away the precious, sweet-tasting, lifesaving water. From that moment on I was devoted to John Power. To me he was the greatest guy in the world.”

Quote from Harry Fisher, Comrades: Tales of a Brigadista in the Spanish Civil War (Lincoln, Na, 1998), pp.60-1

Bill Gandall, a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, to whom Mick addressed his April 1939 letter, also published on this site.

Tommy McGuire – Born 1896 he lived at 109 Castle Street, Greenock, Glasgow. A member of the Young Communist League, he was believed killed in Spain, but was a POW. Actually killed in WWII. He served in the paratroops during World War 2, dying on 7th Feb. 1943 in North Africa. Listed by MO’R as Irish in the Connolly Column but no substantive evidence has come forward todate to back that up, now counted as Scottish.

Jimmy McCormack - Gorbals

David Morrissey –Wales – Richard Baxell, a key researcher on British volunteers, doesn’t list a David Morrissey, but does have a William Morrissey of Cardiff. William was born in 1908, lived at 6 Connaught Rd, Cardiff, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain since 1933 he’d been active in the unemployed hunger marches. In Spain from May 5th 1937 to December 1938. He worked, at least at one point, as a postal censor.

Harry Shepard – New Orleans